Energy East and the Illogical Dance of Overwhelming Energy Consumption

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Energy East and the Illogical Dance of Overwhelming Energy Consumption

Marc St. Dennis

Graduate Student, Carleton University


A couple of weeks ago I received an email from Barbara Leckie, a founder of The Carleton Climate Commons Working Group (CCC), asking if I would like to write a blog post for the website. It didn’t take me long to answer with an enthusiastic affirmative: a) I enjoy writing (unless it’s for a twenty-five page essay that I forgot is due in twelve hours) and, b) I think it’s really cool that I have been invited to participate in the beginning stages of CCC.

The purpose of this group is admirable; to bring together people of different backgrounds, experience, and expertise in order to facilitate discussion regarding the ever-more-present issue of climate change. It is a forum of varied perspectives with a goal of “seeing things in a new light”.

The science is sound; climate change is real, it is present, and we need to work together to create a solution. This will not be easy. Climate change is not a linear problem, where its roots are found at Point A and the answer at Point B. Rather, climate change is inherently complex. It affects every aspect of life on this planet in both subtle and obvious ways.

The first step to understanding this requires that we share our experiences and knowledge with one another. A great example of such a scenario is the aforementioned ‘pipeline meeting’ which I attended on a cold February evening.

The event took place in Franny Nudelman’s house (another founder of CCC), which is located in Ottawa’s charming ‘Glebe’ community. It took me a few moments to figure out that there was no doorbell and that I, in fact, had to use the large metal door knocker mounted at eye level (one just does not assume to look for these anymore)!

The first thing I noticed was Franny’s friendly smile and the warm atmosphere of her house (and not just because it was cold outside). The second thing I noticed was the life-sized wooden artists’ mannequin lounging in the corner – points for awesomeness; this was going to be a great night!


Indeed, I was right. Thirteen people of various professions, ages, and backgrounds squeezed into Franny’s living room. The guest of honour was Ben Powless from Ecology Ottawa. He was there to talk to us about the Energy East Pipeline that TransCanada is trying to push into existence.

One of the ways in which we can prevent climate catastrophe is by cutting back – dramatically – on the use of fossil fuel. In Canada, this means keeping 80% of our oil in the ground. Pipelines, and their creation, are not conducive to this goal (surprise)! Thus, I knew that Energy East was problematic. But I did not fully understand the scale of its proposed operation until Ben explained it to us.

Let me break it down:

The proposed route is approximately 4600km long and stretches from the Alberta tar sands to the East Coast.

If you’re a resident of Ottawa you should probably know that the Energy East pipeline will go under the Rideau and Mississippi river. These both flow into the Ottawa River, which in turn happens to be our source of drinking water. What could possibly go wrong…?

A significant portion of this pipe work is already in place and is currently being used to transfer natural gas to Ontario. TransCanada intends to appropriate this for bitumen.

These pipes are 46 inches in diameter. That would equate to the ability to transfer 1.1 million barrels; or 175 million litres; or 80 Olympic sized swimming pools of oil. Every day. That’s over 1 billion litres of oil a week.

The kicker: It costs more energy to create and ship a single barrel of bitumen oil than that barrel itself can create.

Here is why:

Pure bitumen is so thick that in order to push it through pipelines a hydrocarbon based dilutant must be added to create a mixture that is thin enough to flow easily through a relatively narrow channel. But guess what? The dilutants cannot be found in Canada. They are shipped from the Middle East, added to the bitumen in Alberta, and transported through the pipelines to a refinement centre. Here more energy is used to separate the bitumen from the dilutant and to then turn the bitumen into usable oil. Then the dilutant is shipped back to Alberta to be used once again.

On top of this, the pumping stations for the pipelines use hundreds of kilowatts of energy just to keep the bitumen flowing.

But the proposed Energy East pipeline doesn’t really end at the East coast. That bitumen has to go somewhere. This means the involvement of massive tanker ships (more energy consumption, really…?). These will pass through important ecological environments such as the Bay of Fundy.

Finally, consider the fact that in order to get tar out of the ground it has to be mined. This is one of the most energy intensive ways of extracting anything.

It is like some sort of ridiculous and illogical dance of overwhelming energy consumption all for the almighty dollar.

On the bright side, it’s not like this project will be approved without proper debate! Sort of…

TransCanada submitted their application for Energy East to the National Energy Board (NEB) in October, 2014. It was only a measly 35 thousand pages. You know, light reading…

They also had the discourtesy to not translate the document into French, even though the proposed pipeline stretches across the entirety of Quebec and other French speaking communities.

The bureaucratic process requires the NEB to review TransCanada’s application – somehow – and offer their recommendation to the Government of Canada. But here’s the thing: Prime Minister Harper recently made Cabinet responsible for the approval or disapproval of these types of projects. All NEB can do is provide their opinion. And if their opinion happens to be an overwhelming “NO” Harper can simply say, “thanks for the advice, but we’ll proceed regardless of your sound judgement”.

Yet all hope is not lost! We can still act.

Contact your MP and MPP! If you live in a city that is affected by Energy East, contact your city councillor. You can do this by phone, email, snail mail, carrier pigeon; I don’t care how. Just do it! Let them know you are concerned!

Next, get your smart phones out and tweet, update your Facebook status, and send Snapchats to your friends letting them know how totally uncool Energy East is. We need to talk about these sorts of issues if anything is going to be done to stop them.

If you’re feeling particularly ambitious you can file an application to the NEB’s review of Energy East by following the steps in this handy link ( Help flood them with climate concerns.*

And hey, worst-case-scenario, I hear there’s a federal election coming up.

*The last day for submission was Tuesday, February 3. According to, “at least 65 per cent of the total number of applicants … want to talk about climate change”. (

Marc St. Dennis is a graduate student at Carleton University where he studies environmental philosophy in Canadian politics.

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