Energy East Pipeline hits protected area roadblock in Manitoba

Image from the Government of Manitoba.

Whitemud Watershed in western Manitoba. Image: Government of Manitoba.

Winnipeg – Research by the Wilderness Committee into the route of TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline has revealed a legal roadblock where the route crosses the Whitemud Watershed Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in western Manitoba, which is protected from oil and gas development.

Energy East proposes to convert a 40-year-old natural gas pipeline to carry diluted bitumen – heavy tar sands oil – across Manitoba. The original natural gas pipeline was constructed through the Whitemud WMA before the land was protected under the Wildlife Act. However, switching the product in the pipeline from natural gas to heavy oil is a substantial change.

“We’ve discovered that the Energy East pipeline proposal is prohibited under Manitoba law,” said Eric Reder, Manitoba Campaign Director for the Wilderness Committee. “The existing lines might be ‘grandfathered’ in and seemingly benign, but changing the product that runs through this pipeline is a big development – with an even bigger risk.”

The Minister of Conservation and Water Stewardship has confirmed that oil and gas development is prohibited in protected Wildlife Management Areas. The Wildlife Act regulation explicitly spells out the sections of land that are protected, and the Whitemud WMA is one of the areas protected under the Act.

The Wilderness Committee discovered the legal contradiction while researching a route for their upcoming Walk the Line hike this weekend in the Whitemud WMA, a Wilderness Witness Tour event aimed at increasing Manitobans exposure to the wild areas at risk in Manitoba.

“As advocates for wilderness and protected area legislation, we are very concerned,” said Reder. “Will the next Manitoba government uphold the law? Or will the government allow dirty oil to move across our preserved wild spaces?”