Ottawa's local opposition could spell trouble for Energy East pipeline proposal

"Here, people are starting to put the pieces together and understand that the only reason it's being proposed here is because TransCanada wasn't able to get their pipeline (Keystone XL) down to the U.S.," Ecology Ottawa campaigner Ben Powless said.

Photo of Ecology Ottawa at 24 Sussex, submitted by Ben Powless.

As pipeline giant TransCanada prepares to file its application for a massive oil pipeline from Alberta to Quebec and New Brunswick, environmentalists say it could face a fight from Ottawa. Not from federal government, but from local residents and politicians. 

According to a recent survey by Ecology Ottawa, 90 per cent of city council candidates who responded said they would oppose the proposed Energy East pipeline if it posed was detrimental to their communities. 

"We're positioning Ottawa in a very critical place. The city itself could get into a position where it could oppose the pipeline," Ecology Ottawa pipeline campaigner Ben Powless said. 
 
Around 70 per cent of Ottawa city council candidates responded to the survey. While some candidates said it municipalities shouldn't get involved in a pipeline debate that would be ultimately decided by federal government, the vast majority said they would oppose it if it could threaten water, climate and the health of their communities. 
 
Notably, both candidates from Ward 6, Stittsville -- one of the communities nearest to the pipeline route and most affected by the project -- declined to respond. 

15,000 homes reached about Energy East

Powless said it was too soon to say today whether Ottawa city council would publicly state its opposition to a pipeline project, as Vancouver recently did in relation to the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain expansion. However, he said many council candidates have expressed opposition to the project. 

In addition to the surveys, Powless said his group has been on the ground since 2013, reaching out to 15,000 homes in Ottawa to raise awareness about Energy East. Powless said over half of those approached hadn't heard about the project before, but especially in communities along the pipeline route near Rideau River, residents expressed concern about its potential impact on the water.

"We were out in communities closest to the pipeline route, people took it very seriously...A lot of people were concerned about the risks of a pipeline spill, about the water, about their property values, and in more rural areas, people were worried about their farmland getting contaminated. They were also worried about climate change, and economics." 

Powless said Ecology Ottawa is a volunteer-driven organization with just five full time staff, and that he relied on "dozens and dozens" of volunteers to get the responses.

Not an easy sell? 

Recently, however, Energy East has been framed in the media as a project that was likely to be built faster than other proposed pipelines, such as the Keystone XL from Alberta to the U.S. (also by TransCanada) and the controversial Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline.  

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