“It was a clear and decisive decision that sets out a clear message to..all governments that they need to stay in their own lane.” – Sonya Savage, Alberta Minister of Energy.

Savage was referring to the recent Supreme Court decision which dismissed British Columbia’s attempt to block the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. However, indigenous appeals are still pending. In the event that the project remains mired in red tape, we should consider two alternatives:

Option A is the Energy East project. Peter MacKay declared, “Energy East is a nation-building project that can help secure Canada’s economic future and energy independence while fostering national unity and helping our allies.”

This 4600-km pipeline was to run from Hardisty, Alberta to Saint John, New Brunswick. In spring 2014, former Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard agreed that inasmuch as Quebec received equalization payments, it owed it to other provinces to help sell their products. Later that year, he and Kathleen Wynne attached a list of seven conditions for the pipeline, but then-NB Premier Brian Gallant termed them “very reasonable and achievable.” Francois Legault, the current Quebec premier, did favour the pipeline in 2016, and stated, “Were aiming for zero equalization and one way to get there would be to receive royalties on the oil transiting through Quebec.

Recently, although he was receptive to receiving natural gas from Alberta for liquefaction and export, he be told Jason Kenney that there was still “no social acceptability for a new oil pipeline in Quebec.” (italics mine)

This is despite the Lac-Magantic rail disaster, the increase in tanker cars carrying oil by a factor of 50 from 2009-2013, and the Fraser Institute study that found pipelines to be four times safer than rail transport. Thanks to a reversal of Enbridge Line 9B into Montreal in 2015, now 53% of the oil used in Quebec now comes from the West. Some 66% of Quebecers prefer to buy Canadian oil.

Energy East would reduce Atlantic Canada’s reliance on Saudi oil. It would generate $55 billion in economic benefits for Canada and $9.3 billion for Quebec. All provinces along the route agree except for Quebec.

The Quebec National Assembly passed the following motion: “Quebec has full legitimacy to refuse pipeline projects on its territory, including a potential relaunch of the Energy East project..” Yet if Legault still refuses to allow new pipeline construction to the New Brunswick border, consider the another alternative:

 

Option B: Few persons are aware of it, but the Portland-Montreal Pipe Line opened in 1941 to convey foreign oil to Montreal. The South Portland Planning Board approved a proposal to reverse the pipeline’s flow in 2009. However, the South Portland, Maine city council passed a “Clear Skies Ordinance” in July 2014. This prohibited the bulk loading of crude oil tankers in South Portland. Since 2016, this pipeline has been unused.

The pipeline company filed a federal lawsuit which cost the city $2.4 million in legal fees. On January 10, 2020, the First US Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston asked the seven-member Maine Judicial Court to determine whether the Clear Skies Ordinance conflicts with state law and violates the licensing authority of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. The decision may take six months. If the state court does rule in favour of the pipeline company, the city of Portland would have no recourse to appeal.

Were Suncor to install a coker unit at its Montreal Refinery, it could apparently increase its ability to process bitumen. This might lessen opposition by environmentalists to sending unrefined bitumen down the old pipeline to Portland, Maine and loading it onto tanker ships.

While a route through Maine would not benefit workers in New Brunswick, it might be the only way around persistent opposition by Quebec politicians about constructing new oil pipelines through that province. It would provide access to Atlantic tidewater so that for Alberta oil could finally reach world markets. Canadians in the Maritimes would then have the ability to purchase Western Canadian oil via the nearby port of Portland.

As Premier Jason Kenney asserted, “We need pipelines for the prosperity of all Canadians, including Quebecers. Quebec and Alberta are natural allies and should work together.”

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