The sad lament for Energy East and New Brunswick jobs


Let me start this the right way. The Energy East pipeline would have added 32 million tonnes of greenhouse gases a year to the atmosphere. That, as they say in the environmental movement, is the “business as usual” scenario.

What does business as usual get us? It gets a global temperature rise of 10ºC by the year 2300, according to a graph published in Nature magazine last year. If a 2ºC rise threatens life as we know it, imagine habitability on the planet with a temperature rise five times higher.

Somehow those thoughts also occurred to a few wiser heads in the federal government. According to TransCanada the Energy East project was cancelled due to changing circumstances, one of which was the federal government’s decision to allow Energy Board hearings to include deliberations on greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the production and processing of the oil carried by the pipeline. The actual reasons are likely more pragmatic.

First is the price of oil. When Energy East was announced in 2013 oil was topping out at $90+ a barrel. And then the bottom dropped out. Second was Donald Trump’s go-ahead for TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline, which gave oil sands bitumen a route south to southern US refineries. Third is the diminishing profitability of the oil sands itself, with new competition from fracking and shale oil producing abundant cheap energy—for now.

Former NB premier Frank McKenna, a leading proponent of Energy East, claimed that the cancellation is a huge win for Donald Trump, saying that the Americans get “access to Canadian gas and oil for decades to come at deeply discounted prices.” But the truth is, with Keystone coming online, they already do. Frank also lamented that Maritimers were “royally steamed at losing out of being part of the national dream with all of those jobs and opportunity.” And, ”We don’t have access to oil pipelines, we don’t have access to national gas, so we’re literally cut off from the rest of the country.” That is true. But is that such a bad thing?

It’s as if we’re looking at the world as if we’re in a 20-year box. Inside the 20-year space, yes, the loss of the pipeline is a missed opportunity. But beyond 20 years, then what? If we keep up “business as usual” instead of concentrating on transitioning to energy alternatives, we lose the ability to transition fast enough to reduce the impact on earth’s climate. The entire Energy East debacle is about a business case—not the actual case for our survival on the planet.

OK, so forget about the planet. That will be somebody else’s problem a half a century or more into the future. What about those precious jobs Energy East for today?

There was a big PR buzz about that shortly after the project was announced: 10,000 new jobs across Canada, and 3771 (an oddly precise number) jobs created in the Maritimes. But after all the buzz died down, it turned out that there would only be about 120 direct jobs in the region after it was built.

So it’s a polarized debate. On the one hand are large oil producers and their lobbyists like Frank McKenna drawing a dire portrait of the need to develop Canada’s oil resources as a part of our “national dream”. On the other side are the environmentalists and groups like the Council of Canadians and the David Suzuki Foundation claiming we’re on the road to self-extinction. In the middle is actual climate science, which presents a very compelling case that we’re headed for catastrophic consequences from the burning of fossil fuels.

So at what point to we wake up from this bad “national dream” and start to build a new one? The difficulty is our operating frame. Our provincial and federal governments have been hi-jacked by corporate interests. And those interests have no interest in changing their business models that threaten their business survival. And that’s all there is to it. Business survival vs. the survival of future generations. Not just future generations of humans, but future generations of all life on the planet. If I have to choose a side, it’s a pretty easy choice.

As to job creation, it’s been demonstrated over an over again that alternatives create far more long-term jobs than fossil fuel production does.

The most chilling line I read was a statement in June from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers saying that national oil production will climb by 33 per cent by 2030. Beyond “business as usual”, this is growth at any cost. And that’s just unacceptable.

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