Energy East Raises Legitimate Concerns, Quebec Premier Says

  • Quebec citizens concerned about freshwater reserves: premier
  • Province will soon begin its own environmental review

TransCanada Corp.’s proposed Energy East pipeline poses significant risks to Quebec’s freshwater resources, and concerns about the impacts of an oil spill should be weighed carefully, said Premier Philippe Couillard.

The oil line, which has faced opposition from groups as diverse as an association of Montreal-area mayors to the province’s farmers, is being proposed to ship 1.1 million barrels a day of Western Canadian crude, including from Alberta’s oil sands, to the Atlantic Coast.

An offshoot of the pipeline would reach Montreal’s east end, which is not a “recipe for an easy discussion,” especially since the line avoids Toronto, Couillard said in an interview at Bloomberg headquarters in New York Monday. “These concerns are legitimate. It’s not a popular or political expression of negativity towards the West; it’s just normal concerns by citizens over their freshwater reserves.”

TransCanada’s C$15.7 billion ($11.9 billion) Energy East pipeline faces an uncertain future after National Energy Board reviewers assessing the project stepped down earlier this month amid allegations that the regulatory process was tarnished, and after violent protests forced a halt to hearings.

The provincial government will soon begin its own environmental review of Energy East, Couillard said. “We do realize that resources have to gain access to markets, but this being said, we will not compromise our people’s security and safety as far as water is concerned.”

Route Changes

TransCanada takes Quebec’s concerns very seriously, said Tim Duboyce, a Montreal-based spokesman for the company.

Quebec’s environmental review will give TransCanada “an opportunity to continue to answer questions about the project, including safety measures and mitigation measures,” Duboyce said Tuesday in a telephone interview. “It’s very clear that the government and the people have concerns about sources of drinking water. That’s totally natural and we share that. That’s why we put the measures that we do in place to ensure the safe functioning of the pipeline.”

Energy East has faced delays and rising costs as TransCanada has tried to appease critics by making changes to the project’s design and route, including the elimination of a proposed marine export terminal in Quebec.

There are questions that still need to be answered about the pipeline’s safety, Couillard said. “It’s too early” to have an opinion about whether a rerouted pipeline would be enough to win public support for the project. 

‘Ordered Process’

“In order to have a rational discussion, we have to have an ordered process and not go through steps in a hasty way -- and certainly not ignore peoples’ concerns,” he said.

As for TransCanada, the company “will certainly continue to engage with the Quebec government and do our very best to listen to issues as they come up and to address them,” Duboyce said.

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