Two premiers from opposite ends of the country are promoting the idea of a pipeline from Alberta’s oil sands to the Atlantic coast as a way of opening new markets and bringing jobs to a struggling region.
Alberta’s Alison Redford and New Brunswick’s David Alward have been talking about a pipeline that would deliver Alberta oil to the Irving refinery in Saint John.
“It looks like it’s going to be a feasible option and that’s a good thing,” Ms. Redford told The Globe and Mail.
“A national pipeline from west to the east coast could be as important today as the railway was in centuries past,” Mr. Alward said.
But their counterparts in Nova Scotia and Quebec don’t share their enthusiasm. Nova Scotia’s Premier Darrell Dexter is skeptical about the project actually extending into his province and Quebec’s new Parti Québécois government has raised concerns about the environmental risks of heavy Alberta oil coming through a pipeline to refineries in Montreal.
Ms. Redford told The Globe that it’s important for her province to “get further export access.”
“I think there is a lot more room for us to think differently about how we’ve used our pipelines,” she said. “In some ways, it’s may be a bit surprising that we’ve not actually talked about it much before but I’m glad that so many are talking about it now.”
No wonder she’s pleased: Two key ventures, the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would take Alberta’s oil to Texas and the Northern Gateway pipeline to British Columbia, are in limbo.
In addition, the United States is poised to become the world’s largest oil producer in the next few years, putting added pressure on Alberta to look for new markets.
Ms. Redford has spoken several times with Mr. Alward, who is leading the charge. He is hoping there will be some discussion about this when the premiers meet in Halifax this week to talk about the economy.
“We have so much to offer producers in the West,” he said. Mr. Alward sees the pipeline – and there is pipe already as far east as Montreal – being extended to the Irving oil refinery in Saint John, which he noted makes up more than 40 per cent of Canada’s export of refined petroleum products already.
Mr. Alward said the refinery offers “great access to the eastern seaboard” as Saint John is a deep-water port able to handle huge supertankers, which the St. Lawrence cannot.
“What that means to producers in Alberta long-term is very, very positive as well,” he said.
Mr. Alward noted that as many as 100 rail cars a day full of oil are now coming from Alberta and the United States to the Saint John refinery.
He believes a pipeline would mean more long-term operational jobs for New Brunswickers, construction jobs as the refinery may have to be upgraded, and spin-off jobs from related industries.
Mr. Alward is spearheading this concept as his province needs a boost. The Globe reported that New Brunswick’s economy did not move at all last year while Canada’s gross domestic product grew 2.6 per cent.
“A strong economy in Alberta is great for all of Canada,” Mr. Alward said. “If you look at the natural resources they produce, they are not getting as great a value for those as they could because of the lack of market opportunity they have.”
Mr. Dexter said he has seen no proposal from the private sector, which would have to build the pipeline and find customers. In addition, the Dartmouth, N.S., refinery would not be able to handle the heavy, thick bitumen that comes from the oil sands.
“From our perspective here, any strengthening of the energy infrastructure is a good thing for Atlantic Canada,” Mr. Dexter said. “What that would mean for Nova Scotia is hard to know. I have seen no proposal that would bring that to Nova Scotia.”
But Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie talked over the idea with Ms. Redford on Sunday night, just before she spoke at his party’s annual dinner in Halifax. He wants to build a Maritime-wide energy market for electricty and gas – a west-to-east pipeline would be part of this.
“She’s looking for customers for Alberta crude. With the Keystone XL pipeline to the States on hold ... and with so much controversy over a pipeline west to B.C., I told her we’ll take it,” Mr. Baillie said. “What a great way to build a national energy strategy.”
Influential former New Brunwick premier Frank McKenna sees a west-east pipeline in even grander terms: as a unifying force for the country. “Eastern Canada needs to have access to petroleum products,” Mr. McKenna said.