Atlantic Canada needs to reduce oil use, not build pipeline, says expert

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Dalhousie professor Larry Hughes says Lac-Megantic train disaster carries lesson for Atlantic Canadians and their energy supplies

The Irving oil tanker Acadian glides past the Celtic Cross on the Charlottetown waterfront in this Guardian file photo.

The derailment in Quebec of a train carrying crude destined for the Irving Oil refinery in New Brunswick is raising questions about the security of Atlantic Canada's energy supply, with one expert saying it highlights the need to reduce the region's reliance on oil.

Larry Hughes, a professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax who studies energy issues, said he is concerned the disaster in Lac-Megantic, Que., will be used to help advance a proposal to ship oil through a pipeline from Alberta to the refinery in Saint John, N.B., on the premise that would be safer.

"There have been a spate of accidents moving oil products by rail and there have been pipeline accidents too," Hughes said Monday. "Rather than bringing (oil) here for the longer term, how can we get off of it? That's what we need to be asking ourselves."

Hughes said if plans for a west-to-east pipeline were to forge ahead, it would tie the region's energy supply to a 50-year investment that could mute environmental concerns.

"If we had a pipeline, the argument would be we have to continue using the oil because we have a pipeline and need to keep it full in order to ensure someone's rate of return," he said.

New Brunswick Premier David Alward has promoted the pipeline proposal, saying it would create jobs in a region that sorely needs them.

Alward declined to comment Monday on the merits of shipping oil via pipelines versus rail.

"There have been a spate of accidents moving oil products by rail and there have been pipeline accidents too. Rather than bringing (oil) here for the longer term, how can we get off of it? That's what we need to be asking ourselves." Dalhousie University professor Larry Hughes

"There will be an appropriate time and place to have all those discussions," he said in a statement. "But right now our thoughts and prayers and any support we can offer are with the people of Lac-Megantic and province of Quebec."

Hughes said it would make more sense to have tanker ships bring oil to the Irving Oil refinery from Quebec, rather than building a 1,400-kilometre extension into Saint John as TransCanada Corp. is considering, because that would be safer as they are required to have double hulls.

It would also give the region more flexibility to diversify its energy supply, especially as the use of alternative resources such as solar, wind and biofuels increase over the next 20 years, he said.

"Why invest in a pipeline when we could be investing longer term for various types of renewables to help us reduce our reliance on oil for things such as heating and transportation?" Hughes said.

Irving Oil has boosted its use of rail cars in recent years to import western crude. Mike Ashar, who was president of the company in December while hosting a tour of the Saint John refinery, said at the time it wanted to buy more oil from Alberta and would like to see the pipeline project become a reality.

Organizations: Irving Oil, Dalhousie University, TransCanada Corp.

Geographic location: Lac-Megantic, Province of Quebec, Atlantic Canada Saint John New Brunswick Alberta Halifax

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  • mike
    July 09, 2013 - 12:38

    Its all well and good to say we need to use less oil. however as I am from Pei there is no real other option. our transit system is a joke and we do need gas for our cars and oil to heat our houses. If however we had more grants to offset the cost to convert to Propane many would switch. that being said we would still need a line for propane but its a little safer then oil to transport through a line. Better then this it would be nice if there were more cheaper cars or grants so people could switch to solar/wind power/ thermal heating I would be on board. and If I could get a electric car I would do the same but the Canadian government does not allow many electric cars into Canada compared to other countries. Even if there built in Canada. Canada has a few electric car plants and none of them are allowed to be sold in Canada.

  • Islandguy
    July 09, 2013 - 12:33

    The concept of alternative fuels is nice, problem is it is still a "concept". Solar, wind, geo-thermal, etc. have not proven feasible. Electric cars are a joke. You would need a sea of solar panels to produce enough electricity to eliminate the need for carbon based fuel. Wind turbines are terrible as anyone who lives near them can testify to. Moving crude oil safely by ship is the best solution. My heart goes out to those poor people in Quebec.