There’s more than one way for Big Oil to get Alberta’s landlocked tar sands to refineries on the Texas coast. If President Obama won’t approve the XL Keystone pipeline through the U.S., they’ll do an end run and go through Atlantic Canada.
Of course, that’s not how the Energy East pipeline is being sold. They’re telling us that it’s a nation-building exercise that unites Canada. The smooth-talking deputy chairman of TD Bank, Frank McKenna, puts it this way: “Energy East, much like the Canadian railway, is a true representation of nation-building at its very best.”
Ah, nation-building warms my heart. We could sure use some unity when it comes to energy self-sufficiency. As it now stands, we have a surplus in the west and a deficiency end the east. While Western Canada is trying to sell oil and gas, Eastern Canada has to import it from elsewhere. Lamentably, we import nearly one-half of the gas used to power our vehicles from overseas.
On the surface of the circumstances, an Energy East pipeline seems to solve the problem of national energy security and the problem of getting oil to market. Except that the refineries in the east can’t process the oil that Alberta produces. Canadian Geographic magazine puts it this way:
“Canada produces a fair amount of heavy crude oil, and the refineries in Eastern Canada only process light crude oil. (Crude oil is raw, unrefined petroleum, and is measured by density, from heavy to light.) As a result, the gas Canadians east of Sarnia fill their tanks with is usually refined from oil imported from Norway’s North Sea, Nigeria and the Middle East.”
Frank McKenna knows that. The real purpose of the Energy East pipeline is to get crude oil to refineries on the U.S.; Big Oil spokesmen are more candid about their intentions. Joyce Nelson exposes this deceit in a newsletter from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives:
“Contradicting this faux-patriotism was none other than TransCanada CEO Russ Girling, who explained not 48 hours before filing the National Energy Board application why his company was really building the pipeline. Despite the nationalist spin, and promises to supply East Coast refiners with cheaper crude to replace imports, Girling told the Wall Street: ‘We can actually go all the way to the Gulf Coast without a presidential permit,’ said the CEO, referring to resistance in Washington to the Keystone XL pipeline. ‘Once we’re on the water, we’ll show up just like any other crude oil in the world in the Houston ship channel.’”
Plan B is even economical, adds Girling, “probably a couple of bucks more than Keystone.” A joint report from Environmental Defence and Greenpeace found the Energy East project “would supply very little oil to any Canadian refineries,” and that up to 90 per cent of its capacity would flow unrefined onto tankers for export, with enormous social and environmental consequences.
What do we get in return for an end run around Keystone XL pipeline? All the risk and little benefit.