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A file photo of TransCanada CEO Russ GirlingChris Bolin/The Globe and Mail

Quebec has become an object of desire for the Canadian crude industry, whose expansion ambitions have faced tough opposition in the United States and British Columbia. By sending oil east, the oil sands could find new domestic markets.

While it waits for Washington's decision on its proposed Keystone XL pipeline through the U.S., TransCanada Corp. is laying plans to pump oil through natural gas pipelines to Quebec. TransCanada has frequently spoken about the demand it could serve on the U.S. eastern seaboard, and Canadian energy companies have made clear their desire to reach that market.

The company's proposed Energy East pipeline would move 500,000 to 850,000 barrels per day of Alberta oil to Montreal, and on to St. John. For much of that route, TransCanada would convert one of its natural gas mainlines to oil use. The project also has the support of the governments of Alberta (which has signed up for capacity for its royalty oil) and New Brunswick.

On Tuesday, four days after the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster which killed at least 13 people with about 50 still unaccounted for, TransCanda CEO Russ Girling spoke to reporters about his company's plans for Energy East. He says interest among potential shippers is high.

Q. How do you expect Quebeckers to receive Energy East in light of the disaster?

"This is a tragic event that shakes everybody. It shakes all of us that are in this business. Those kinds of events shouldn't occur.

"In terms of going forward, obviously we need energy infrastructure. Modern energy infrastructure makes tremendous sense. People continue to have needs for starting their vehicles every morning, cooking their food, heating their homes – those are basic life necessities. We have an obligation to do that as safely as we can and we have a good track record as a company of doing that.

With all our projects, including Energy East, our focus is on ensuring that we're using the best technology, the best response capabilities that are available to us, to ensure the public that we can do these things in a safe and reliable manor."

Q. Some have suggested that bad news for rail is good news for pipelines. Would you agree with that?

"There's no good news here for anybody. That just doesn't make any sense. This is a tragic event and … what we need to do is ensure we understand what occurred in events like this and make sure we do everything possible to make sure that those kinds of things don't happen."

Q. Are pipelines safer than rail for moving oil?

"I think, statistically, you can look at those facts and we've talked about those historically but I don't think that's the issue right now. This is tragic event and this isn't the time to have that conversation."

With files from reporter Nathan VanderKlippe

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