Two More Giant Tar Sands Pipelines Reach Milestones As Keystone XL Decision Looms

CREDIT: Shutterstock

Two massive pipeline projects with a combined value of $19 billion passed key hurdles this week — a striking reminder that the fight over Keystone XL is just the beginning of what promises to be a long debate over the future of the Canadian tar sands oil reserves.

The first giant west-to-east pipeline is from TransCanada, the same company that lays claim to Keystone XL. The company’s $12 billion Energy East pipeline would be the largest oil sands pipeline in North America, and on Tuesday filed its project description with Canada’s National Energy Board. Energy East would pump 1.1 million barrels of oil per day from Alberta’s tar sands to terminals in Montreal, Quebec City, and St. John, as well as for export across the Atlantic.

The second pipeline is from Enbridge Inc., which on Thursday got final approval for its Line 9 expansion project to bring tar sands to Montreal. But Line 9 isn’t their biggest approval this week. On Monday, the company announced it has received financial backing for its $7 billion Line 3 Replacement project. That project would replace an existing 46-year-old pipeline between Alberta and Wisconsin, and double oil flow from 390,000 barrels of oil per day to 760,000.

Here’s a little bit more about each proposal.

TransCanada’s Energy East

Energy East's proposed route through Canada, with Keystone XL marked in purple through America.

Energy East’s proposed route through Canada, with Keystone marked in purple through America.

CREDIT: TransCanada

Priced at $12 billion, Energy East is the most expensive pipeline in TransCanada’s history. It 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. With TransCanada’s proposal released Tuesday, that figure has been upped to 1.1 million barrels.

According to TransCanada’s proposal, the proposed route would cross nine “environmentally significant” areas, seven of which are of national concern and two are of international concern. It crosses through three “important bird areas,” two areas with high potential for fossil discovery and “numerous” existing fossil sites and historic period archaeological sites. More than 5,500 landowners have been identified by TransCanada along the Energy East Mainline route.

The company’s project proposal does not mention its potential effect on greenhouse gas emissions or climate change. The pipeline would be transporting tar sands crude — a thick, hard-to-extract mixture of heavy oil, sand, and water that has been deemed the “dirtiest type of liquid fuel” by scientists who say the unique and energy-intensive extraction process produces three times the greenhouse gas emissions of conventionally produced oil.

Enbridge’s Line 3 Replacement

Enbridge’s Line 3 Replacement (L3R) is the largest project in Enbridge’s history, replacing a 46-year-old pipeline. Pipelines over the course of time inevitably experience corrosion, fatigue stress, and damage from outside forces — so from a business and environmental sense, it would make sense to replace old infrastructure.

The big deal about this project, though, is that the replacement pipeline would be bigger. It would double capacity of the pipeline from 390,000 barrels of tar sands oil per day to 760,000 — almost as much as the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which would have a capacity of 860,000 barrels of oil per day. That oil would be brought into the United States.

“Replacing the pipeline is the most efficient way to maintain the reliability of Line 3, and it’s also the most timely and reliable transportation solution for transporting Western Canadian crude oil to refinery markets in Chicago, the U.S. Gulf Coast, and the Eastern U.S. and Canada,” Enbridge’s webpage for Line 3 reads.

But unlike TransCanada’s Keystone XL, which needs approval from the U.S. government because it crosses international borders, Enbridge’s Line 3 may not need U.S. approval to be replaced, even though it is expanding capacity.

“Line 3 already operates under an existing Presidential permit,” Al Monaco, CEO of Enbridge, told investors from Houston on Monday, according to a report in the Vancouver Sun. “So what we’re doing here is restoring Line 3 to its original condition.”

The Sierra Club Foundation’s director John Bennet told the Sun that the massive increase in oil production would be a “nightmare” scenario for trying to stop climate change.

“Despite the oil companies’ continual talk about technology and science, they obviously don’t understand science, because you cannot deal with climate change by producing more and more oil,” Bennet said.