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The Energy East Debate

By Spencer Morrison (1L)

Realisticles: Canada is divided over the proposed Energy East pipeline, which would carry 1.1 million barrels of crude oil per day (BOD) from Alberta to Quebec and New Brunswick.

Now, we have all heard the standard arguments for and against the project: it will open new markets, create jobs, and help us get a better price for our oil. But, it may infringe on aboriginal rights, increase the risk of environmental damage, and boost “unsustainable” oilsands development.

As such, I will try to add a fresh perspective to this debate. Energy East is not just a golden goose, or a rotten egg, it is, like it or not, a necessary strategic asset.

Eastern Canada currently imports 634,000 barrels of oil per day, or 86% of its refining capacity, from abroad. Its major suppliers include Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Algeria. We do not morally support these regimes: they flagrantly abuse human rights, oppress women, and fund terrorist organizations.

Yet we buy their oil and thereby fuel their economies. We fund the abuse we decry and we pay for the regimes we deplore. Not only do we explicitly fund our enemies, but we tacitly condone their regimes by retaining strong diplomatic ties and by supplying them with weapons and machinery (in the case of Saudi Arabia). We are beholden to the House of Saud because of their oil.

Energy East would end this enthrallment and would give us the political latitude to deal with the Middle East independently. Since oil is a fungible good, meaning that it can be replaced by a cheaper identical product, and since Alberta oil sells at a discount, it stands to reason that all else being equal, Alberta oil will replace Saudi oil. Therefore, the 1.1 million BOD that Energy East transports should, theoretically, replace the 634,000 bod Eastern Canada imports, while leaving the remaining 466,000 BOD available to export.

By freeing us of our dependence on foreign oil, Canada could finally forage a principled foreign policy in the Middle East and be taken seriously as an impartial arbiter in international disputes.

Rongulus: We, as a nation, have a moral obligation to both our current and future citizens to block the construction of Energy East.

My friend, as usual, wholeheartedly disagrees. Firstly, he correctly identifies that by importing conflict oil funds foreign dictatorships. Then, he creates a false dichotomy by implying Canada either chooses to continue to import OPEC oil or creates Energy East to take dirty Alberta bitumen.

Neither of these options are acceptable, morally or otherwise.

Instead of importing conflict oil, Eastern Canada could switch oil suppliers to less deplorable nations such as the United States. Also, if the Federal government insisted on supplying Quebec through Alberta, why use an environmentally damaging pipeline infrastructure? Clearly using train to transport oil would be efficient. Thousands of jobs could be created expanding railway infrastructure across Canada and hundreds of conductors would gain employment in a sector that is already suffering.

The laurels of trains extends past those of pipelines, since trains are in the end more versatile in their transportation options. By creating a pipeline this almost assuredly puts many train conductors out of work by automating much of the industry. Surely looking forward this is not the way to go.

Aside from this though, instead of trying to grow Alberta’s oil sector, Canada should be looking towards alternative energy for a more sustainable future. Many jobs could be created by researching new energy sources and construction of solar and wind power farms. Reducing our environmental footprint should be at the forefront of this debate and, in essence, epitomizes why Energy East should remain unbuilt.

Realisticles: I must assume your arguments were sarcastic, either that or you have a very poor grip on the facts. To begin with, “bitumen” is the raw material that is then refined into crude oil, which is then exported. I will forgive you though, even our Premier Rachel Notley somehow made this mistake.

Next, my argument is that Energy East will make us energy independent; switching suppliers does not do this, it only changes the country holding the leash.

Regarding rail: it is axiomatic that transporting oil by rail is less efficient and economical, and more likely to result in spills or accidents, than by pipelines. Furthermore, the train industry in Canada is booming, and will be only marginally affected by Energy East, since by the time the project is finished, the supply will likely have grown by a roughly commensurate amount. Also, I believe that the interest of “train conductors” takes a back seat to our national interest, and foreign policy objectives.

If “reducing our environmental footprint” is your true objective, then you should support Energy East, and other pipeline projects, wholeheartedly. This oil is going to be produced, come hell or high water, and we should therefore focus on transporting it in the most environmentally friendly way: by pipeline. Not only will this reduce our carbon footprint, which you seem to care about, but it will reduce the likelihood of oil-spills.

Finally, we must consider the Project’s impact on tanker traffic in the St. Lawrence, and off the Atlantic coast. Last year the Port of Montreal handled over 500 tankers, which sailed up the St Lawrence, navigating its many islands and shoals. With Energy East, it would handle zero. Overall, the number of tankers on the Atlantic coast would decrease by one-third. This is a massive environmental benefit which is not often reported. Clearly, Energy East should be supported.