I hear people say humanity is at a crossroads. We’re not. “Crossroads” implies that we have choice. We don’t. When it comes to our home — our finite earth, a place that has little patience for the manner in which we assert ourselves over all else — there is only one “road”. And there is nothing inherently partisan in saying so. This road is one charted by the earth itself. A road of renewable energy. Change is coming, unlike anything we’ve ever seen. For us, a small and impoverished province, this will be a tough pill to swallow.
Saint John, having a largely monopolized private sector, has little economic prospects. The city is at the mercy of the Irving Oil Ltd. and J.D. Irving Ltd.
What is good for Irving, is not what is good for Saint John, or New Brunswick, for that matter. According to a report released by Plan SJ, one in five Saint Johnners live in poverty. Worse, 30 per cent of children live in poverty – the highest rate in Canada. Too many citizens are being excluded from the economy and too few command it. As all ecosystems depend on diversity, so too does a strong economy. We must collectively act on this, especially in Saint John.
If the Energy East pipeline were to go through, we would not see the revenue that should come with such radical industrial development. Stephen Harper has reduced the corporate tax rate by half, and New Brunswickers, often in desperation, have a history of giving industry a free ride. The Irving-Repsol Canaport deal in 2005 saw a 25-year frozen tax rate of $500,000 on a piece of property assessed at $300 million. That is about one-tenth of what the property should have cost. Saint John taxpayers lose $112 million per year to this. Would Irving Oil and TransCanada’s proposed marine terminal have the same implications?
Many have blindly supported the project, thinking, like the Canaport project, spinoffs will come our way. Nobody has specified what those spinoffs would be. It is wishful thinking — and you don’t risk severe environmental degradation based on wishful thinking. The reality is pipelines don’t create economic booms, rather a quick bang.
This pipeline will shore-up the tar sands’ future; it will secure decades of extraction at a time when people of the world are demanding radical change in the direction of renewable energy. It will be billionaire shareholders who reap Energy East’s benefits, not the children of the impoverished North End or Crescent Valley. We must think outside the broken box.
A report from the Council of Canadians shows that, if completed, this pipeline will be the largest on the continent crossing over 4,400 kilometres from Hardisty, Alberta, to Saint John, delivering 1.1 million barrels of diluted bitumen per day. This substance is a mix of tar sands bitumen and other chemicals to thin the bitumen enough to flow through the pipes. All too often the risk lies in public hands while the profits lie in private hands. As the Council has trumpeted, “It is our risk, and their reward.”
Energy East will cut across the Saint John River and six of its tributaries, the southwest branch of the Miramichi, and the Restigouche River Basin — among 961 waterways, 300 of which are in New Brunswick. Anglers know, with problems from siltation to commercial fisheries overfishing in Iceland, greatly reducing the amount of salmon in the Restigouche, we truly can’t risk a leak, a deathblow. Aside from also jeopardizing beluga whale habitat at the mouth of the St. Lawrence, the tripling of tanker traffic coming into the Bay of Fundy will surely affect the finback, humpback and minke whales common to our shores.
The Fundy Ocean Research Centre for Energy, or FORCE, in Nova Scotia, has estimated that 2,500 megawatts could be extracted from the bay. A 2010 tidal power initiative, a partnership between Irving and the province of New Brunswick, showed the bay’s tides to be so incredibly powerful, they simply blew the measuring device to pieces. Nothing has been done on the New Brunswick side since.
I lament the notion that to speak against tar sands is in some way speaking against the men and women who earn their livelihood there. In fact, it is just the opposite. We must direct the skills of these men and women to new ways of sustaining our energy needs. Moreover, it may be the increase of oil exports that is pushing the loonie artificially high, hurting New Brunswick’s forestry exports to the United States.
We now see a growing movement to localize food production around the world. And if we continue developments such as Energy East, we will only hurt already delicate pools of aquaculture and the fields of our agriculture. We must preserve and protect the land we will need to sustain future generations. It is too late for Energy East. This is no time to be betting the farm.