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How to reconcile the pipe dreams of Wall, Couillard and Wynne

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall during an interview at The Globe and Mail with the Editorial Board, Toronto October 28, 2013. Photo by: Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail.

Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

Brad Wall, the Premier of Saskatchewan, is right to be vigorously defending TransCanada Pipelines Ltd.'s proposed Energy East project. If approved, the pipeline would directly benefit most of the country.

Mr. Wall is exasperated that the governments of Ontario and Quebec are asking for stipulations beyond the normal criteria of the National Energy Board to be considered. Premiers Kathleen Wynne and Philippe Couillard want the "upstream" carbon emissions to be weighed, too, though that's a separate matter of the initial extraction of oil – before it gets into any pipe.

"Why then have we never heard Ontario or Quebec sounding concerns about the upstream GHG emissions from the former oil currently being imported, refined and consumed in Eastern Canada?" he asks, fairly. Eastern Canada is, remember, currently importing oil from overseas. Should refineries in New Brunswick and Quebec be shut down because their existence encourages oil production in Africa and the Middle East? Be serious.

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The fallacy is much the same as in the accusations against the Keystone XL pipeline, from misguided persons such as U.S. President Barack Obama. The tragedy at Lac-Mégantic should be a reminder of the upside of pipelines. Oil is going to move, one way or another. Pipelines are generally the safest way to move it.

But leaving GHGs aside, the other conditions set by the Ontario and Quebec governments are far from insuperable.

Who could object to consultation with First Nations or other local communities? Or to asking for proof that there will be adequate insurance in case of any spills? Or assurances that the existing natural-gas supply to customers not be interfered with? Such concerns have to be taken into account.

And on greenhouse gases, the premiers of Ontario and Quebec are right about one thing: Canada must come to grips with the carbon-emission cost of oil and gas, develop a plausible plan to limit emissions, and protect the country's international reputation. But Premier Wall is right that the regulatory process for a pipeline isn't the place to do that.

The bottom line is that this country is an oil exporter, and it needs pipelines. It also needs a GHG reduction strategy. The two are not mutually exclusive.

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