Healthcare and oil pipelines
Will Alberta oil ever reach tidewater by pipeline? Why should physicians, other healthcare professionals, and patients be concerned?
Canada Health Transfer payments and equalization help fund social programs such as medicare. Recall that our energy sector accounts for 11% of GDP. Government revenues from energy were $14.1 billion. Thus, maintaining our public healthcare is highly dependent on insuring that our natural resources reach world markets at fair prices.
The Supreme Court has dismissed British Columbia’s attempt to block the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. Four Indigenous appeals are still pending. If the project remains mired in red tape, we should consider two alternatives:
Option A is the Energy East project. Andrew Scheer used this concept for his proposed “National Energy Corridor” for oil, gas, hydroelectricity, and telecommunications.
This pipeline was to run from Hardisty, Alberta, to Saint John, New Brunswick. François Legault favoured the pipeline in 2016, but told Jason Kenney that there was “no social acceptability for a new pipeline in Quebec.” (quotation marks mine).
This is despite the Lac-Magantic rail disaster, the increase in tanker cars carrying oil by a factor of 50 from 2009-2013, and a study that found pipelines four times safer than rail.
In December 2019, a Nanos survey of over 1,000 Canadians found 42% supported and 23% somewhat supported new pipelines. Thanks to a reversal of Enbridge Line 9B into Montreal in 2015, now half of Quebec’s oil comes from the West. If Premier Legault refuses to allow new pipeline construction, consider another alternative:
Option B: the Portland-Montreal Pipe Line, opened in 1941 to bring foreign oil to Montreal. The South Portland Planning Board approved a reversal of the pipeline’s flow in 2009. However, the Maine city council passed a “Clear Skies Ordinance” in 2014, prohibiting bulk loading of crude oil tankers in South Portland. Since 2016, this pipeline has been unused.
The pipeline owners filed a federal lawsuit, and on January 10, 2020, the First US Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston asked the Maine Judicial Court to determine if the Clear Skies Ordinance conflicts with state law and violates the licensing authority of Maine’s Environmental Protection. The decision may take six months. If the ruling favours the pipeline company, Portland would have no recourse to appeal.
And Suncor could install a coker unit at its Montreal Refinery to increase its bitumen processing.
This existing route through Maine might be the way around constructing new oil pipelines through Quebec. It would give Alberta access to Atlantic tidewater. The Maritimes could purchase Western Canadian oil via Portland.
In medicine and in life, one should always have a backup “Plan B.”
With parliament resumed, this should be a major topic for discussion.
Charles S. Shaver, MD,