TransCanada Corp. has yet to persuade Quebec residents its proposed Energy East oil pipeline project would be a good deal for the French-speaking province, Premier Philippe Couillard said.
Opposition to the proposed $12-billion venture is growing as Quebeckers fail to see economic benefits for the province while wary of potential environmental disasters, Mr. Couillard said during an interview at Bloomberg headquarters in New York.
"To say here that it's received positively in Quebec would be a long, long stretch," Mr. Couillard said of the Energy East project that would move 1.1 million barrels of oil a day from Alberta and Saskatchewan to refineries in Eastern Canada. Asked if opposition has increased in recent months, he said: "Yes. People are much more aware of the climate change issue, the safety issue."
Energy East would be one of North America's largest crude pipes, offering Alberta's oil sands producers waiting for the Keystone XL line another way to reach customers by shipping across Canada to the Atlantic Coast.
"We are hearing the same messages that the government is hearing," Tim Duboyce, a spokesman for TransCanada, said Monday by phone from Montreal. "People aren't used to pipelines, and we have heard their concerns on matters such as water safety. We are deeply engaged with stakeholders such as municipalities, First Nations and the Quebec government to demonstrate that the project is in the public interest."
TransCanada plans to file a final version of Energy East with "all the appropriate documents" in the fourth quarter of 2015, Duboyce said. An environmental review of the project will likely follow in 2016, he said.
The company in April delayed Energy East's startup by more than a year to 2020 after abandoning plans for a marine oil facility in the Quebec town of Cacouna because of risks to endangered beluga whales. Much of the construction on the 4,600-kilometre pipeline would take place within Quebec – a factor that only fuels public resistance in the province, Couillard said.
In a poll conducted by researchers at the Universite de Montreal last November, 50 per cent of Quebeckers opposed the project and 33 per cent voiced support – the exact opposite of national results.
Quebec last year laid out seven conditions TransCanada must meet before the government supports Energy East, including environmental and social considerations. The project must also give the province an economic boost.
Failure to build a terminal weakens TransCanada's case that the project will benefit Quebec's economy, Couillard said.
TransCanada expects to spend about $4 billion in Quebec to build the pipeline, creating "thousands" of jobs, Duboyce said. TransCanada is in the process of looking at other sites for a marine terminal, he said.
"We just don't want to be only a transitional place – if it just passes through and doesn't leave any economic benefits for our people, given the fact there are risks involved," Couillard said.
On the other hand, a reduction in crude-by-rail volumes stemming from the pipeline would make it more desirable socially, the premier said.
"One of the things we are going to look at is: is it going to be a trade-off, or is there going to be an added volume of oil being transported? If I'm told there will be less transportation by train because of this, then that could be interesting," Couillard said. "But if both modes are going to be increasing, then in terms of safety for community there's not a lot of gains."
Quebec is still waiting for a final version of the project from TransCanada before it can start assessing its impact on the environment, the premier said.
"We don't know where it's going to be, which villages it's going to cross, what the number of pumping stations are. We need a project to study," he said.