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The price of our dependence on oil

By Steven Guilbeault.

"Like you, I was horrified by the train derailment last month in Lac-Mégantic. On behalf of everyone at Equiterre, our deepest sympathies and condolences to all those who lost family members and friends.

In addition to taking 47 lives, the Lac-Mégantic derailment also resulted in the worst inland oil spill in the history of North America. This dubious distinction used to belong to the Canadian pipeline company Enbridge – the same Enbridge that is currently seeking permission to bring tar sands crude through Quebec. A 2010 oil spill caused by a rupture in one of Enbridge’s pipelines near Marshall, Michigan leaked 3.7 million litres of oil into a creek feeding the Kalamazoo River.

Unfortunately, the Kalamazoo oil spill wasn’t an isolated incident. According to the American Center for Biological Diversity, “a new analysis of oil and gas pipeline safety in the United States reveals a troubling history of spills, contamination, injuries and deaths.” The following is a time-lapse video of American pipeline incidents since 1986.

These thousands of spills have had a huge impact on the environment, particularly on groundwater. They have cost taxpayers a lot of money in terms of cleanup, a process that in some cases can take more than several years to complete.

Yet, it only took a few hours after the derailment in Lac-Mégantic for comments to appear on social networks and in some media saying that this kind of accident does not happen when oil is transported by pipeline.

Pipelines versus trains?

According to the International Energy Agency, trains experience more oil spills than pipelines, but pipelines spill more oil, about three times as much volume as trains. Litre for litre, pipelines spill less than trains. But since pipelines carry much more oil than trains, they spill more oil overall.

Remember: a total of 5.7 million litres of oil was spilled in Lac-Mégantic, but pipeline company Enbridge has spilled more than that, an average of 1.9 million litres a year, between 2007 and 2012.

To name Enbridge alone, the company’s number of pipeline incidents has doubled since 2000, even though the amount of oil transported has remained virtually the same.

Imagine what effect increasing the amount of oil transported could have…

It's scary to think about.

Quebec, battlefield for Alberta oil

Two mega-pipeline projects involving Alberta oil are now on the table in Quebec.

Why Quebec? Perhaps because the rest of North America has said no to pipeline projects. British Columbia has not endorsed Enbridge’s Northern Gateway project. President Obama has not okayed the TransCanada Keystone XL, which he estimates would only create somewhere around 50 jobs in the long term. Fifty jobs. That won’t do much for the economy. Any economy. Whether in the United States, Canada or Quebec.

Enbridge’s Line 9B reversal

You may remember the Trailbreaker project. Enbridge wanted to reverse the flow in two pipelines that go through Quebec to use them to export highly polluting crude oil from Alberta’s tar sands. Enbridge claims to have shelved this project, which would have exposed communities along the pipelines to an increased risk of more severe oil spills. But the events of 2012 tell another story.

First Enbridge got the okay to reverse the flow in an Ontario section of one of the two Trailbreaker pipelines. Then it asked for permission to reverse the flow in the rest of the line. If successful, Enbridge will have achieved half of its Trailbreaker project.

TransCanada’s proposed Energy East pipeline project

TransCanada Corp. recently announced a new $11 billion mega-pipeline project intended to carry crude oil from the tar sands to eastern Canada.

Our dependence on oil means that oil is always in transit on our roads, on our rivers (including the St. Lawrence), on our railroads and in pipelines that, in some cases, pass by our homes. The solution is not to debate the merits of a particular mode of transport, but rather to free ourselves from this dependence.

P.S. Wondering what you can do? Join me in signing this petition."