THE 10-MINUTE INTERVIEW
'WHAT ARE THE RISKS TO OUR DRINKING WATER?', NORTH BAY MAYOR
An interview with Mayor Al McDonald on proposed Transcanada Energy East pipeline, a conversion from natural gas to crude oil
NOTE: TransCanada declined to address Mayor McDonald's concerns in a 10-minute interview.
Transcription: rokilamb - fiverr.com
[00:00:06] Water Today: Hi there, this is an interview on Water today. I have with me the mayor of North Bay Ontario Mr. Al McDonald. Thanks for doing this, and welcome to the interview.
McDonald: Thank you very much.
[00:00:17] Water Today: To coin this battle, can you tell me North Bay, or your side, of the issue?
McDonald: Well, currently right now the pipeline runs through our watershed. And it is natural gas and TransCanada will apply, they haven't applied as of yet, will apply to the NEB to convert the natural gas pipeline to carry crude oil. Our concern with the conversion relates to our watershed, and our only source of drinking water. So our main concern is the protection of our drinking water.
[00:01:00] Water Today: Okay, so just let me put this in perspective for the listeners of Water Today. Mr.McDonald, his town, if I have this right, North Bay is on a lake called Trout Lake. And this lake is indeed the source for your water plant for the city of North Bay. Is that correct?
McDonald: Well, just to put it in full context, we have 31 lakes within our boundaries of our city. And we're situated between two lakes, Lake Nipissing and Trout Lake. The proposed conversion of this pipeline actually runs through the watershed of Lake Nipissing as well as Trout Lake. And Trout Lake is our only source of drinking water.
[00:01:45] Water Today: Okay, so the company, if I have this right then, it's TransCanada Pipeline, they have a natural gas pipeline that exists there right now, and it's had some issues in the past as well. My understanding is they want to convert this natural gas pipeline to what they call, I guess, heavy oil, or what we know to be crude oil. And they want to ship that to the east coast for delivery to Europe via tankers. Is that about right?
McDonald: Well, the conversion is from natural gas to crude, or the chemicals needed to pump the crude through to the east coast. And we know it as Energy East. So, the conversion of the natural gas pipeline to transport crude oil to the east coast is what we know; yes.
[00:02:46] Water Today: Most people could see raising an eyebrow about doing something like this in almost any town. I guess my first question would be, if it exists already, and there’s natural gas going through it already, why the big issue with the conversion to oil? Is that your issue, or is your issue any pipeline at all?
McDonald: No, not at all. So right now, currently, it is a natural gas pipeline. So if it was to rupture obviously we would be concerned about fire and explosions and public safety. But it wouldn't pollute our waters. If it was crude based or chemical based, or whatever is in the chemicals to transport the oil through this pipeline, should there be a leak that could possibly enter into our only source of drinking water, which is Delaney Bay of Trout Lake. Having said that, we don't know what the risks are, if there's zero risk or 100 percent risk of a leakage. And that's where our concern lies, is trying to get to the credible information and studies and technical expertise done so that we know exactly where we stand on that risk scale.
[00:04:11] Water Today: Okay the obvious ask here is how come you have no such study from the energy company?
McDonald: So what we're saying as a city is, one, we're concerned about our only source of drinking water. And, two, what are those risks to us? What risks do we face should there be a leakage, or spillage, or a rupture of the pipeline? And today I can't answer those questions for my citizens; we don't have that information; have not been supplied with that information. So what we're saying is we're concerned, we don't know what the risks are, and we just want to protect our drinking water.
[00:04:56] Water Today: The Metis have signed onto this pipeline. Were you aware of that?
McDonald: No, I wasn't.
[00:05:04] Water Today: Okay so we've also heard Claudine Roy, Justice of the Superior Court of Quebec, has put a moratorium on putting this pipeline through Quebec, I think. And I'll confirm more of that as the day gets along. From your point of view then, it's not that you're against this pipeline, that's a little bit of media hysterics. You just don't know enough information to make a decision, is that where you're going?
McDonald: I've been very respectful of the proposal, and we don't as a municipality, we're not going outside our boundaries, because I think all jurisdictions can speak for themselves if they support, or do not support it. From the city of North Bay perspective, we just look at our area, our watershed, and our drinking water. So we've kept our comments and our concerns strictly to our drinking water, and the protection of our drinking water. The broader question regarding the pipeline, should it go through, not go through, the benefits or not benefits to the country, that's a bigger debate that will happen without us. We want to just stick to the protection of our drinking water.
[00:06:33] Water Today: In the shadow of the Mégantic disaster, I think an awful lot of people are saying now, look you know this oil transportation business, is that also on your mind, or you're just staying really focused on the drinking water?
McDonald: Well we know that crude needs to be transported somehow, and we do have a railway that does run through our city. And we saw what happened in Quebec and the tragic loss of life. And that's not lost on us. But we also have a responsibility to our citizens to say; here is the risk that's involved with the conversion of this pipe. There's no talk about transporting it by truck, or rail, but by pipeline. And we're very focused on our drinking water and don't want to get caught up in what-ifs or if this happens or that happens or we'll send it over here. And we don't want to be the ones that say just don't put it through our area because then that's just not in my backyard.
What we want to do and ensure, and I want to be able to communicate with my citizens, is here's what's being proposed and here's what the risk is. And our community can make up their minds on what that means to them. But until I have all that information, and can convey that to my citizens, I have to stand up and say okay we don't know what the risks are. The only way we're going to find out is by being at the NEB board hearings through an intervener status. Councils allocated up to 250 thousand dollars for legal and technical studies, which for a city of 55 thousand is a lot of money. And we're up against billion dollar corporations. So I just want to be able to look my citizens in the eye and say I've done everything I possibly could to find out all the information that you need, and our city needs to make an informed decision.
[00:08:39] Water Today: Just before I let you go, when is the NEB hearing?
McDonald: We don't know that yet. TransCanada has not applied to the NEB, so until they do, we can't even apply to be an intervener. And the NEB doesn't necessarily have to accept us an intervener. They can say no. We're hoping that's not the case, but, until TransCanada actually applies to the NEB we have, there is no application right now, so we would have no idea when that hearing would be.
[00:09:10] Water Today: Thanks for doing this.
McDonald: You're very welcome.
[00:09:13] Water Today: Have a nice day.
McDonald: You too.