How to answer TransCanada’s pipeline spin

TransCanada Corp. publicists are currently travelling across Canada, running “open house” community meetings to promote its “Energy East” plan to convert a natural gas pipeline to carry 1.1 million barrels of tar sands bitumen a day, from Alberta to the Atlantic.

These talking points, prepared by the Council of Canadians, provide clear and pointed answers to TransCanada’s lies, damned lies, and pipeline promotion spin.  

Activists who plan to attend the TransCanada self-promotion meetings may wish to download the entire 4-page document, which includes footnotes documenting the points made below.


SPIN: The Energy East pipeline will reduce Atlantic Canada’s dependence on foreign oil.


  • Canada’s energy sector is market-based – oil goes to the highest bidder.
  • A senior economist at Scotiabank has said that Energy East may “provide a new avenue to exporting crude, light or blended bitumen and that it “could open an economic route to Europe, India and possibly China.”
  • There is no assurance that crude refined in Quebec and Saint John will meet Eastern Canadians’ oil demands. According to a press release from Irving Oil (Saint John refinery) from early 2013, “the refinery exports over 80 per cent of its production to the U.S.” as refined products such as gasoline.
  • Paul Browning, Irving President and CEO, said that the project “will allow Canadian producers direct access to world markets for exporting Canadian oil via the world’s largest crude-carrying vessels.”
  • Eastern refineries have limited capacity to process diluted bitumen (dil-bit) from the tar sands, requiring it to be exported for processing. If Enbridge’s Line 9 pipeline reversal project moves forward, this will also impact the capacity of Quebec refineries to process crude from the Energy East pipeline.
  • Atlantic Canada produces oil and gas, yet the majority of this is exported while residents rely on imported oil and gas.

SPIN: This is a nation-building project; it is a “done deal.”


  • What kind of nation is built on reckless expansion in the tar sands? The tar sands, expected to triple production in coming years, are already Canada’s fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions. First Nations living downstream from the tar sands, one of the largest industrial projects on Earth, are facing front line impacts including significantly higher rates of rare cancers. The tar sands are causing serious water and air pollution and destroying large tracts of boreal forest.
  • This deal is far from “done.” Opposition is already bubbling up along the route and organizing is underway. TransCanada will face opposition to this project in each province it crosses. Tar sands pipelines, including Keystone XL, Enbridge’s Northern Gateway and Kinder Morgan’s TransMountain, are under heavy scrutiny and are unlikely to move forward. Why should Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada accept the risks that other provinces are unwilling to?

SPIN: Canadian regulations ensure pipeline safety.


  • The Harper government’s 2012 omnibus budget bill almost entirely wiped out meaningful environmental regulation in Canada. To streamline project approvals, the industry-friendly National Energy Board (NEB) was put in charge of energy projects and final decision making power was given to the cabinet.
  • The NEB regulates pipelines that cross provincial boundaries. Many of the federally-appointed board members come straight from the energy sector or from provincial regulators that green-lighted resource projects.
  • The NEB does not have separate regulations for the transport of diluted bitumen from the tar sands despite ample evidence of the greater risks it poses when spilled.
  • The Harper government has made it extremely difficult for people to participate in NEB hearings. To submit a comment letter about a tar sands pipeline, individuals now need to fill out a nine page NEB online application form justifying the reasons why they should be allowed to do so, including professional credentials and expertise.

SPIN: TransCanada prioritizes environmental safety.


  • Evan Vokes, a former TransCanada engineer became a whistle blower when he publicly stated the corporation was consistently placing budget and schedule considerations ahead of pipeline quality and integrity. Vokes raised these concerns with the NEB. TransCanada is now being audited by the NEB over non-compliance with NEB regulations.
  • While TransCanada promised their Keystone pipeline (Keystone XL will add to this pipeline) would be state-of-the-art, there were twelve oil spills in its first year of operation, including one that spilled 79,493 litres of oil in North Dakota.
  • When the Keystone pipeline was being built, Mike Klink, a pipeline inspector working for a TransCanada contractor, says he witnessed the use of cheap steel that is prone to cracking, poorly spaced rebar, sloppy concrete jobs, and fudged pressure testing. When he reported these issues to TransCanada, he was first ignored and then fired.

SPIN: Converting a pipeline does not increase safety risks.


  • The Exxon Pegasus pipeline spilled an estimated 1 million litres of diluted bitumen (dil-bit) from the tar sands in Mayflower, Arkansas in early 2013. Like the proposed Energy East pipeline, this pipeline was initially built to carry thinner oil at lower pressure.
  • In a study for the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Petroleum Council stated that “pipelines operating outside of their design parameters, such as those carrying commodities for which they were not initially designed, or high flow pipelines, are at the greatest risk of integrity issues in the future due to the nature of their operation.”

SPIN: Tar sands spills are no more damaging than other spills.


  • Bitumen produced in the tar sands is thick, requiring dilution with toxic chemicals to ship in pipelines. These chemicals can include polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons such as benzene, which are known to negatively impact human health.
  • Unlike conventional crude, bitumen does not float, it sinks. This has posed significant challenges to the cleanup of the KalamazooRiver in Michigan, Oregon where close to 3.8 million litres of diluted bitumen spilled in July 2010. Despite the work of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, submerged bitumen has presented a serious challenge to conventional spill response measures. Three years later, the river is still polluted.
  • Enbridge now estimates cleanup costs of close to $1 billion for the Kalamazoo spill.

SPIN: Energy East project will generate thousands of jobs.


  • TransCanada has a bad record of over-estimating potential jobs. While President Obama now talks about 50 to 100 long-term jobs being generated by the Keystone XL pipeline, TransCanada has referred to 20,000 jobs being generated.
  • The Cornell Labour Institute has provided evidence that TransCanada’s Keystone XL job promises were overblown.
  • The use of an existing pipeline for 70 per cent of the Energy East project will reduce job potential.
  • While the Energy East project would generate some jobs, it would also imperil jobs. A spill along the pipeline route, in the waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and coastal waters of New Brunswick, would threaten farming, fisheries, tourism and other sectors reliant on clean water sources.
  • There is tremendous potential for jobs in improving energy efficiency and transitioning to renewable energy sources. Studies suggest that the job potential of energy efficiency and renewable energy generation outpaces that of oil and gas as much as fifteen times. What we are lacking is the political will to make the new energy economy a priority.

Prepared by the Council of Canadians

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