The Council of Canadians - Winnipeg Chapter


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Op Ed: The Time is Now to Act on Greenhouse Gases

Posted by Winnipeg Chapter on June 16, 2016 at 8:55 AM Comments comments (0)

Climate change is changing our world in catastrophic ways. Clean energy becomes more accessible and more affordable every day, even without the enormous subsidies poured into fossil fuels. We must transition away from fossil fuels to clean, sustainable energy, and we have the opportunity to make that transition right now. 


One priority is to ensure the big decisions we are making today start us on the paths to the necessary transitions.”



The time is now to act on greenhouse gases


By: Robert Gibson and Byron Williams

Posted: 06/15/2016 4:00 AM


Sometimes, the question is not whether the right hand knows what the left hand is doing, but whether the two are even aware of each other’s existence.

Case in point: the federal government’s efforts to deal with climate change and oil pipelines.

One federal hand was at the Paris climate conference last December. It committed us to doing our part to keep global warming "well below" two degrees Celsius.

The other federal hand, meanwhile, is rolling toward approving a suite of projects that will greatly expand Canadian oil-pipeline capacity. And this second hand is paying no serious attention to how permitting expanded pipeline capacity can be reconciled with the commitment to climate change mitigation.

Our part in keeping global warming well below 2 C (the Paris commitment) entails very deep reduction of greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions attributable to human activities in Canada within the next few decades.

While the implications of this commitment have not yet been clarified in detailed analysis, they involve some tightening of the pre-Paris GHG-reduction target for relatively advantaged jurisdictions.

For countries such as Canada and EU members, the commonly recognized old target was an 80 per cent cut in GHG emissions by 2050 relative to 1990 levels. The Paris commitment means we need to achieve something approaching effective decarbonization of most of the Canadian economy by 2050 or shortly thereafter.

Meeting such a commitment is not merely a matter of converting from fossil fuels to non-fossil alternatives. It entails shifting to different revenue sources, job opportunities, transportation modes and infrastructure, home heating practices, and a host of other new arrangements, opportunities and interconnections — none of which will happen automatically or be quick and easy.

Ontario is starting down this path with its new five-year climate change action plan. But it is just a beginning and comes none too soon.

Canada has been delaying effective action to reduce GHG emissions for the past quarter-century. Despite official statements of concern and promises to cut our contributions to climate change, Canadian governments have allowed GHG emissions to rise significantly, and are now 20 per cent higher than they were in 1990. While there have been some positive shifts and advances in understanding and technologies, we now have more emissions to cut and 25 years less time to make a smooth(ish) transition before the worsening effects of climate change make everything much more difficult.

One priority is to ensure the big decisions we are making today start us on the paths to the necessary transitions.

Decisions on oil pipelines offer an obvious opening. Collectively, three of the main proposed pipeline projects — Enbridge’s Line 3 replacement, Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain expansion and TransCanada’s Energy East — would expand Canadian oil pipeline throughput capacity by more than two million barrels per day. Upstream, the three projects would facilitate expansion of bitumen extraction from the oilsands. Downstream, they would deliver more oil to refineries and points of combustion.

Each of the pipelines would have a life expectancy well beyond the 2050 deadline for GHG-emission abatement. Together they would more deeply entrench fossil fuel use infrastructure and associated dependencies.

On the surface at least, approval of these projects would move us further from the path to meet climate change mitigation commitments at a time when we should already be well on the road of low pain, maximum opportunity transition.

In the current deliberations on the Line 3 and Trans Mountain proposals, however, the federal reviewers have not considered GHG abatement needs.

In each case, the reviewers have examined only the project’s possible contributions to upstream GHG emissions. The downstream effects of refining and burning the oil are ignored entirely.

The upstream effects analyses are further restricted to certain individual project effects. They avoid attention to indirect effects on pricing and production. And despite legislated requirements to assess cumulative effects, the reviews ignore the joint effects of approving two or more pipelines.

Most regrettably, the reviews consider only whether the individual projects would facilitate an increase in upstream GHG emissions. No attention is paid to implications for commitments to reduce GHG emissions.

In overlooking Canada’s GHG abatement commitments, the federal reviews of the Line 3 and Trans Mountain proposals cling to a world that no longer exists. They assume GHG emissions attributable to current levels of bitumen extraction, production and use are not an issue now and will not be an issue through the lives of the proposed projects.

What is missing is a serious assessment of whether and how approving the projects could be compatible with deep abatement of GHG emissions.

That is the central question to be addressed in a credible and responsible environmental assessment of these pipeline proposals. Open and rigorous attention to this question is also a fundamental test of whether the federal government’s Paris commitment is genuine.

Perhaps a new pipeline could be designed, supported by effective fiscal and regulatory tools covering upstream and downstream effects, and managed in a way that contributes to meeting Canada’s GHG abatement commitments. But the possibility and the means of achieving it are not obvious. They cannot be wished into existence.

The time has come to join hands. The federal climate hand needs to introduce itself to the federal pipeline review hand so the two can do some serious and highly visible work on aligning our assessments with our commitments.

Robert Gibson is a professor in the School of Environment, Resources and Sustainability at the University of Waterloo. Byron Williams is the director of the Public Interest Law Centre of Legal Aid Manitoba.

Original Free Press article


The Council of Canadians Winnipeg Chapter works closely with the PILC on energy and pipeline related issues. We are grateful for their expert contributions to our efforts.





Winnipeg: Energy East: Our Risk - Their Reward

Posted by Winnipeg Chapter on March 20, 2016 at 1:10 PM Comments comments (0)

On Wednesday March 16 over 150 people gathered at a town hall sponsored by the Council of Canadians and the Manitoba Energy Justice Coalition to hear about the Energy East pipeline and what it means for Winnipeg.

Chickadee Richard welcomed everyone to Treaty One territory, and offered a prayer to open the gathering. Michael Matczuk spoke for the coalition, describing specific local issues and the ongoing campaigning of MEJC volunteers. He outlined the potential for slow, undetectable leaks spreading from the pipeline to seep into the aqueduct where the two follow a parallel route for 100 kilometres between Shoal Lake and Winnipeg. Matczuk explained the city’s legal obligation to provide and protect drinking water for the citizens of Winnipeg, and spelled out the reality that if the original pipeline had been for oil instead of gas, the route through the boggy area near the aqueduct would not have been approved. It would not even have been proposed.

Daryl Redsky shared his perspective as an indigenous man and a member of Shoal Lake 40 First Nation, pointing out that his community was never consulted, and never informed about the original, 40-year-old pipeline. “Now this pipeline...I’ve never had any conversation with anyone about it, It’s 10-12 kilometres from my house,” he said. “I’ve waited for someone to talk to me, waited for my phone to ring. I always tell industry, it’s my job to protect my people and my resources. Nobody has contacted me. I’m strongly opposed to having a pipeline in my backyard and I told the chief what my feelings are.” Redsky spoke movingly of his connection to the earth and the water that we all share, and referenced the unique connection that Winnipeg has to Shoal Lake 40. Winnipeg’s drinking water comes entirely from Shoal Lake through the aqueduct, but the First Nation itself has no access to safe drinking water. “Everyone in this room is 60-70% Shoal Lake,” he said wryly. “So you’re fighting for yourself.”

Andrea Harden-Donahue moderated the evening, sharing information throughout to clarify and give national context. She described the phenomenal effect that citizens’ action can have on seemingly unwinnable battles, showing slides of action at Cacouna Quebec, where people put an end to Transcanada’s plans to put a dilbit port in the middle of a Beluga habitat; and of the grassroots resistance at the eastern end of the pipeline where indigenous and non-indigenous communities are rising up in solid opposition to Energy East.

Maude Barlow, national chairperson of Council of Canadians, spoke on the many, many dangers of the proposed pipeline, dangers that affect local ecosystems, communities along the 4200 kms, the increasingly fragile environment we all share, and the global climate.

Barlow directly addressed the myth of the pipeline as a nation builder, and identified that myth as the false manipulation that it is. Maude drew applause with her reminder that the water belongs to us not to any corporation and we must protect it for our children; that we must not leave a legacy of poisoned water for our children.

“This notion that this is a great national project - that’s a lie. One spill, just one spill, it doesn’t matter where -- that will be the place that divide us. The great project that will bring us together is the protection of water as a public trust. That’s our job. You cannot have that and Energy East.”

A question and answer session at the end brought up some interesting and challenging questions, including one about the exact process that TransCanada will follow to convert the gas pipeline. The answer was not reassuring. They don’t pull it up and rebuild the decades old gas pipeline that was never intended to cope with the very different demands of tar sands bitumen. They do monitor for signs of corrosion and other problems. There are of course many proprietary aspects to TransCanada’s plans, and that means the information is not publicly available, Again, not reassuring.

The Winnipeg chapter is a member of the MEJC, and together, these grassroots organizations have been working hard to educate and inform citizens and government. Michael’s talk is on the MEJC blog, and video of the entire evening is included below.

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Contributor: Mary Robinson - Council of Canadians Winnipeg Chapter Chair

Energy East Pipeline in Manitoba: Avenues for Action

Posted by Winnipeg Chapter on March 1, 2016 at 11:35 PM Comments comments (0)

Next Manitoba Government Must Recommend Energy East Pipeline Reroute through NEB to Protect Winnipeg Water

WINNIPEG – With the writ drop days away, the next Government of Manitoba must be preparing now to protect Winnipeg’s water supply from the Energy East pipeline proposal, say the Manitoba Energy Justice Coalition (MEJC) in their new report, “The Energy East Pipeline: Avenues for Government Action Outside the Broken NEB Process.” The report offers ways the provincial and municipal governments can protect Manitobans from the Energy East pipeline and offers as examples of decisions made by other provinces and municipalities in the context of Manitoba's unique concerns.

The Province of Manitoba under the NDP has not publicly mentioned the risks of the Energy East pipeline proposal to the Winnipeg water supply, even though the city has expressed its concerns.

"During this provincial election, the parties must recognize that the threat of the Energy East pipeline can't be ignored. Voters need to know where the parties stand," said Mary Robinson, chair of the Winnipeg Chapter of Council of Canadians, and the author of the report. "Manitobans deserve to know exactly what risks would result from the conversion of a natural gas line to a dilbit line running so close to the Winnipeg aqueduct."

Robinson says that the best way to make sure the public understand the risk is for Winnipeg and Manitoba to follow Quebec and Montreal's example and immediately implement a full public consultation process.

“I want to hear publicly from all provincial party leaders where they stand on this issue,” said Alex Paterson, spokesperson for MEJC. “We need to know how they will protect the Winnipeg water supply. Selinger for instance, needs to stop hiding behind the facade of a broken NEB process that he is using to avoid telling the public his position on the Energy East pipeline.”

In their new report, the coalition provide recommendations on how any political party, if they form government, can protect Winnipeg’s water supply.

“There are only two choices,” said Robinson. “Either the pipeline must be rejected altogether, or the governments of Manitoba and Winnipeg must require a complete re-route, away from the aqueduct, other drinking water sources, and the natural gas lines.”

“When a pipeline threatens the drinking water of over half the population of your province you’d think the person who wanted to be the next leader of that province would have a clear and unambiguous public position,” said Paterson. “To me, it is the absolute basic responsibility of a provincial politician to protect our drinking water. If they can’t do that, they don’t have what it takes to be a leader for Manitobans.”

The coalition’s research shows that the pipeline is a threat to the safety of the Winnipeg aqueduct, and to the drinking water of communities across Manitoba. The pipeline parallels the Winnipeg aqueduct for 100-kilometres between Shoal Lake and Winnipeg. A slow, undetectable leak (anything up to 2.63 million litres a day) in that section would leach toxic benzene into the swampy area around the cracked and porous aqueduct.

Map of area from Winnipeg to Shoal Lake showing the risk of aqueduct contamination

“You couldn’t put the pipeline in a worse place for the safety of the aqueduct,” says Doug Tingey, a lawyer and member of Council of Canadians – Winnipeg Chapter. “Where the groundwater drains north, the pipeline is south of the aqueduct; where the groundwater drains south, the pipeline is to the north.”

The coalition expressed frustration that such an issue of national importance is not being discussed openly in the province. The NDP, PCs, and Liberal Party have no declared position.

“The Energy East pipeline has been one of the most discussed issues nationally since Trudeau became PM, yet somehow there has been not a word publicly from any of the big three provincial political parties,” said Paterson. “You only avoid a national issue for one reason. It looks to me like they are scared to tell Manitobans their position on this project. That’s not leadership, that’s political cowardice.”

WATCH the Report Release:

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News Conference: How Governments Can Stop Energy East

Read our blog series No Energy East Pipeline

Two for Trudeau

Posted by Winnipeg Chapter on November 2, 2015 at 10:20 PM Comments comments (0)

This entry is a reposting from the Human Rights Hub Winnipeg blog in answer to the question "What are the top two human rights issues that Justin Trudeau needs to address?"

Council of Canadians – Winnipeg Chapter is engaged on many social justice issues through our members’ collaboration with other groups. Peace efforts, election reform, refugee support, trade justice, climate change, water protection, living wage – these are some of the issues that the new prime minister must address.

Currently, two campaigns are the primary focus for our chapter, both informed by our growing understanding of Treaties, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations. Freedom Road to Shoal Lake 40 First Nation became an active part of our work when we were invited to support the promotion of the community’s Museum of Canadian Human Rights Violations. Opposition to the Energy East pipeline – which would be the largest oil pipeline at 1.1 million barrels a day – grew out of our earlier involvement with International Stop the Tar Sands Day.

Construction of the Freedom Road will finally bring safe access and the possibility of clean water to the dislocated Shoal Lake 40 First Nation community. The lack of clean drinking water on First Nations reserves is a shameful symptom of the continued colonization and oppression of the First Peoples. This system will only change through honouring the Treaties and the findings of the TRC.

The Energy East pipeline is a destructive tar sands expansion project that will pour up to 32 million tonnes a year of climate-changing GHG emissions into the air, and put at risk the water, land and communities along its route. Council of Canadians – Winnipeg Chapter, as a member of the Manitoba Energy Justice Coalition, is working to stop the pipeline, and to help bring Manitoba closer to a just, sustainable energy future.

We invite Justin Trudeau to respect the water, the land, and the people who live in this land by honouring the Treaties and fulfilling the TRC recommendations.

Check out the other blogs in this series:

Two for Trudeau: MARL

Two for Trudeau: IIWR

Two for Trudeau: Global College

Be sure to check the Human Rights Hub Winnipeg regularly. it's a central space for local activities and global issues.






Energy East Problem: Crossing Water

Posted by Winnipeg Chapter on July 6, 2015 at 12:20 AM Comments comments (1)


The Energy East pipeline crosses many rivers, drainage basins, and aquifers in Manitoba. Some of these are the sole drinking water supply for nearby communities or agricultural water sources, and some are First Nations’ traditional land, fragile ecosystems, fishing areas, and recreational spots. There are shut off valves every 30 kilometres and up to 25 million litres of oil present at any time between the valves. Even after the valves are closed, anything already in that section of pipeline will spill. The heavier bitumen will sink into the riverbed; the rest will either evaporate as toxic gasses or travel with the natural flow, poisoning miles of freshwater.

The pipeline crosses the Assiniboine River near Miniota, upstream of both Sioux Valley Dakota Nation and Brandon. Further east it crosses the Arrow River, Birdtail Creek, and Oak River, all upstream of the Kenton Reservoir and the Rivers Reservoir. The Kenton Reservoir supplies drinking water to Kenton and surrounding area, and the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation, and the Rivers Reservoir is the source of drinking water for Rivers, Manitoba.

Between Brandon and Portage, the pipeline passes through the Assiniboine Delta Aquifer, and then crosses the Assiniboine for a second time, just south of Portage la Prairie. The city of Portage, Long Plain First Nation and Dakota Plains First Nation all rely on the Assiniboine for their drinking water; the 15 billion cubic meter Assiniboine Delta supplies water for livestock operations, farm and town wells, and an extensive irrigation system that supports Manitoba’s potato industry.

The pipeline crosses the LaSalle River twice: the first is upstream of the Sanford water treatment plant that services Starbuck. After cutting across several miles of drainage ditches that empty into the LaSalle, the pipeline reaches St. Norbert and its two vulnerable rivers, the LaSalle and the Red. The community still remembers the 1996 explosion where the pipeline crosses the Red River close to the floodway. The explosion was found to be caused by a crack in the pipeline combined with the movement of the slope in which the pipeline was buried. The resulting fire destroyed a family home situated 178 metres away from the leak.

On its way to Ontario, the pipeline crosses the Seine River upstream of St. Anne, the Whitemouth River about three kilometres upstream of Hadashville, the Brokenhead River close to Highway 1, and the Sandilands Aquifer. In the Whiteshell Provincial Park, the pipeline is near enough to Falcon Lake that a leak would pass quickly into the water, long before preventative measures could be put in place.

As part of Shoal Lake drainage basin, water from Falcon Lake eventually arrives in Shoal Lake itself, the source of Winnipeg’s drinking water and home to the First Nations Shoal Lake 40 and Iskatewizaagegan 39. Falcon Lake has several resorts and private cabins, and is part of Treaty 3 Territory. The Aquifer is home to the Sandilands Uplands, with its rich array of wetlands, bogs, marshes, peatlands and forests. It is also home to the headwaters of five watersheds.

A spill in any of these places could destroy the drinking water for the extended community, poison the air, and damage agriculture, recreation, fishing and First Nations land for several miles downstream.

There are many economic and environmental reasons to say NO to the pipeline. Sources and more information can be found in the recently released report, “Potential Impacts of the Energy East Pipeline On Winnipeg”.

Contributor: Mary Robinson - Council of Canadians Winnipeg Chapter Chair

Energy East Problem: Sulphur and Hydrogen Sulphide

Posted by Winnipeg Chapter on June 23, 2015 at 6:45 AM Comments comments (0)


Tar sands bitumen contains huge amounts of sulphur. The sulphur must be removed before the bitumen can eventually become refined oil, but there is a glut on the world market and nowhere to send it. Already the mounds of raw sulphur extracted from tar sands bitumen are larger than the pyramids of Egypt and there’s more of it produced every day.


One “solution” is to convert the sulphur to hydrogen sulphide (H2S) and inject it underground into old oil wells, a process referred to as acid gas disposal. Hydrogen sulphide is extremely toxic. One breath over 1000 ppm can kill instantly while lower concentrations can cause permanent health damage. Oil wells will weaken over time and allow the stored H2S to leak, with deadly effect. Zama Lake, Alberta is a disposal site with sulphur accumulations much smaller than the tar sands; a study found that if a leak occurred there, an area 600 kms in radius could be unlivable for over 1,000 years because of poisoned air and water. That’s equivalent to an area of land around Winnipeg reaching from Regina in the west, all the way east to Lake Nipigon, north to The Pas and south to Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

As the mountains of sulphur grow larger, another “solution” to the problem is to leave sulphur in the bitumen when it is mixed with the diluent for transport to refineries, so that sulphur disposal becomes someone else’s problem. Many scientists consider this poses an additional danger, because the relatively large amount of sulphur in the dilbit can form hydrogen sulphide inside the pipeline. Thermal decomposition (a chemical decomposition caused by heat) and microbes in the pipeline act on sulphur to form H2S. This increases the concentration of H2S as the dilbit moves down the line.There’s no data in the Energy East submission to indicate the maximum temperature of dilbit in the line, however the five natural gas lines parallel to the dilbit line have been reported to reach 50 C in the summer. The dilbit line would be even hotter due to the higher viscosity.

In some cases, H2S is present at point of entry in the tar sands . In Cold Lake, for instance, the hydrogen sulphide content of dilbit is reported to be 300 ppm. (Interestingly, Enbridge, in the United States, has put worker safety policies in place that ban a higher than 5 ppm H2S content in the oil transported through their pipelines.)

Sulphur and hydrogen sulphide are right there in the pipelines and trains carrying dilbit across farmers’ fields, aquifers, rivers and through our communities. Where there’s a pipeline leak, there will be hydrogen sulphide released; and where there is hydrogen sulphide there is significant risk to life and health for people, animals, air and water.

There are many economic and environmental reasons to say NO to the pipeline. Sources and more information can be found in the recently released report, “Potential Impacts of the Energy East Pipeline On Winnipeg.”



Contributor: Mary Robinson - Council of Canadians Winnipeg Chapter Chair

What is Dilbit?

Posted by Winnipeg Chapter on June 18, 2015 at 8:10 PM Comments comments (0)


The Energy East Pipeline will carry diluted bitumen (also called dilbit) and other crude oil products.

Bitumen is steamed or strip mined from the sandy tar sands soil in Alberta, and is too thick and sticky to flow through a pipeline. A toxic, volatile diluent must be added so that the bitumen can be shipped.

The bitumen contains sand, silt, heavy metals and other contaminants as well as sulphur. The sulphur portion of the bitumen is about five percent by weight, and can contribute to creating hydrogen sulphide in the pipeline.

Some of the contaminants, and all the sulphur, remain after processing with diluent to form dilbit.

The diluent constitutes up to 30% of the dilbit and comes from a variety of sources, with the most common being natural gas condensate. Pentane is a main constituent of the diluent (about 9%) but the exact composition depends on the sources used and it varies from batch to batch.

Christina dilbit blend is very common and includes several volatile, toxic, environmentally persistent components (POPs) such as benzene, a known carcinogen. POPs (or Persistent Organic Pollutants) resist normal breakdown and accumulate in organisms, with potential significant impacts on human health and the environment.

The proposed Energy East pipeline will repurpose an existing natural gas pipeline that was not designed to carry dilbit. Dilbit contains abrasive sediment that will erode the pipe. Dilbit also contains chloride salts and toxic hydrogen sulphide that are both highly corrosive. The pipeline itself is known to already have many small, continuous leaks. When it is carrying dilbit, those leaks could expose the public to deadly hydrogen sulphide.

The natural gas pipeline is not designed to accommodate the pressure surges associated with liquid (dilbit) service. The pressure surges could easily rupture the pipe.

There are many economic and environmental reasons to say NO to the pipeline. Sources and more information can be found in the recently released report, “Potential Impacts of the Energy East Pipeline On Winnipeg.”

Contributor: Mary Robinson - Council of Canadians Winnipeg Chapter Chair


Posted by Winnipeg Chapter on May 29, 2015 at 12:50 AM Comments comments (0)

There are many economic and environmental reasons to say NO to the pipeline. Here we’ll look briefly at several issues; sources and more information can be found in the recently released report, “Potential Impacts of the Energy East Pipeline On Winnipeg.”

The report covers concerns about the effect of a leak near rivers, drainage ditches, aquifers, and lakes; and the risk to Winnipeg’s aqueduct carrying drinking water from Shoal Lake to Winnipeg. A section on pipeline failure looks at the realities of converting a leaking 40 year old natural gas pipeline to carry the far more corrosive and toxic diluted bitumen. The differences between a natural gas line failure and the far more extreme consequences of a dilbit line failure are examined, including a look at the dangers of deadly hydrogen sulphide. The report also addresses the need for safety and emergency measures in the event of explosion and fire, and the longer term effects of a spill on residents, recreation and commercial interests.

We've opened our blog series with a quick overview of points to be considered. Articles focusing on specific issues will be added over the next two weeks. 


Potential Impacts and Problems of the Energy East Pipeline in Manitoba




  • TransCanada has an extensive history of pipeline failure. More failures will occur.

  • The prairie section of the pipeline is 40 years old. The coating is made of asphalt and it has deteriorated so much that it can’t protect against cracking.

  • TransCanada relies on a standard inspection system ( “smart pigs” ) that is unreliable and often does not detect leaks. Most leaks have eventually been noticed by people, not by the inspection system.

  • The Calgary based system for monitoring pressure in the pipeline is ineffective. It can only detect spills over 2.6 million litres per day, and relies on people to properly interpret the pressure signals.




  • Hydrogen Sulphide (a deadly toxic and corrosive gas) will form in the pipeline from the sulphur contained in bitumen. Microbes in the pipeline act on sulphur to turn it into H2S, and high temperatures in the pipeline can transform sulphur into H2S.

  • The pipeline is known to have continuous small leaks that could expose the public to deadly hydrogen sulphide gas and other toxins.

  • Natural gas lines that explode are near enough to the parallel dilbit line to cause a fire and explosion. A dilbit explosion is much bigger, longer lasting, and more dangerous than a natural gas explosion. A dilbit explosion could be lethal due to deadly toxic smoke and fumes.

  • Pressure surges could rupture the line. They could also cause toxic fumes to vent through surge protection valves or surge tanks.

  • The rate of benzene leaking undetected out of a 3mm hole in the pipeline dissolved by the average precipitation rate over the Hazel Creek watershed gives a benzene concentration 346 times the allowed limit.



  • Because the pipeline crosses waterways and aquifers in Manitoba, there is a significant risk to drinking water in many communities, including Kenton, Rivers, Sioux Valley, Brandon, Neepawa, Portage and Sanford.

  • Extensive drainage ditches around Winnipeg often empty into waterways, and could extend the reach of a spill.

  • The pipeline crosses two major surface aquifers. The Assiniboine Delta aquifer supplies water for agriculture, town wells and Manitoba’s potato industry.The Sandilands Aquifer is an “ecological gem” that is home to the headwaters of five watersheds.

  • The pipeline travels within a spill reach of the Winnipeg aqueduct for the entire length of the aqueduct. The aqueduct is porous and could be contaminated from nearby pipeline spills.

  • Unseen soluble toxins like benzene from small continuous undetected spills could enter the aqueduct from contaminated surface water.

  • A spill could contaminate city waterways including the Red, Seine and La Salle Rivers. (The Kalamazoo River is still closed in many sections, four years after the spill.)

  • Recreational activities in river walkways and parks will be compromised due to tar balls and other lingering sources of contamination.

  • Valuable fish habitat could be destroyed from a spill.

  • Water contamination will cause temporary or long term loss of the sport fishery.

  • A spill will contaminate sources of irrigation for agriculture, manufacturing and recreation (golf courses for instance).




  • Evacuation because of toxic fumes, explosion, and fire is not addressed in the TransCanada submission. (In Kalamazoo, residents within one mile of the river evacuated their homes. 150 homes were permanently relocated.)

  • The expense and impossibility of cleaning up dilbit spills is clearly demonstrated by the ongoing unsuccessful efforts in Kalamazoo.

  • Toxic dilbit spills cause long term ecological damage and contamination of the food chain

  • Contaminated river bank property will suffer devaluation.

  • There will be a loss of commercial activity on the river such as boat tours and water taxis.

  • Continued expansion of tar sands and use of bitumen means more climate change, ecocide, sulphur waste and petroleum coke waste. (These vital issues are not currently considered in the decision making process.)





Winnipeg: Energy East: Our Risk Their Reward Tour

Posted by Winnipeg Chapter on April 12, 2015 at 11:15 PM Comments comments (0)

Council of Canadians - Winnipeg Chapter were among the hundreds gathered at the recent Energy East: Our Risk Their Reward Prairie Speaking Tour on April 11 at the Fort Garry Hotel. Opening with an Energy East 101 for audience members who were new to the issue, panelists presented on several unique areas of opposition to the pipeline. The many questions asked during the Q&A and conversations at informal info sessions afterwards indicated a strong commitment amongst Winnipeggers to put a stop to this pipeline development.

Ben Gotschall of Bold Nebraska shared his experiences and the extraordinary grassroots mobilization that grew in the fight against Keystone XL. “I moved from NIMBY to NOPE, not on planet Earth,” he said, in a reference to the way Nebraskans quickly realized that it wasn’t enough to keep the pipeline out of Nebraska. Bold Nebraska gained momentum and volunteers as they fought to stop the pipeline altogether.

Chief of Iskatewizaagegan (Shoal Lake 39) First Nation Fawn Wapioke spoke from the heart about the indigenous relationship with water and land, describing rivers as the veins of Mother Earth. Chief Wapioke invited the audience to participate in and support the Eagle Lake to Shoal Lake Treaty 3 Anishinaabe Water Walk planned for August 3-7. The walkers will follow the pipeline route and can be contacted at [email protected]

National chair of the Council of Canadians Maude Barlow wrapped up the evening, addressing the shortage of water around the world, the way we are drying up the land when we remove vegetation, California’s reality of finally running out of water, and the frightening disappearance of China’s rivers. (Since 1990, half of the rivers have disappeared. Not polluted, she said. Gone.) Somehow Maude still managed to offer a sense of hope and solidarity, finishing to a standing ovation from an appreciative audience.

Both the Winnipeg Chapter and the Manitoba Energy Justice Coalition (the Council of Canadians-Winnipeg Chapter is a member of the coalition) were present with fact sheets, locally specific information and opportunities for more engagement. Many of the audience members signed an online petition to the energy minister Chomiak, asking the minister to refuse permits for the Energy East Pipeline; and also put their names to the Wilderness Committee/MEJC postcards carrying a similar message. The Act On Climate photo booth was busy, with volunteers adding dozens of new messages to the Premiers’ Conference in Quebec, where Canada’s climate change policy is under discussion.

With such an enthusiastic show of support from Winnipeggers, the MEJC is continuing its plans for more public events, political action and engagement of Manitobans outside Winnipeg. There is an orientation session for new volunteers on April 26, 1PM at the St Norbert Community Centre. All are welcome!

For more info, or to register to attend, please contact us at [email protected] or the MEJC at [email protected]

Watch here for an upcoming series of blogs interpreting several of the many issues with the Energy East proposal that must be addressed; and the soon to be released peer reviewed report examining potential impacts of the Energy East pipeline on Manitoba.

Contributor: Mary Robinson - Council of Canadians Winnipeg Chapter Chair

Recipe for a Happy World Water Day

Posted by Winnipeg Chapter on March 19, 2015 at 11:30 PM Comments comments (0)

Mitigation, Adaptation and Water Thinking

About Carrie Saxifrage’s new book The Big Swim, Maude Barlow wrote, “Trying to understand what we are doing to the planet based solely upon facts and statistics fails to engage the heart, where all true commitment forms. Carrie Saxifrage knows that real change comes from the head and the heart working together and gently pulls us along on her journey to a deeper place of understanding."

Carrie will read from The Big Swim on April 4, 7 pm at McNally Robinson Bookstore. Her schedule for readings in other cities is at

First, let’s celebrate water. Nothing is more satisfying than a drink when you are dehydrated, how water spreads across the tongue and to the sides of the mouth, the way in which the sensation of wetness gives way to a satisfaction that in that thirsty moment is better than anything else you could imagine. Our bodies recognize water for what it is: a necessity, a birth right. Humans aren’t alone in this. Ecosystems lie at the heart of the world’s water systems, full of diverse and intricate lives. Water is everyone’s birthright, everyone’s life force, on this uniquely watery planet.

Some experts note, “Climate mitigation is about carbon and climate adaptation is about water.” We must mitigate carbon, which means substantially reducing fossil fuels, and fast. But the reality is that we will have a lot of adapting to do – managing water - no matter how strongly we mitigate.

In Canada, we are relatively lucky when it comes to water because there are enormous threats to this birthright worldwide: drought, the depletion of ancient aquifers, inequitable water distribution, the attempts of corporations to control access, pollution, and immense water withdrawals for industry, including agriculture. Many people already live with water scarcity: 1.6 billion, according to the World Bank. The number is expected to rise to 2.8 billion by 2025.

But despite being the second most water rich nation in the world, some people in Canada lack safe drinking water. The Shoal Lake 40 First Nation has lived with a boil water advisory for 17 years, the result of infrastructure to supply clean water to the City of Winnipeg. Such advisories are in effect for over 1,200 Canadian communities.

As climate change intensifies threats to water supplies, societies and ecosystems get destabilized. A recent study links Syria’s civil war, which spawned the Islamic State, to a four year drought. Civil unrest is erupting over water shortages in major cities in Brazil, such as Sao Paulo. Even Kenya, a relatively stable African government, is stretched by drought and could fail. People are only a part of the suffering. Many lineages from the magnificent and intricate diversity of life on Earth will go extinct. The 2014 report by the International Panel on Climate Change notes that major extinction events occurred in the past during slower rates of climate change then presently underway and additional stressors, such as habitat fragmentation, are now at play.

A necessary psychological change is underway as people come to grips with reality: climate change is irrefutable, caused by fossil fuels and we must stop using them to prevent suffering on an even more massive scale. Most experts see an effective price on carbon as the way to spur enough renewable energy development to save us, and this should be our top political priority. Consider this: all the technology we need for a stable future exists. It’s already being implemented and will be built at the pace we need as soon as we have an effective price on carbon. We must implement this tool on a global scale to mitigate carbon.

Adaptation and water, on the other hand, play out on the local level. Water management is in every community’s future. Fortunately, water can inspire us. We can find places where our engagement builds connections and feels meaningful. Part of adaptation is cultivating our relationship with water so that we will protect it, and protect ourselves from it, near our homes.

Lakes are an appealing place to do this. Many of us have a lake we love, and many of those lakes now host recurring algal blooms, the result of nutrient loading and changing weather. We can work to keep our lakes drinkable and swimmable. It feels good to take steps, even small steps, to protect water, especially bodies of water that we love. Annabel Slaight helped found Ladies of the Lake and the Ontario Water Center to look after Lake Simcoe. She put it this way: “If you don’t love something, and have the opportunities to love it, you won’t look after it and won’t demand that it be looked after.”

Canadian lakes were a revelation to me when I first moved here two decades ago: the clear greenish water shafted with light, the bubbles trailing from my fingertips and the water’s gentle hold. Two lakes on Cortes Island, BC are in the center of the community and I use them to get places. Friends tell stories about me stripping down to swim home from parties and meetings. After every swim, I’ve emerged cooler, more collected and happier person, grateful to my watery friend and therapist. Last spring the lakes at the center of our community on Cortes Island, BC had their first algae bloom. The water turned brown and smelly. The fish died. No one knew if it was safe to swim.

Nearly every province has many lakes that have had recent algal blooms. To name a very few: in BC, Elk Lake near Victoria and St. Mary’s Lake on Salt Spring Island; in New Brunswick, Irishtown Reservoir and Lake Utopia; in Manitoba, Lake Winnipeg and Dauphin Lake; in Nova Scotia, Lake Torment and Lake Ainslie; in Alberta, Lac Ste. Anne and Pigeon Lake; in Saskatchewan, Lac la Loche and Boundary Reservoir; in Ontario, Lake Ontario and Three Mile Lake.

No list is complete without poor Lake Erie, once the poster lake for successful clean up. The trend goes beyond Canada: A recent study in Europe and North America found a 60% increase in algal blooms in low elevation lakes over the last two hundred years.

According to David Trew of North Saskatchewan Watershed Society, each lake is unique in its particular combination of characteristics. Some, like the lakes in the Alberta and Saskatchewan prairies, have naturally high internal nutrient loads from the fertile soil surrounding them. Alpine lakes, and the ones on the Canadian Shield, do not. It’s natural for lakes to “age” – to gradually become eutrophic, with less oxygen and more plants, until they become meadows. The primary driver of premature eutrophication is nutrient flows, especially phosphorus, with nitrogen also playing a role. These nutrients come from farms, lawns, storm water, septic systems, golf courses, logging and development along the shoreline.

Each lake has its own unique community of algae and bacteria. This helps explain why a lake near Victoria BC bloomed in December, a New Brunswick lake bloomed in September, my Cortes Lake bloomed in May and many if not most lakes bloom in July.

The shape and depth of the lake, matters. Shallow lakes warm quickly and wind can easily suspend the nutrients at the bottom. Some lakes have strong in and outflows, so excess nutrients get flushed through. Others move slowly or not at all.

Climate change increases nutrient flows with floods and intense rainfall. Longer periods of no ice and warm waters favor algal blooms. So do wetter springs and longer, drier summers. Warmer temperatures make the algae more efficient at grabbing nitrogen out of the atmosphere. According to Alyre Chiasson, of University of Moncton, such conditions can put vulnerable lakes over the edge.

The lake conditions created by climate change favor cyanobacteria, or blue green algae. For the record, cyanobacteria spent billions of years as the only life form on Earth, making the oxygen that made us and other complex life forms possible. But in this story, they’re the villain. Some of them, some of the time, create toxins that damage the liver and nervous system, cause skin irritation, gastroenteritis and/or respiratory distress. Chronic, low dose exposures can cause liver tumors and endocrine disruption. Puppies mucking at lake edges are especially vulnerable.

With the right conditions, cyanobacteria reproduce explosively and create toxins. When this happened in Lake Erie in 2014, Toledo, Ohio’s water system for 500,000 residents was shut down. The toxins can only be removed by charcoal filtration and chlorination. Boiling can force the bacteria to release more toxins. Out of caution, municipalities close water bodies to drinking and recreation when any kind of cyanobacteria is present.

It’s hard to remedy algae blooms once they really take hold. According to Vicky Burns of the Save Lake Winnipeg project, phosphorus gets trapped in sediment where it remains until the lake conditions are suitable for a bloom. Lakes with strong flows through them have a better chance of recovery. But there are no big success stories out there. Annabel Slaight told me, “I used to think you could fix a lake. I don’t think so anymore. All you can do is create the conditions in which a lake can heal itself.

In some places (Australia, Western Europe), a substance called Phoslock has been used to permanently bind phosphorus in lakes. It has been tried in Lake Simcoe, ON and Irishtown Resevoir, NB. In Canada, there’s reluctance to treat the symptom and not the cause.

The increasingly widespread nature of algae blooms makes it a national matter. According to Vicky Burns of Lake Winnipeg, voluntary action is important but not enough. We need regulations and legislation that set standards for the amount of phosphorus and nitrogen in sewage effluent, agricultural run-off, industrial run-off and other sources. “We have a very long way to go before we achieve that,” she wrote. “One example is that that federal government is rolling out new sewage treatment regulations and there is no reference in them to phosphorus.” According to David Trew of North Lake Saskatchewan, nutrient sources to lakes arising from land management and septic systems have fallen through the legislative cracks.

The citizen stewards and scientists I spoke with all gave the same solution for individual lakes: stop loading the lake with phosphates. They recommend a team approach: scientists, local and provincial governments and citizens. According to David Trew, the task in its simplest terms is to: 1) understand the quantity and source of nutrient loads; 2) create a “phosphorus budget”; and 3) create and implement a watershed management plan to meet that budget.

The 2014 Sturgeon Lake Management Plan on the Kawartha Conservation web site provides a model in terms of process and content. The plan was funded by the local municipality. The first three years of its development were dedicated to science-based assessments of the lake and its watershed and capturing the key values of stakeholders. The plan was crafted in the fourth year, with input from both a science and a community panel. It links specific measures to its phosphorus targets, such as conducting 10 to 20 agricultural improvement projects each year (things like streamside vegetation buffers and improving manure storage and fertilizer application) to achieve a phosphorus loading target of 2,000 kg/year. It also focusses on the municipal Official Plan to strengthen land use planning through measures such as development setbacks and by-laws to enhance shore line vegetation and retain lake side forests.

For those who don’t love management plan meetings, here’s the best thing about lake stewardship: it requires lots of data, and collecting data means canoeing around in all kinds of weather with old and new friends, with plastic bottles and a secchi disc (picture a heavy record album divided in quarters that are painted black and white so when you drop it over the side of the canoe you can still see it for awhile). That’s my favorite kind of contribution, the one that takes me out there to the place I love, where I get to see which ducks are on the lake that week and maybe a muskrat or a beaver. The provinces have lake experts who can advise citizen samplers and there are province-wide lake stewardship groups to provide guidance as well.

Lake stewardship is a community builder, because communities rally for their beloved lakes. Last summer on Cortes Island, we held a fund raiser to help pay for testing the lake, the “First Ever Nine Lake Swim.” Four of us swam every lake on the island, about six miles altogether. We were greeted by the community at the end of it and had a feast at the restaurant up the hill. Children put on the puppet show they had worked on all day in which the spirit of the lakes arose from beneath a blue table cloth to rap to us about phosphates, and lake creatures pled for us to be more careful. We raised $13,000 for lake sampling and solutions. The Ontario Water Centre is a large scale model for a potent combination of fun, science, planning and action.

I’m one of those who avoid meetings, but I’ll be a part of the watershed planning ones for my lakes. Researching this article has brought me around: lakes are very specific beings with very specific needs and creating the conditions for ours to heal will require both evidence and planning. It’s also a good exercise to establish strong community-government working groups in preparation for the more difficult adaptation issues that may arise in the future. Annabel Sleight of Lake Simcoe assures me that even meetings can build comradery.

The Ontario Water Centre Website mentions “water thinking,” so I asked Annabel about this. She described water thinking as remembering water as you live, appreciating it, and learning to act like it, to flow through the cracks when there’s an obstacle. The Chippewas of Georgina Island have influenced her. “They see a different relationship to nature,” she told me. “It’s less like a responsibility to be stewards, as if that is some kind of obligation of life, and more like being in in tune with nature and part of the natural system. That way you draw strength from it. I draw strength from water all the time.

Contributor: Carrie Saxifrage, Author of The Big Swim