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Introducing our issue devoted to Alberta’s most precious resource – water

We bring you our water issue in the midst of an environmental debate driven by myth and misconception

Mar 1, 2016

by Michael Ganley

It’s tough to be in Alberta these days. Oil prices have been lower for longer than just about ever before, and the light at the end of the tunnel is a long way away. Layoffs, shutterings and investment cutbacks are the norm. We’re in the middle of earnings-reporting season and, across the board, it’s bloodshed.

Which makes Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre’s position on the Energy East pipeline stick particularly hard in the craw. Claiming there isn’t enough in it for his constituents and citing climate change and other environmental risks, Coderre says TransCanada’s plan to ship bitumen to an Irving Oil refinery in New Brunswick (among other destinations) makes no sense. “As president of the Montreal Metropolitan Community, I made known on several occasions our position of ‘zero tolerance’ toward the environmental risks of transporting petroleum products by pipeline,” he wrote in an op-ed in the Montreal Gazette.

To begin, let’s discuss risk: There are pipelines all around us operating at all times, and the vast majority fulfill their mandate without a hitch. Montreal itself is home to 166,000 barrels per day of refining capacity and it relies on a 74-year-old pipeline (the PMPL) and rail. The Montreal lateral of Energy East – which will be built with the latest in anti-corrosion and leak detection technologies – would replace the PMPL and reduce reliance on a rail system that gave us Gogama, Galena and Lac Mégantic. “Zero tolerance” toward the transportation of petroleum products makes as much sense as “zero tolerance” anything.

And don’t lecture about Energy East’s impact on climate change. We all know most of the greenhouse gases come out at combustion and the oil will flow to the demand, to places like Toronto, New York and Montreal. Refineries in Quebec and New Brunswick import hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil every day – the vast majority of their input – from countries like Algeria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria. Squeezing this province’s output by shutting down Energy East will not dent ­climate change.

And it’s not like Albertans aren’t concerned about the environment. The province has announced a world-leading climate change plan and the phasing out of coal-fired power. These are real commitments to combat climate change and we hope other jurisdictions will be as progressive on the file. On the other side of the debate, TransCanada is asking for a ribbon-thin right of way that is mostly established already.

The risk-reward scale tips in favour of building Energy East. Alberta would get a better price for its resource, more money would flow into federal and provincial coffers, and Irving Oil wouldn’t have to import oil from Saudi Arabia.

Knowing the importance Albertans’ place on the environment, we have dedicated this issue to the study of water. Water touches every industry in the province: it fuels the oil sands, puts food on our tables, keeps us healthy and has the potential to power our homes and businesses. We discuss all this and more in this issue.

The special report has taken Alberta Venture’s reporters and photographers around the province, collecting more material than we can fit in the magazine. We hope you enjoy our reporting, and look forward to continuing the discussion online. Visit us at albertaventure.com/water for videos, audio and more from the field.

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