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Snowy pipes

New environmental regulations around pipeline projects will affect the TransCanada Energy East Pipeline and other inter-provincial pipeline projects. The Energy East pipeline is proposed to carry 1.1 million barrels of crude oil per day from Alberta and Saskatchewan to refineries in Eastern Canada.

“The government is trying to find trust from stakeholders,” said Samuel Gamtessa, an economics professor at the University of Regina, who researches climate change mitigation policies and energy efficiency. “There are different interest groups involved, all of them with conflicting interests. The government is trying to balance all of that out.”

The federal government announced the new transitional review process regulations for pipeline approval for projects before the National Energy Board (NEB). These regulations will include an environmental assessment that considers “direct and upstream greenhouse gas emissions linked to the projects under review.”

The goal of these new regulations is to take into account the interests of all stakeholders, and to restore trust in the government’s processes in the eyes of the public.

This announcement comes on the heels of a report from federal environment commissioner Julie Gelfand. In this report, the commissioner was not assured that the NEB followed up on regulations and approval conditions, and that their systems were “outdated or inaccurate.” These new transitional processes will be completed following the NEB’s review process, separately from the national regulator. During the federal election campaign, the Liberals had pledged to “modernize” the NEB’s processes.

For Jim Elliott, Regina chapter chair for The Council of Canadians, the revisions to the process are a necessity.

“Many of us thought that questions around the impacts of pipelines on climate change were something that should be assessed as part of the project proposal,” said Elliott. “The addition to include that will give us a better sense of what the environmental impacts of those pipelines will be."

"The pipelines would expand the production of oil in Alberta and make the aspect of dealing with climate change much tougher,” said Elliott. “I think this is something we should tackle globally. There are a lot of countries that have agreed that we need to be reducing our emissions. I don’t see us shutting everything down (in the oil industry), but at least tempering our use.”

Those concerned with Saskatchewan’s economic downturn due to pressures on the oil and gas industry believe that these regulations may not be compatible with economic stability in Saskatchewan.

“(Energy East) is going to be dragged on, which is not good for Saskatchewan,” said the U of R’s Gamtessa. “It’s going to delay it at least nine months, and we don’t know if it is going to be approved. We need it expedited."

"The energy sector is feeling the burden of whatever emissions consumers are causing. The manufacturer should only be responsible for its emissions," said Gamtessa. "We can focus on that specific question of how responsible (the energy sector) is, and whether their emission levels are responsible or not. Sustainability is about balancing both the economy and the environment.”

“Canada is what Canada is,” said Ken Coates, Canada Research Chair in Regional Innovation at the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy, University of Saskatchewan campus.

“We are an energy-rich country that relies on resources to fuel our economy. We are an enormous country, with a scattered population, and a very cold climate. As Canadians, we need to decide what our energy future looks like.”

Coates argues that Canada has one of the most efficient and environmentally responsible oil and gas industries in the world. “We’ve been very successful with our pipelines. We have thousands of miles of pipelines in the country," said Coates. "If these pipelines don’t go forward, we won’t stop the oil sands. The oil will get to market by train, which is more environmentally dangerous."