Days before Canada’s energy regulator was set to resume its review of TransCanada’s proposed Energy East tar sands pipeline, the company announced it was pulling the plug. The project’s doom spells the end of the largest tar sands pipeline project ever proposed.
Designed to carry 1.1 million barrels per day (bpd) of tar sands from Alberta to an ocean port in Saint John, New Brunswick, Energy East represented the tar sands industry’s dream of endless, unrestrained growth. But accelerating climate change, extraordinary public opposition, depressed oil prices, stagnant production growth, and global policy shifts prioritizing cleaner energy sources worked in concert to make the project obsolete long before the pipe had any chance of going into the ground. Moves by Canada’s National Energy Board (NEB) to study the project’s substantial cumulative greenhouse gas impacts, which were announced last month, may have been the final nail in the project’s coffin.
The end of this project is great news for the climate, our oceans, and the boreal forest from which the tar sands are strip mined and pumped from the ground. If Energy East had been built, greenhouse gas emissions from the production, transport, and consumption of the oil it would have moved were estimated at 256 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (or its equivalents) per year. That number is equivalent to more than one third of Canada’s annual greenhouse gas emissions, or the emissions of 54 million cars.
Because the proposed project relied on oil supertankers carrying between 1.2 million and nearly 2 million barrels of oil, it also presented astonishing risks to the Atlantic coast from New Brunswick all the way south to Florida. As NRDC documented in our report, “Tar Sands in the Atlantic Ocean,” the potential impacts to endangered marine mammals, critical fisheries, and iconic tourism destinations were severe. To get Energy East’s oil to markets on the U.S. East and Gulf Coasts, tankers would have navigated through critical habitat of the endangered North Atlantic right whale, the endangered North Atlantic fin whale, the Northeast’s lobstering areas, and many of the East Coast’s commercial fisheries. Loaded with diluted bitumen (a blend of thick tar sands and light hydrocarbons), these tankers also presented the Atlantic coast with potentially insurmountable spill risks due to the way diluted bitumen behaves when spilled in water.
With Energy East off the table, the fight against further tar sands production expansion is far from over. On October 11, environmental plaintiffs, including NRDC, will be in federal court challenging TransCanada’s revived Keystone XL pipeline and the Trump administration’s cross-border permit for that project. Meanwhile, on the West Coast, the legal battle against Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain expansion project—590,000 bpd of new export capacity per day—has just begun in Canadian federal courts. And in the Midwest, Enbridge’s proposed Line 3 replacement, a brand new pipeline designed to carry over 900,000 bpd of tar sands, is in the midst of a contentious state permitting process, with Minnesota’s Department of Commerce recently finding that the pipeline is not in the state’s interests and lacks a strong economic justification for being built.