Pipeline company TransCanada is canceling its plans to build an oil export terminal in Quebec, a move that the company says will postpone the start of its proposed Energy East pipeline for more than a year.
TransCanada announced Thursday that, due to concerns about the safety of beluga whale populations in the St. Lawrence River, it won’t building marine and tank terminals in Cacouna, Quebec. Cacouna borders the St. Lawrence.
The company said in a statement that it is looking at other options for export sites in Quebec for the Energy East, a pipeline that would carry tar sands oil more than 2,850 miles from Hardisty, Alberta east to Saint John, New Brunswick. TransCanada had planned two export terminals for the project: one in Cacouna and one in Saint John. Because of the change in plans, TransCanada says the pipeline now has a projected start date of early 2020, rather than late 2018.
TransCanada previously halted work on the Cacouna terminal in December, after the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) recommended that the population of beluga whales in the St. Lawrence River be labelled endangered. At the time, TransCanada said it was looking into what impacts Energy East would have on the belugas, and was reviewing “all viable options.” Now, the company says it’s been swayed to scrap plans for the terminal completely.
“This decision is the result of the recommended change in status of the Beluga whales to endangered and ongoing discussions we have had with communities and key stakeholders,” Russ Girling, TransCanada’s president and chief executive officer, said in a statement. “We have listened and our decision reflects that.”
Since Energy East would carry the same tar sands oil that the controversial Keystone XL pipeline would carry and is being proposed by the same company, it has been seen as the main alternative to carry Canada’s tar sands oil to market if Keystone XL isn’t constructed. Like Keystone in the U.S., however, the proposed pipeline — which if approved would involve building new pipeline as well as converting hundreds of miles of natural gas pipeline into oil line — has run into significant opposition in Canada and in parts of the Northeast U.S. Last October, thousands of protesters marched through Cacouna in opposition to the pipeline and its Quebec terminal.
Some political leaders have also voiced their concerns about the project. Ontario Premiers Kathleen Wynne and Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard said in November that, before they can sign off on the project, TransCanada must look into how Energy East will contribute to climate change. One report has found that the pipeline, which will have a higher capacity than Keystone XL, will contribute significantly: last year, Canada’s Pembina Institute found that Energy East could create more greenhouse gas emissions than Keystone XL, generating 30 million to 32 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions each year, compared with Keystone’s 22 million metric tons.
Even though the cancellation of the Cacouna terminal doesn’t spell the end for Energy East, it’s still a win for opponents. Some Canadians, including well-known environmentalist David Suzuki, have been fighting for months to halt TransCanada’s work in Cacouna and protect the belugas’ St. Lawrence habitat. The concern for the belugas isn’t surprising: The whales have had a difficult past in the St. Lawrence, struggling with whaling in the early and mid 1900’s and pollution that caused cancer, blood poisoning, and hepatitis. Last September, a researcher warned that the river’s whales were on a “catastrophic trajectory,” and that the Energy East terminal would do little to help the creatures.
Now, opponents are focused on killing the Energy East Pipeline altogether.
“Yes it’s a win, but ultimately the entire project needs to be scrapped,” Andrea Harden-Donahue, energy and climate campaigner at the Council of Canadians, told Reuters. “I think we’re going to see more municipalities taking a stand on this, more landowners. I think (aboriginal group) opposition along the route is strong and growing.”