TransCanada Corp.'s Energy East project was envisioned as a way to skirt political and environmental entanglements threatening other pipelines that would ship Alberta crude to lucrative foreign shores – even if it meant crossing six provinces.
On the day TransCanada filed 68 binders of documents with the National Energy Board to put the regulatory process for the $12-billion line to New Brunswick into motion, it became obvious it will be anything but clear sailing.
As with the pipelines the industry wants to build to the West Coast, Energy East is hailed by proponents, including Alberta Premier Jim Prentice, as "a nation-building project." Also like those other pipelines, there is a very large and varied roster of opponents.
The days of any oil project being quietly vetted as the public happily went about its business are over. That was proven last year with the contentious approval of Enbridge Inc.'s Line 9 to Quebec from Ontario. It wasn't even a new pipeline, but a reversal of the flow direction of one built in the 1970s.
TransCanada says its 1.1-million-barrel-a-day pipeline will provide Eastern Canadian refineries with an endless supply of cheaper crude that would otherwise arrive by train or tanker. It would also open up the new export markets for Alberta producers largely stymied so far in efforts to get large volumes of oil sands-derived crude to Asia from the Pacific coast.
Expect countless rounds of debate over land acquisition for the Energy East pipeline, oil-spill risks, impact on First Nations territories and the carbon intensity of the Alberta oil sands as access to new markets makes new developments look more attractive.
Ten environmental groups, including Greenpeace, Équiterre and the Council of Canadians, complain that the NEB will not consider how the new outlet might increase oil-sands production and, hence, greenhouse gas emissions. They pledge to try to block the project.
The made-in-Canada plan has also been targeted by nine U.S.-based green groups lined up against TransCanada's long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline, including 350.org, Natural Resources Defense Council and Oil Change International.
One wrinkle is the opposition of utilities, including Gaz Métro in Quebec and Enbridge Gas Distribution and Union Gas in Ontario, that don't want a part of TransCanada's natural-gas mainline converted to oil use, fearing their access to supplies during peak demand would be limited.
TransCanada has proposed an expansion of its gas system as an alternative, one the utilities say would be inadequate to ensure their customers remain well supplied on the coldest or hottest days.
The NEB is expected to take 18 months to make a ruling on what would be one of the longest oil pipelines in the world. Many of the aspects are unusual, including using such a long stretch of converted gas line between Alberta and Ontario, and building new pipe in regions not used to oil shipments.
Many of the arguments against the project, though, will be quite familiar to anyone who has followed the industry over the past decade, and will be delivered by battle-hardened pipeline foes.