Thunder Bay – Over 100 concerned citizens attended the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) consultation at the Valhalla Inn, Thunder Bay, on Wednesday, January 14. The Board’s technical advisors said that their studies had identified key issues with the proposed pipeline called Energy East.
Back in late October, the proponent, TransCanada Pipelines (TCPL), submitted a formal application to the National Energy Board (NEB). The OEB’s technical advisors, Del Norske Veritas (Canada) Ltd. (DNV GL), have been charged with reviewing some 3,000 pages of the Application. Their major preliminary finding: “The Application is incomplete.”
A further statement in Community Consultation Documents is “More detailed information would be required to allow for an assessment . . . “
The OEB is giving the public until February 6 to comment on the review. In response to questions from the floor, the Board representative, Peter Fraser, said they had no mandate to extend the consultation period. He further stated that even though the Board had not yet received reams of critical data from TCPL (data which the public will have no opportunity to review in this current process), the Board must advise the Ontario Ministry of Energy of its assessment in early spring.
Then the Ministry of Energy, as an intervenor, will bring the Province’s official opinions to the process conducted by NEB. The OEB (Ontario Energy Board) has no decision-making power with regard to approval of the Energy East proposal. It has a purely advisory role to the Ministry.
At the Valhalla Inn meeting, individuals had opportunities to pose questions to DNV GL, and to offer advice. All remarks were recorded.
About one-third of the participants came from outside the city. Some were official representatives of communities or groups. Some, like this writer, were private persons.
The meeting addressed a multiplicity of issues, but it is fair to say that most of the issues concerned the protection of the environment in Northern Ontario. Many passionate statements were made about the
absolute necessity of protecting our water and wetlands. An example of a memorable comment was “Everyone in this room knows that it’s just a matter of time before a disaster happens, so why is this happening?”
Many participants addressed technical issues, such as the integrity of the natural gas pipeline to be converted to an oil pipeline. Energy East will be transporting diluted bitumen, which the industry as well as OEB classify as a type of oil, but some participants questioned whether this newly popular product deserves that designation, and whether current industry standards are sufficient for “dilbit”. Dilbit, as one person mentioned, figured in the disaster at Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, in July 2013. Another person elaborated on the spill in the Kalamazoo River, Michigan, in July 2010, a mess that is still not entirely cleaned up.
An example of a new public concern is that the so-called “oil” pipeline parallels the gas pipeline in a shared corridor. There were two or three references to TCPL’s gas pipeline near Beardmore which, back in February 2011, suffered a major rupture, even breaking windows in town. What would happen to the dilbit pipeline in a similar incident?
In the charged atmosphere, there were some brave individuals who suggested that Energy East would provide some jobs. DNV GL, however, said that the TCPL Application was rather non-specific on the economic benefits to Northern Ontario.
OEB and DNV GL on several occasions pointed out the limitations of their review. For example, the concept of constructing a brand new pipeline was off the table. However, Bruce Hyer, federal member for Thunder Bay-Superior North, did recommend just that. And, he recommended that diluted bitumen be refined into conventional oil before being pumped through the line, thereby providing enormous economic benefits to Canadians as well as improving public safety and environmental protection.
The Consultation Documents state that the Ontario portion of the project comprises about 1,930 km of gas pipeline to be converted to oil, and about 104 km of new line.
The consultation that evening concluded with an impromptu presentation by a small group of First Nations. They addressed the concern of protecting water and wetlands. One held up a sign saying “WATER IS LIFE”. The presenters received widespread applause, as did many other presenters.
With regard to the missing data in TCPL’s Application, the Documents state “Information on surface water intakes and springs on 95% of the route is absent”.
On January 13, OEB held a public consultation in Kenora. Three more are planned in Northern Ontario: Kapuskasing, January 19; Timmins, January 20; North Bay, January 21.
Edgar J. Lavoie