Interview with Eastern Ontario anti-pipeline activists

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“What benefit could there possibly be to make up for the risks involved?”

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“What benefit could there possibly be to make up for the risks involved?”

As I’ve previously reported, people in the small eastern Ontario town where I live are seriously concerned about TransCanada Corp’s plan to pump tar sands bitumen through our community. Chris Weissflog and I spent an hour discussing the issues with Jennifer Westendorp, a reporter for a weekly newspaper published by Metroland Media.

Her article, posted below, does a pretty good job of summarizing our concerns … and the lame response of our Conservative mayor, who publicly declared his support for the project before anyone in town had heard about it.

Related reading:




by Jennifer Westendorp
Kemptville Advance, August 8, 2013

Members of Sustainable North Grenville feel the proposed TransCanada pipeline, which will run through the North East corner of the community and be operational by 2017, is too big a risk to take.

“The simple question I have is what benefit could there possibly be to make up for the risks involved?” said Ian Angus, a member of SNG. “The only thing I can think of is profit for oil companies.”

Angus said the company intends to retrofit an existing 55-year-old pipe, which runs under a portion of the Rideau River, to transfer not oil, but bitumen. He said bitumen is a very different animal than oil, which has clean-up procedures in place in case of water-related spills.

“Oil floats on water,” said Angus. Angus said oil is not what TransCanada proposes to use the pipe for. According to the SNG member, the company intends to transport a substance called dilbit, which is essentially diluted bitumen.

“Bitumen is mined from the tar sands,” said Angus. “It is the consistency of dry peanut butter. It contains sand, sulfur, heavy metals and various chemicals.”

He explained that bitumen won’t flow through pipes, unlike oil. Bitumen has to be boiled down, using enormous amounts of water, to produce a substance with the consistency of slightly warmer peanut butter. After the boiling process, Angus said solvents are added to the substance to create dilbit. He said TransCanada won’t release information regarding the contents of these solvents, preferring instead to keep it a trade secret.

“If the pipe leaks, the dilbit is heavier than water and will sink to the bottom of the river,” said Angus. “The solvents are lighter and tend to evaporate, which could send poisonous gases into the air.”

Angus said that the materials that will be transported through the pipe are highly corrosive.

He spoke at length of a spill that occurred on the Kalamazoo River in Michigan, which occurred three years ago. He said that roughly 843,000 gallons of dilbit poured into the river, which cost over a billion dollars to clean up. “That was a smaller pipeline than the one they have proposed to go through North Grenville,” said Angus. “Oil in water is bad enough, but they have a clean-up procedure in place for that. What happened in Kalamazoo was different. The solvents evaporated right away and the whole town had to be evacuated.”

Angus said residents weren’t allowed to go swimming, fishing or boating on the river for years following the incident.

They had to close down 45 kilometers of the river for years as a result of the spill.

“Imagine having to close down the Rideau Canal system from Kemptville to Bank Street in Ottawa for years,” said Angus.

Chris Weissflog, another member of the SNG, said that North Grenville will only be subject to a few kilometers of the proposed pipeline, but the part it will affect flows underneath the Rideau River.

“The pipe will affect a very sensitive area in our community,” said Weissflog. “If it breaks in that section, the river will spread the material and make it impossible to contain. It will have an extreme impact on the environment.”

Angus said that two pipelines break every day in Canada. “Most of these incidents aren’t reported,” he claimed.

Angus said there is absolutely no benefit to North Grenville, as there will be no job creation.

“The biggest benefit to the North Grenville economy would be if a break occurs and a first response team decides to stay in one of the motels and eat out at a few local restaurants,” he said.

Angus said the dilbit will be transported through North Grenville, all the way to Saint John, New Brunswick and from there shipped overseas.

“The whole idea is to become oil independent and yet they’re shipping it overseas,” said Weissflog.

Angus said that up until a year-and-a-half ago, a citizens group could approach the National Energy Board with their concerns. He said the government decided that this caused too much delay, so the rules were changed. According to Angus, if one wishes to make a complaint about a proposed pipeline project, one must fill out a complex form and submit it to get permission to write a letter voicing one’s concerns.

“Most of these are rejected,” said Angus. “You have to prove you will be directly affected by the pipeline, such as if it was going right through your basement.”

Angus and Weissflog said the best way to combat the pipeline going through North Grenville is by contacting all levels of government and voicing concerns. The proposed pipeline will transport more than 1.1 million barrels of dilbit through North Grenville every day.

North Grenville Mayor David Gordon said further discussion is needed, in order to decide on the best and safest method for the transportation of such materials. “We have to focus on the safest way to transport the materials,” he said.

Gordon noted that the health and safety of North Grenville residents is his main concern.

“If the pipeline is the safest method, then so be it,” said Gordon.

The mayor said he would love to look at alternative sources of energy, but at this point in time, society relies on oil. “It’s the chicken and the egg argument, which comes first?” said Gordon. “You need to have the source to get the energy.”