A new report being released by environmental groups questions whether the proposed Energy East pipeline is necessary to supplant Eastern Canada's oil imports from the foreign suppliers frequently mentioned by TransCanada Corp. (TSX:TRP), the company proposing the $12-billion project.
In making the case for the massive cross-Canada project, TransCanada has said repeatedly that eastern Canadian refiners rely on imports for 86 per cent of their daily needs. It often lists Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Venezuela and Algeria as the top suppliers to Quebec and the Atlantic provinces.
But Environmental Defence and Greenpeace looked at Statistics Canada international trade data and come to a different conclusion in their report being released Wednesday: Saudi Arabia, Algeria and Nigeria made up about 14 per cent of Eastern Canada's crude imports for the first eight months of this year, while Venezuela doesn't crack the list.
During that period, the United States was the top supplier of crude to Quebec and New Brunswick — the destination points for Alberta crude that would flow through Energy East — making up about half of total imports in both cases. In recent years, fracking technology has helped unlock huge amounts of crude from shale deposits in North Dakota and Texas.
In addition to supplies from the U.S., Quebec got about 11 per cent of its crude imports from Algeria and 2.6 per cent from Nigeria, according to Statistics Canada. Other countries on the list include Norway, Angola, Mexico, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and the United Kingdom.
New Brunswick, home to the country's largest oil refinery, got about 22 per cent of its imported crude from Saudi Arabia, second most after the United States, with Egypt, Norway, Angola, Ivory Coast, Brazil, Cameroon and the United Kingdom rounding out the list.
Newfoundland, home to an ailing refinery in Come by Chance that's recently been sold, received the bulk of its crude from Iraq, but it's not on Energy East's route. A refinery in Dartmouth, N.S., closed last year.
"There's a lot of rhetoric flying around about nation building and job creation in the east and we just don't see any evidence of it," said Adam Scott, with Environmental Defence.
"A lot of people are very concerned about making sure Canada gets value for its resources and we really want to make sure that nobody is misled by this marketing ploy of theirs. It's very disingenuous."
All along, TransCanada has been clear that a big part of Energy East's raison d'etre is to ship Alberta crude to lucrative global markets. Export terminals are planned for eastern Quebec and Saint John, N.B., that would enable tankers loaded with Canadian oil to travel to Europe, India and other destinations, securing a better price for producers.
But the benefit to domestic customers has been a big selling point, too. A report penned by consulting firm Deloitte on behalf of TransCanada in September 2013 found Energy East is expected to be a boon to eastern refineries.
"Eastern Canadian refineries could benefit from the Energy East project due to access to lower cost feedstock, a stable and long-term supply of crude oil and increased negotiating power for long-term crude oil supply contracts," the report said, citing 2012 Statistics Canada data.
The Deloitte report said Quebec refineries get just eight per cent of their supplies from Canada, with those in Atlantic Canada accessing 17 per cent locally. Imports from members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries made up 45 per cent of Quebec's feedstock and 50 per cent of Atlantic Canada's, it said.
TransCanada is expected to file a regulatory application for Energy East to the National Energy Board any day now. The project would be among the largest in Canadian history, spanning six provinces and 4,600 kilometres.
Crude would be shipped about two thirds of the way through a repurposed natural gas pipeline that's already in the ground, with new pipe being built through Quebec and New Brunswick.