TransCanada Corporation’s proposed $16-billion Energy East diluted bitumen pipeline through Quebec will be vulnerable to one of the country’s most active earthquake zones and may not withstand a seismic event on the scale of those on the historic record, climate and energy specialist Alain Brunel of l’Association québécoise de lutte contre la pollution atmosphérique (AQLPA) warns in a commentary.
“The most menacing seismic risks for the Energy East pipeline are all in Quebec,” Brunel writes in Le Devoir. He notes that certain soils through which the pipeline would pass in the province pose “elevated” risks of liquefaction during an earthquake event that are “almost unique in North America.”
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Another 10 locations where the 4,600-kilometre pipeline would cross rivers are at elevated risk of landslides. These include crossings of such important waterways as the Champlain and du Loup rivers, Brunel says.
TransCanada engineering consultant Golder Associates, in a submission to the Quebec Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement (BAPE), which is reviewing the project, asserted that modern welded steel pipelines would be “essentially undamaged” by seismic waves of an intensity of 7 or lower on the Mercalli scale.
That scale is less well known than the Richter intensity scale. Nonetheless, Brunel notes, Jacques Locat, a Laval University seismic specialist, has estimated that an earthquake in the same St. Lawrence River region in February, 1663 “attained a minimum magnitude of 7 to 9 on the modified Mercalli scale.”
Major earthquakes (above a 6 on the Mercalli scale) have occurred in the region on average every 65 years, most recently in 1988. “If Energy East is inaugurated in 2020, the next will doubtless happen during its lifetime of 40 to 80 years,” Brunel concludes.
“Under these conditions, there is nothing left to do but pray that the earthquake that’s coming doesn’t approach the magnitude of the one in 1663. And pray it doesn’t happen in winter.”
The proposed pipeline, which would carry diluted tar sands/oil sands bitumen from Alberta to terminals in New Brunswick and possibly Quebec, has previously had its economic rationale questioned by federal analysts, and its proponents have been accused of having no solution for other engineering challenges along the route. Last month, a study by the Natural Resources Defense Council outlined risks the pipeline poses to coastal ecosystems in the United States.