Yves Engler: Environmental and indigenous rights groups rightfully concerned about Trans-Canada’s proposed “Energy East” pipeline
JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.
TransCanada, the company that wants to build the Keystone XL pipeline, also wants to build the Energy East pipeline, a 4,400 kilometer long pipeline that will connect the tar sands to Eastern Canada. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper told reporters in Quebec on August 2 that his government backs the project in principle. Canada, quote, “strongly supports constructing energy infrastructure that will help transport Western Canadian oil to the east,” Harper wrote in an April 29 letter to Conservative lawmakers in New Brunswick.
Now joining us to discuss this latest news and tell us more about this proposed pipeline is Yves Engler. He’s a Canadian commentator and author. His most recent book is The Ugly Canadian – Stephen Harper’s Foreign Policy. The book explores Canada’s extensive military campaign in Libya, opposition to social transformation in Latin America, and support for the right-wing Israeli government.
Thank you for joining us, Yves.
YVES ENGLER, AUTHOR, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Thanks for having me.
NOOR: So, Yves, can you break down this pipeline? What kind of scale are we talking about? And how does it compare to the Keystone XL?
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ENGLER: Well, we’re talking a pipeline that is almost twice the size of Keystone XL. We’re talking about 1.1 million barrels of oil a day being shipped 4,400 kilometers, which is about–almost 3,000 miles.
And what TransCanada’s discussing doing is they already have 3,000 kilometers of a natural gas pipeline, and they want to expand that and transform that natural gas pipeline into a pipeline that can handle DILBIT, diluted bitumen, from Alberta’s tar sands and build 1,400 kilometers more of pipeline through Quebec and into the Maritimes. So we’re talking about–this is a scale that is–you know, it’s immense, one of the biggest pipelines, I think probably the biggest pipeline in Canadian history.
And this is–the project is intimately tied to the fact that there is opposition to the Keystone XL, obviously, in the U.S. and that that’s not going forward at the moment, and also the fact that there’s opposition to pipelines being proposed through British Columbia, the Enbridge pipeline, Northern Gateway, as well as another one, Kinder Morgan, down through Vancouver.
And so the tar sands producers, 2012, produced 1.9 million barrels of oil a day. They hope to double that in the next decade and then to get that up to about 5 million, over 5 million barrels a day by 2030. And, of course, Alberta’s landlocked, so they need this new Energy East pipeline to get their oil to refineries in the east coast of Canada, as well off to the international market.
NOOR: And what’s been the reaction of the local communities that could be impacted by this, the construction of this pipeline?
ENGLER: So it was only announced formally a week ago that TransCanada’s going ahead with this, that they’re going to seek approval from the National Energy Board. It’s been in discussion for a while. So there has been grassroots opposition. Here in Ottawa, there’s a group called Ecology Ottawa that is already beginning a grassroots campaign. It’s already had quite the success. They’ve already knocked on 10,000 doors of members in the city of Ottawa, telling them the plan is to have this pipeline go through Ottawa’s boundary.
There’s many different environmental groups that have come out against it. The Council of Canadians, a major national political organization, has come out and said they’re going to oppose the pipeline. There are some First Nations in the Maritimes that have expressed some opposition and say they want full consultation on this. There’s questions of labor unions and their position on it, especially if it’s an export pipeline, because it appears that the main objective here is not to refine the oil in the eastern part of Canada, in Montreal, Quebec City, or St. John, but in fact to export it to refineries in India, and actually possibly even export it to the Gulf Coast, where the Keystone XL is sending oil to some of the refineries down there. And, in fact, this is just a very long and potentially more politically palatable route to get it down to the Gulf Coast. So there’s lots of opposition. There’s opposition at the level of groups that are concerned about spills. And obviously the recent disaster with the oil on the trains in Lac-Mégantic is an example of how devastating oil spills can be. So there’s people opposed at the level of spills in their communities. And there’s, you know, sort of farmers groups that want full consultation and proper payment in terms of if their land is impacted in terms of building the pipeline. But there’s also, I think, the more important opposition, which is the fact that this is about trying to curtail the expansion of the tar sands. If they can’t get their oil to the market, the investments and the costs of doing business in the tar sands increase and make it less–you know, put pressure to stop this, the insanity of their plans to double, triple tar sands expansion.
So I think the opposition is–it often focuses on sort of local concerns, but it’s really being motivated by those who are concerned with the science showing that the climate’s getting hotter, the parts per million of carbon in the atmosphere is growing. So there is significant opposition. At the provincial level there’s–it’s expected that the most opposition will come in Quebec, where there’s lots of polls showing that Quebeckers are the most concerned about environmental issues, most concerned about climate change. And the provincial Parti Quebecois government has not come out in favor and not really come out against the pipeline, but that will probably be the focal point of opposition. If this project is to be blocked as the Keystone XL has been so far, it’s probably going to come from grassroots popular mobilization in Quebec.
NOOR: So, you know, as we mentioned, this pipeline has only recently been announced. But how would you evaluate how the mainstream media has reported on this and whether proponents and opponents have gotten similar airtime and where the media falls on this issue?
ENGLER: Well, I mean, the media almost entirely has come out in support of the pipeline. The head of TransCanada said this was a nation-building exercise, and much of the media has echoed that prospective. I think that it’s–you know, the environmental groups, because it is such a big issue, the environmental groups have gotten some airtime. But the connection between the big picture of climate disturbances, growing, you know, environmental disasters reports that, you know, over 100,000 people are already dying because of climate disturbances, mostly in places like Ethiopia and Bangladesh, that’s obviously not being connected to the pipeline.
The dominant media line is that, you know, we need oil, and so we need infrastructure that will carry oil. And the whole line about it actually being about–you know, even to take the nationalist perspective being about a nationbuilding exercise, well, in fact, much of this oil, probably most of it is going to be exported to be refined elsewhere, you know, going to a place like India, where we’re just talking about expanding, you know, the amount of oil use. In the case of Canada, we are already producing more oil than Canadians are using. So if it’s really just about, you know, Canadian oil needs, there’s more than enough being produced. This is really about exporting and increasing energy use elsewhere. Canada, of course, is a country that should–we should be massively reducing how much oil we’re using right now, let alone, you know, increasing it. But the dominant media has been very sympathetic to the pipeline, of course.
And it’s not a surprise that, you know, TransCanada and other oil companies are big advertisers. They have a constant campaign in the papers that–I’m talking about the tar sands oil producers here, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers–a constant campaign mostly in the business section of the newspapers really promoting their impact on the Canadian economy. And that type of thinking, you know, it trickles down throughout the newspapers. And they of course have a lot more money to spend on advertising in newspapers than environmental groups or oppositional groups are spending. So the dominant media is supportive.
But as we’ve seen in other instances, like the KXL, like the Northern Gateway, even when the dominant media is supportive, if grassroots groups are sufficiently determined and sufficiently organized, one, you can sway the media’s line a little bit, and two, it doesn’t matter, because you can seek out other sources of media and you can, you know, seek out personal communication that trumps the power of the corporate media.
NOOR: Yves Engler, thank you so much for joining us. And we’ll certainly keep following this story.
ENGLER: Thanks for having me.
NOOR: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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