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Energy East Pipeline: Putting Eastern Canada’s Natural Heritage at Risk

This article is brought to you by the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP). Read our other articles on the National Geographic News Watch blog featuring the work of our iLCP Fellow Photographers all around the world.

Text and Photos by iLCP Fellow Garth Lenz.

This summer I spent two weeks exploring the proposed Energy East tar sands pipeline from Quebec City, as it runs along the St. Lawrence River, to Saint John, New Brunswick, where it will terminate at the massive proposed Irving Oil refinery and tanker port.

Irving Oil refinery, St. John, New Brunswick, Canada.
Irving Oil refinery, Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada.

I am just wrapping up a project with the Canadian environmental charity, Environmental Defence and the International League of Conservation Photographers. The project is part of Environmental Defence’s long-standing and critical work on this issue.

All along the pipeline’s proposed route, I have struggled to understand how this project could benefit local communities, or even the country as a whole. Significantly larger than the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, TransCanada’s proposed Energy East Pipeline could transport over a million barrels a day of tar sands bitumen, cut with toxic natural gas condensate, from the Alberta tar sands to the proposed tanker port in Cacouna, Quebec and on to Saint John, New Brunswick.

The purpose of the pipeline is to gain ocean port access to landlocked Alberta’s tar sands crude. It can then be shipped unrefined to Europe or Asia, overseas markets where the sticky tar-like substance will fetch anywhere from $20.00 or more per barrel additionally than it would if sold to the U.S., where the vast majority of it now goes. Business and expansion being all about profit margins and access to markets, this will facilitate the proposed tripling of tar sands production – currently at just under 2 million barrels and proposed to increase to 6 million barrels a day within the next decade. The Energy East pipeline would take care of about 1 million barrels of the proposed daily increase, 3 million to go… That is why industry is pushing not just for the Energy East pipeline but also Keystone XL, Northern Gateway, Montreal to Portland Maine, Kinder Morgan, and likely a host of others we have yet to even hear about.

It is pretty clear why industry wants the pipelines, but how does the general population benefit and what are we giving up? As an export pipeline, Energy East wouldn’t create many permanent jobs. It would threaten our shared environment and the water of millions of Canadians. The proposed route is a literal connect-the-dots line linking some of Quebec and New Brunswick’s richest and most vulnerable ecosystems. From Quebec City, it traces the shores of the St. Lawrence River, a critical habitat for 13 species of whales including, sperm whales, Blue Whales, Fins, Greys, threatened Belugas, and others. It also passes through internationally recognized wetlands. In Tadoussac, large whale watching boats are packed each day and surrounding restaurants, hotels, B&B’s and other businesses are all thriving as a result of the tourists.

Whale watching, Tadoussac, Quebec, Canada. Whale watching is big business here and a major economic factor.
Whale watching, Tadoussac, Quebec, Canada. Whale watching is big business here and a major economic factor.
Beluga whales in the immediate vicinity of the proposed tar sands tanker port at Cacouna Quebec and the proposed tar sands Energy East pipeline, Quebec, Canada.
Beluga whales in the immediate vicinity of the proposed tar sands tanker port at Cacouna Quebec and the proposed tar sands Energy East pipeline, Quebec, Canada.

At Cacouna, on the south shore of the St. Lawrence, the pipeline turns south east to cut through New Brunswick, headed to the coastal port of St. John. However before it does that, it will leave a proposed large tanker port at Cacouna in its wake. This beautiful spot is almost directly across from Tadoussac – the whale watching capital of Quebec – and adjacent to the Ramsar designated, globally significant, Baie de l’Isle-Verte wetlands and their teeming waterfowl populations. A pipeline rupture or tanker spill anywhere in this area would have long-term, if not permanent, severe impacts on both the ecology and the economy.

Cacouna Quebec, Canada. This is the site of a tar sands tanker port along the St Lawrence River for the proposed Energy East tar sands pipeline.
Cacouna Quebec, Canada. This is the site of a tar sands tanker port along the St Lawrence River for the proposed Energy East tar sands pipeline.
Riviere-du-Loup, wetland, and St Lawrence river Quebec, Canada. This scene is just west of the proposed tar sands port in Cacouna along the proposed Energy East tar sands pipeline.
Rivière-du-Loup, wetland, and St Lawrence river Quebec, Canada. This scene is just west of the proposed tar sands port in Cacouna along the proposed Energy East tar sands pipeline.
Eider duckling, île aux Lièvres, St Lawrence river Quebec, Canada.
Eider duckling, île aux Lièvres, St Lawrence river Quebec, Canada.

As it cuts through New Brunswick, Energy East would cross two critical waterways. Shortly after crossing the border into New Brunswick, the proposed pipeline crosses the Salmon River, just above Grand Lake, where a rupture of fast sinking, natural gas soaked, bitumen would contaminate the province’s largest freshwater body. A little further along, it crosses the Kennebecasis river system, a tidal/freshwater marsh that is one of the largest and most diverse of its kind. This area would be threatened both by a pipeline rupture or a tanker spill in the Bay of Fundy where hundreds of massive tar sands oil tankers carrying vast amounts of toxic tar sands bitumen would pass the mouth of this system each year.

The Kennebecasis river system in New Brunswick is tidal and its freshwater marsh is one of the largest and most diverse of its kind. The proposed Energy East pipeline would pump over a million barrels of oil a day across this river just upstream a few miles from this scene.
The Kennebecasis river system in New Brunswick is tidal and its freshwater marsh is one of the largest and most diverse of its kind. The proposed Energy East pipeline would pump over a million barrels of oil a day across this river just a few miles upstream from this scene.
Musquash Tidal Wetland, New Brunswick, Canada. This is a tidal wetland just south of the Irving port in St. John New Brunswick which would transport tar sands crude on hundreds of massive tankers each year.
Musquash Tidal Wetland, New Brunswick, Canada. This is a tidal wetland just south of the Irving port in Saint John, New Brunswick.

Finally, we get to Saint John and the terminus of the proposed pipeline. From here, hundreds of massive tankers laden with tar sands crude would travel through the rich fishing grounds of the Bay of Fundy. With some of the world’s highest and most powerful tides of over 40” vertical feet, the impacts of any tanker accident would very quickly be felt throughout this fishing and tourist haven, on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border.

It’s clear that oil companies want to ship tar sands oil to overseas markets. But it’s also clear that Energy East would put the land, water, environment and climate of Canadians at risk. What would we get in return? In terms of jobs, the reality is that pipelines bring few jobs other than in the construction phase. Pipeline construction jobs are usually given to trained personnel within the industry, not locals. Refineries are heavily mechanized operations that do not employ large numbers of people. In terms of the national economy, Statistics Canada figures suggest that the oil sands extraction contributes only about 2% to Canada’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Despite the spin, tar sands are not the economic engine of Canada’s economy.

Coastal New Brunswick near St. John, New Brunswick, Canada. New Brunswick, Canada. Tanker traffic would vastly increase along coastal New Brunswick as a result of the proposed Energy East Tar Sands Pipeline and  present a significant threat to the ecology and the fishing and tourist economy of this beautiful region.
Coastal New Brunswick near Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada. New Brunswick, Canada. Tanker traffic would vastly increase along coastal New Brunswick as a result of the proposed Energy East Tar Sands Pipeline and present a significant threat to the ecology and the fishing and tourist economy of this beautiful region.
Dear Island Harbour, New Brunswick, Canada.
Dear Island Harbour, New Brunswick, Canada.
Fishing boat and Oil tanker fueling at Irving port and LNG refinery and port, New Brunswick, Canada.
Fishing boat and Oil tanker fueling at Irving port and LNG refinery and port, New Brunswick, Canada.

Saint John can perhaps serve as something of a case study in this regard. It is the centre for a great concentration of heavy industry: An industrial port, LNG port and terminus, the largest oil refinery in the northeast, a massive pulp mill, all owned by the Irving family. If these kinds of projects were good for the economy, Saint John should be booming. However, reality tells a very different story. In the years of this industrial build-up, Saint John’s population has dropped from 100,000 to 70,000. In the last three months alone there was a 1,000 person exodus from the province. How could anyone think that adding the massive export of tar sands crude would improve the situation? Einstein once said that the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. Mega projects which benefit a very few and impoverish the rest are clearly not the answer.

Irving Oil tanker port, St. John, New Brunswick, Canada.
Irving Oil tanker port, Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada.
Irving Oil refinery, St. John, New Brunswick, Canada.
Irving Oil refinery, Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada.
île aux Lièvres, St Lawrence river Quebec, Canada. This scene is just west of the proposed tar sands port in Cacouna along the proposed Energy East tar sands pipeline. Quebec, Canada.
île aux Lièvres, St Lawrence river Quebec, Canada. This scene is just west of the proposed tar sands port in Cacouna along the proposed Energy East tar sands pipeline. Quebec, Canada.

As I travel home to Canada’s west coast, potentially threatened by the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, I am incredibly grateful for the work of groups like Environmental Defence and iLCP. Environmental Defence has been at the forefront of speaking out about the planned reckless expansion of the tar sands and the pipeline proposals that would enable this expansion. More importantly, groups like Environmental Defence are working to raise awareness about the kinds of solutions, like clean, safe modern renewable energy, that can power our economy and not damage our environment. For more information on Environmental Defence’s Energy East campaign, please visit: www.rejectenergyeast.ca

iLCP’s focus on tar sands related issues goes back to the large scale Great Bear Rainforest expedition in 2010. To learn more about iLCP’s work on this and many other issues, please visit: http://www.ConservationPhotographers.org/

For the past twenty years I have focused my work on large-scale industrial resource extraction and the impacts on the environment and indigenous peoples. For information on this work please see http://www.garthlenz.com/, and take a look at my recent blog on National Geographic Proof.

Comments

  1. David
    St. John N.B.
    November 6, 2015, 6:44 pm

    What about the number of super tankers that already travel up the St. Lawrence and into the bay of Fundy daily? Bringing oil to Canada. You really missed the mark here. Tanker traffic will be reduced, with the expansion of the refineries in these two areas.

  2. Bruce Tulloch
    New Zealand
    October 11, 2014, 2:33 am

    The fundamental issue is that carbon, whether oil,gas or coal, is being extracted from safe isolation underground and burnt, generating carbon dioxide which heats the atmosphere, acidifies the oceans and forecloses humanity’s future. All other considerations are insignificant in the face of the devastation we will leave to our children and all life inheriting this planet.

  3. Nick
    New Brunswick, Canada
    September 26, 2014, 12:28 pm

    Great article and well done. Thank you for bringing attention to this issue, and for the wonderful images.

    One correction…the bird in one of the images is a gull chick, not a young eider duckling as stated in the caption.

    Cheers!

  4. Olivier Larochelle
    Deschambault, Québec
    September 7, 2014, 2:03 pm

    This pipeline project would pass through the village i curently live in. I have met the people who plan to build it when they came to Deschambault for informationnal sessions. They awnsered most of the questions i had regarding the safety of the transport… none concerning the economical aspects of it. What is there to gain for the people who live along it’s path… not much… actually the bare minimum : the municipal taxes related to the land they will use to pass the pipeline… and that’s it. Since they only need a few meters wide… it isn’t much compared to the environnemental risk at stake here. The very very few jobs it would create to build it are mostly temporary… they would disappear the second the construction is over, as the pipeline is almost 100% controlled form Alberta, they dont need much local ressources to make it work. And i got this information straight from them.

    I have also asked a few questions about the economical aspects of the project, the ones they did’nt want to awnser in person (trade secret… we cant tell you that at this time sir…) through an online form they have put online : what part of this oil would be made available to local raffineries, would this oil be cheaper for Québec’s and Newfoundland’s raffineries than the one they are already importing and so on. Two weeks after i submitted my questions, they wrote me an email telling me they would reply to all my questions soon… it’s been almost a year and they never wrote back! Let’s just say I am not impressed and not very suprised either.

    As for security, they might say they have today the best technology ever for pipelines (and it most probably is true) they still cant garanty it wont leak. As even a few of the newest pipelines they built in the last decade did.

    They garantied me they would assume all the costs of cleaning in case of leaks… but then again, in most cases it takes years and years to do so. This pipeline mainly goes through farmlands, small villages and townships… it could ruin our drinking water, it could damage our lands… and we would’nt have much to show for it… as it would mainly profit large oil companies.

    I would agree to this pipeline project if the provincial governement would impose a 5% of tax on all oil going through our land, and would put it in a fund to clean and protect the environnement. They would still make profit out of it, but so would we… then we would have something to show for it.

    Short form that… we dont want any of this shit here… we want clean water and clean land, organic food, clean air… and the money from the municipal taxes your pipeline would bring… keep it. It isn’t worth it!

  5. James Shewbridge
    Saint John, N.B.
    September 5, 2014, 1:19 pm

    Other than the environmental issues, just what economic benefits are there for the everyday citizen with this pipeline. Sure, jobs for the construction of the pipeline, but what about after. Irving Oil has already stated that the product coming into the refinery will do absolutely NOTHING to lower our purchasing cost of fuel oil, gasoline, etc., etc. So, all the economic benefits go to them. So, why should we build the damn thing if we get nothing out of it and are stuck with it for the future generations to fix up when it leaks. Sorry, but short term jobs for long, long term pain and only the rich get richer, again.

  6. meredith blaney
    renfrew on.
    September 5, 2014, 1:05 pm

    how can I help put a stop to this?

  7. Bill Baldwin
    Toronto, Ont.
    September 4, 2014, 1:45 pm

    I have the luxury of spending every summer on the lower St, Lawrence very close to Riviere-du- Loup and the Gros-Cacouna proposed oil port. This is already a deep water port handling other products. Presently from Riv.-du-Loup there is a cross river ferry carrying over 100 vehicles across the St. Lawrence 8 times a day in the summer. During this past summer we saw Beluga whales swimming in the general area of this ferry. There is a lot of mainly international shipping closer to the north shore where the principal whale watching area is centered off Tadousac. To now suggest that the occasional freighter picking up a load of crude in this area will jeopardize the whale habitat doesn’t make sense. In any event the shipment of petroleum products to this area as well as New Brunswick by pipeline is the safest way to get it there for those that require it in that area. They will get the product one way or another. We now import oil products to the area by ship. What’s so different about exporting it.

  8. G.A.R.
    Charlottetown, PEI
    September 4, 2014, 7:44 am

    It’s sad that many people have a price. Need a job? Get the education and go find one! If that means leaving home, so be it. If that means going back to school and getting additional skills, work to do that. That people think we should be able to live our whole lives in the town we grew up in is ridiculous. That they doom their kids to the same fate, all along knowing better, is sad. This is a sad story indeed. The environment should be bestowed rights so that we can stop this kind of willful behavior at it’s expense. These last grabs for our natural resources will only benefit Irving’s bottom line. We need to collectively think further into the future, beyond our own small life. When we start doing that, things will shift. I hope people are ready to fight this project.

  9. Mike Priaro
    Calgary, Alberta, Canada
    September 3, 2014, 8:37 pm

    By far the safest port to export crude is the Strait of Canso Superport which is also significantly closer to Europe and the west coast of India via Suez than either Saint John or Cacouna.

    That said, the export of raw bitumen as dilbit should be discouraged and prohibited if necessary.

    Exports should be upgraded bitumen or syncrude, refined products or petrochemicals -no raw bitumen as dilbit.

    Saint John would be OK to export refined products and petrochemicals.

    Cacouna is a bad idea waiting to turn into a nightmare.

    Extend Energy East to Canso, NS and spread the benefits of Alberta’s crude oil resource, the largest on earth by far, to another province.

    See: https://www.behance.net/gallery/14530077/ENERGY-EAST-PIPELINE-TO-CANSO-NS-A-STRONG-CASE

  10. Michael Booth
    New Brunswick
    September 3, 2014, 7:18 pm

    Crude oil is shipped from Alberta to the US and are seeking new markets. Why not build a refinery at Fort MCMurray and ship finished products instead of un finished?

  11. Fred Schueler
    Bishops Mills, Ontario
    September 3, 2014, 4:31 pm

    We’ve recently covered that stretch of the pipeline route – http://vulnerablewaters.blogspot.ca/

  12. K Duff
    Saint John
    September 3, 2014, 2:16 pm

    Wow…a completely biased account presented by an environmental activist. The fact that the author was able to take such beautiful pictures given the long term industrial nature of the Saint John area should tell you something. We need jobs, development and industry to salvage our economy and raise our people up from poverty. I am tired of listening to folks who think we can feed ourselves with pretty pictures. We already have a pipeline that crosses Nova Scotia and New Brunswick and other than the wildflowers that grow on the route you would never know it was there. That pipeline also crosses a number of waterways and does so safely because it was done properly. The Bay of Fundy is already host to considerable ship traffic because Saint John is a major port. When ship traffic was found to be causing danger to local whale populations, shipping lanes were moved and shipping patterns were changed and know the whale populations are rebounding. It just shows that industry and nature can co-exist. So thanks for your pictures and please come back in 10 years to take some more because we’ll still be living in a beautiful part of the world but hopefully we’ll have jobs so that we can pay to continue enjoying it.

  13. G.A.S.
    Edmonton Alberta
    September 2, 2014, 10:07 pm

    Commercial oil since the 50s from Alberta has been exported safely through the port of Vancouver , followed by bitumen & synthetic crude products since the 80s. Reversely more expensive unethical oil has been imported into Canada’s east coast for a longer period fuelling Canada’s economy.

    Recent Eastern Canadian oil & NG discoveries has created jobs & wealth to the area. Oil tankers have safely traveled the waters mentioned in this presentation which could be a commercial tourist advertisement, there are many such places all across Canada today that are located near or involving our resources. We can certainly stop moving forward with our economy however with todays technology & research we need to move on, find new markets, create new jobs,increase our GDP while continuing to protect our environment. There are hundreds of thousands of Indeginous & Metis people already employed throughout Western Canada including the arctic territories. Eastern Canada needs revitalization not the smooth apocalyptic view put forward here.

  14. Alexander Budd
    Saint John, NB
    September 2, 2014, 4:27 pm

    Nobody that works in the government cares about the “Natural heritage” of the East Coast. They’re knocking down heritage buildings left and right, refusing to fund anything that would help preserve them, and wasting funding in sectors we don’t need like tourism. The only thing that I’ve seen the government preserve so far is archaic bigoted principals and laws.