Eight Takeaways from the OEB Hearings in North Bay

Picture of OEB Consultation taken by Liz Lott - an incredible North Bay photographer!

On January 21, one of Toronto350.org's exec headed to North Bay to combine visiting family with the Ontario Energy Board's (OEB) hearings about Energy East.

The event packed the Legion Hall with 250-300 people. The OEB set up posters around the room describing the project and their preliminary assessments. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss what a third party review found, and identify what community member's biggest concerns were.

The group running this event was not the OEB, but a third party consultancy the OEB sourced running public consultations to. The consultancy was obligated to be 'impartial' and had to hear peoples' concerns. The consultancy will deliver reports of people's concerns to the OEB so the OEB can make an informed decision about if and how it can intervene in the National Energy Board's (NEB) regulatory process.

So what were the takeaways?

  1. North Bay Overwhelmingly Rejects Energy East. I was expecting at least a few people to be for it. Nope. The entire conversation was dominated by people speaking out against Energy East. Environmental groups did not explicitly coordinate this, it was a very organic rejection as experts and concerned citizens tore holes in the application.

  2. Water is the Biggest Concern for People in North Bay. From geologists who did scouting to produce different analyzes than TransCanada, to people being outraged by how it would take 22 minutes to stop a spill from a pipeline pressurized at 1000 lb/inch2, concerns about water dominated the conversation and no one considered the risk acceptable.

  3. The Faulty Climate Analysis. We're in a similar situation with Keystone XL where the assessment isn't recognizing that more fossil fuel infrastructure means more climate change. The analysis is based on analysis of the future oil market. These projections ignores how the climate science says we need drastic sharp cuts in fossil fuel consumption. The problem with a market analysis is it is not a carbon budget analysis. A carbon budget analysis would look at how Energy East fits in to the moral imperative that we avoid 2 degrees of warming. Climate science falls by the wayside in market analysis, and with it goes the soundness of this climate review.

  4. TransCanada's Application is Incomplete. The Third Party Review was critical of how the application does not have critical information. From not specifying where valves to shut off spills will be or which important waterways the pipeline would cross. A geologist made this point clearly by refering to his own independent review of Energy East finding that TransCanada fails to mention hundreds of water crossings.This angered many people who asked why they and Ontario are being asked to make a final decision on an incomplete application. Frankly, this touched people's deeper fear that the NEB is a rubberstamp body, and the only reason TransCanada had the nerve to submit an incomplete application is it does not think the NEB would ever reject Energy East.

  5. The Third Party Process is an Example of Privatization Used to Quell Dissent. Someone hit this nail on its head describing his experience working in the consulting industry. The arms length process means the OEB does not hear as directly from the people, because privatization adds a layer between OEB regulators and the people directly affected by Energy East. The person pointing this out acknowledged it saying “I feel bad for you, you have a dirty job. But this is not consultation. This is conflict mediation that you're being paid to do”. The conflict mediation element was most clear when everyone was supposed to just talk at their table about their concerns but the community forced the consultancy running the event to extend the “clarification question” session for more than an hour longer than planned, turning the consultation into a town-hall against Energy East.

  6. The OEB is calling Dilbit “Oil”. An offensive Orwellian play in the Energy East application is that dilbit, diluted bitumen that is roughly 30% solvent, is not oil but the third party group said “dilbit is considered oil”. Dilbit does not float—it sinks, the solvents mean it spreads faster than oil. And from a climate standpoint it is one of the dirtiest possible forms of extraction. People forced the Third Party review to stop saying “dilbit is considered oil” and just refer to it as what it is: diluted bitumen.

  7. The Jobs Estimates are over inflated. The OEB recognized TransCanada's jobs predictions are over-inflated. It will create few to no jobs from it in places like North Bay after it is built. Unless it spills.

  8. The NEB makes the Final Decision. And at the end of the day, the NEB makes the final decision and the NEB is a rubber-stamp because of how Harper has redesigned it. The OEB can slow down the approval process, but Ontario looks unlikely to try vetoing the Federal Government now. This matters because it indicates two possible ways forward: to stop Energy East it will take a massive provincial mobilization to turn it into a flashpoint issue that could determine the Premiership, or—more likely—we need to get organized, turn Energy East into a decisive issue in the Federal election that forces Mulcair and Trudeau to come out against it, and ensure the Conservatives are not voted back into power.