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No Keystone? No Problem: TransCanada Pushing Another Major Tar Sands Pipeline

By Kiley Kroh  

"No Keystone? No Problem: TransCanada Pushing Another Major Tar Sands Pipeline"

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keystone1With a decision regarding its proposed Keystone XL pipeline delayed indefinitely in the U.S., TransCanada Corp. has set to work promoting another major tar sands pipeline that would carry almost as much crude as Keystone. On Tuesday, the company released a study projecting that construction of the massive Energy East pipeline will result in 2,300 jobs from now through 2015 during the development phase and 7,700 jobs during the construction phase between 2016 and 2018. After the pipeline is completed, the study estimates it will support 1,000 full-time jobs.

Energy East, the most expensive pipeline in TransCanada’s history, would run from Alberta to the Atlantic seaboard, ending where a new deep-water marine terminal would be built to export the crude overseas. In early August, TransCanada said it received the long-term contracts for about 900,000 barrels of crude per day and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has already indicated his support for the project.

Canadians, however, are not so sure. Many question the environmental and economic impact of a pipeline transporting crude across the entire country — with much of the product intended for consumption overseas. According to the Calgary Herald, “The mayor of Edmundston [New Brunswick] says he wants the company to guarantee the west-to-east pipeline, which could traverse his city of 16,000, won’t harm the area’s watershed.”

The proposal is being met with particularly stiff opposition in Quebec, where Premier Pauline Marois has halted natural gas exploration while July’s deadly Lac-Megantic crude oil train explosion is still being cleaned up.

In the province of Ontario — which has to sign off in order for the pipeline plan to be approved — there are major barriers regarding the economic and environmental ramifications of the pipeline. Because the proposal involves converting an existing natural gas pipeline to transport the tar sands crude, for instance, Ontario officials are concerned that taking away the significant volumes of natural gas that flow through the existing pipe may mean relying more on supplies from the U.S.

And TransCanada has a history of inflating jobs numbers. As the Center for American Progress notes, the company initially said the Keystone XL pipeline might create as many as 20,000 construction and manufacturing jobs. But they quickly reduced that projection, explaining that the calculation was based on a “one job-one year” measure, meaning that one person working for two consecutive years would be counted twice. Using a more accurate calculation, TransCanada estimated the project would result in approximately 6,500 jobs per year over the two year construction period.

A U.S. State Department analysis found an even smaller number, estimating the project would directly create only 3,900 temporary construction jobs per year. After construction is complete, the operation of the pipeline would only support 35 permanent and 15 temporary jobs, with “negligible socioeconomic impacts.”

These negligible impacts are no surprise to locals living along the proposed route. Rick Balcom, owner of the No. 3 saloon in Buffalo, North Dakota said he doesn’t expect to see much of a difference in business if the pipeline is approved and construction workers move in. “I can’t think of anybody who would be hugely disappointed if it didn’t go through,” he told Bloomberg News. “It’s kind of a deal right now where we could take it or leave it.”

No matter the socioeconomic impact, tar sands production and transport has a major environmental imprint. Extracting and refining tar sands oil is much more energy intensive than conventional oil. And petroleum coke, a byproduct of tar sands, causes even more greenhouse gas pollution.

In addition, the risk of tar sands pipeline spills on the communities they traverse cannot be overlooked. Two U.S. towns in Michigan and Arkansas are prime examples of the devastating long-term effects of pipeline spills on the environment and residents’ health and well-being.

On a conference call touting the benefits of the Energy East pipeline, TransCanada Chief Executive Officer Russ Girling stood by the Keystone jobs claims, reported Reuters. “There are certain folks that are opposed to the development of pipelines and, I think, have purposely tried to confuse the job numbers,” Girling said. “What we are trying to do is be as transparent as possible in terms of the job numbers.”

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