Editorial: Let’s Come Together to Stop the Energy East Pipeline

Graphic Madeleine Gendreau

If approved, the proposed Energy East pipeline will be the longest pipeline ever built in North America, spanning almost as far as the Trans-Canada highway. The pipeline will carry more than a million barrels of crude oil a day, running from Alberta’s oil sands to oil refineries in New Brunswick and eventually shipping to other nations.

The potential for environmental damage is serious and efforts to promote the pipeline’s production is proof of our current federal government’s disregard for the well-being of the environment. Rather than focusing on clean energy innovation, such as solar and wind power, our government is focused only on crude oil extraction from the west. Canada is beginning to display the grotesque characteristics of a rentier state—economically reliant on money generated from natural resources, placing little emphasis upon the importance of innovation in other economic sectors.

The planned path of the pipeline runs through or near major towns and cities in six provinces, as well as through numerous autonomous First Nations territories—many of which are opposed to the project in its entirety. Only 60 out of 155 First Nations have signed a letter of agreement with Energy East, yet TransCanada ploughs ahead with their plans.

Many waterways are also at risk if the planned route of the pipeline is completed and the energy required to separate the oil from the tar sands creates far greater carbon emissions than more conventional oil extraction methods.

The risks of the pipeline are real. In the last year, five major spills occurred. TransCanada claims that the pipeline is the safest means of exporting oil, but that’s hard to believe considering that the majority of the pipeline is already over 40 years old, built to different standards than it would be today. Canada is vast; there’s a good chance that accidents that occur in the pipeline’s more remote locations may not be noticed for a long time after the event. Once oil has been spilled, the land cannot be restored to its original condition. The environmental damage is irrevocable.

And yet, opposition to the pipeline has been scattered. That may be due to the pipeline’s trajectory: it runs primarily through Canada’s rural landscape, where activism is less coordinated and tangibly present than in, say, Montreal. Those opposed have trouble finding support as TransCanada’s ad campaign has largely targeted the working class and, in many cases, is winning it over. As Elizabeth May told The Link this week, “it’s a false notion that the pipelines are for jobs.”

There needs to be more support for the indigenous communities standing up against the Energy East pipeline. The regional county municipality of Vaudreuil-Soulanges has taken that stance, which is a good step forward. But there needs to be a movement. Businesses, local governments, students and citizens alike need to voice their concerns as loudly as possible for opposition to have any modifying effect.

In opposition to the pipeline, four student unions including the Concordia Student Union have formed Étudiants et étudiantes contre les oléoducs, a group committed to preventing the pipeline from being completed in Quebec, with the eventual aim to stop the tar sands projects in their entirety. The coalition serves as an example of youth in Canada coming together to address the defining issue of our generation. Without vocal coalitions such as ÉCO, it’s inevitable that the Energy East pipeline will get built. It’s vital that groups come together in solidarity and oppose it.

We can no longer afford to sit idly by and watch our environment be destroyed merely for the profits of the few.