QUEBEC – Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard warned against irrational outbursts during the debate over the Energy East Pipeline on Tuesday, as environmental hearings into the controversial project entered their second day.
Protesters briefly delayed the start of the hearings on Monday night by chanting loudly and unfurling an anti-pipeline banner in front of members of Quebec’s environmental review agency committee tasked with investigating the risks and benefits of the project.
Couillard said citizens need to have a rational debate on the pipeline project, which would bring 1.1 million barrels of oil per day from Western Canada, through Quebec, to New Brunswick.
“I don’t think it’s helpful when there are protesters blocking the right of people to speak,” he told reporters in Quebec City.
The Energy East pipeline is controversial in Quebec and many activists and local politicians along the proposed route have come out against the project.
They say the risks of Energy East are greater than its benefits and it would represent an increase in the country’s greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to global climate change.
Jean Laporte, chief operating officer of the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, testified during the second day of hearings and told committee members there is no risk-proof way to move oil to market.
With regards to pipelines, Laporte said the number of major spills have been declining year-over-year while minor leaks are on the rise.
While there is no way to ensure 100 per cent safety with pipelines, he said oil can be transported safely across the country if the risks are properly identified and proactively managed.
Louis Bergeron, Energy East’s vice-president for New Brunswick and Quebec, answered questions for a second day and told committee members that his company, TransCanada Corp. (TSX:TRP), wants a pipeline to the East Coast in order to access the region’s three large refineries in Montreal, Quebec City and Saint John, N.B.
Bergeron told the committee that more than 50 per cent of the oil refined in Quebec comes from foreign markets, such as the U.S., and to a lesser extent, Algeria, Norway and Angola.
The hearings will be broken down into two parts: the first will analyse the project’s potential impacts on water and risks of spills. The second series of hearings are scheduled to begin in April, when the environmental agency is set to hear more from the public.
Couillard also asked pro-pipeline enthusiasts to remain calm.
“We heard from people opposed to the pipeline protest loudly,” he said. “I think if pro-pipeline people protested as loudly it wouldn’t have gone over too well with the other side. So we need to have a debate that is reasonable and respectful.”