Opinion: Long-term effects of pipelines not worth it

Combating global climate change and fostering a profitable fossil fuel industry have never been compatible goals. Therefore, it’s difficult to overstate just how big of a victory it was for the environment when TransCanada decided to cancel its two pipeline projects in eastern Canada.

The Energy East pipeline and the Eastern Mainline expansion project would have made oil more accessible to Eastern Canadian and global markets, bringing with it the promise of increased fuel consumption, and the greenhouse gas emissions that go with it. The growth in greenhouse gas emissions that these types of projects enable, fly in the face of Canada’s climate change goals. At a time when Canada has committed to reducing its reliance on fossil fuels, and investing in greener technology, building infrastructure that promotes consumption of fossil fuels both in Canada and worldwide makes no sense.

Trying to address climate change while continuing to build mega projects for oil exports is like trying to lose weight by eating more fast food. In fact, part of the reason that TransCanada pulled the plug on the two pipelines was because the National Energy Board announced it was going to review the greenhouse gas emissions that would be associated with its construction.

In addition to presenting regulatory hurdles, TransCanada likely realized that the results of the review would only reveal just how damaging the project would be to Canada’s green energy goals, and serve to make it increasingly less popular in the eyes of the public.

Furthermore, building pipelines not only increases greenhouse gas emissions over the short and long term, but the cheap fuel they provide serves to further entrench fossil fuels in Canadian energy production by promoting bad consumer habits, and establishing dirty fuel supply chains that are more difficult and expensive to replace in the future. Moreover, since Canada exports oil internationally, building pipelines doesn’t just promote a dirty fuel economy domestically. By continuing to export oil, Canada is actively encouraging other countries to continue to use unsustainable energy generation practices by increasing fossil fuel consumption. 

Finally, it’s important to recognize that the conflict between projects like Energy East and Canada’s environmental goals, will potentially lead to negative economic consequences in the long term. While it is true that these pipelines would create thousands of short-term construction jobs, and some longer term maintenance jobs on the pipeline, over the next several decades the function of these jobs would be in direct conflict with Canada’s emission reduction goals.

This doesn’t just hurt Canada’s budding renewable energy industry, it tethers Canadian workers to dead-end technologies, which are doomed to become obsolete in the coming years. The only other option would be to insist on keeping the Canadian oil industry alive, in which case we continue to perpetuate global climate change in the name of Canadian oil profits.

So while pipelines like Energy East may seem like good economic investments in the short-term, in reality, they are just drivers of short-term job growth that will harm Canadian workers and the environment by impairing Canada’s ability to transition to energy sources that are more environmentally and economically sustainable.

Photo by Meagan Casalino