Energy East is an improbable pipeline that has a high probability of being built. It will cost C$12 billion ($10.7 billion) and could be up and running by 2018. Its 4,600-kilometer (2,858-mile) path, taking advantage of a vast length of existing and underused natural gas pipeline, would wend through six provinces and four time zones. It would be Keystone on steroids, more than twice as long and carrying a third more crude.
The natural gas pipeline is underused because of the shale gas boom in the United States.
Its end point, a refinery in Saint John, New Brunswick, operated by a reclusive Canadian billionaire family, would give Canada’s oil-sands crude supertanker access to the same Louisiana and Texas refineries Keystone was meant to supply.
Canada wants more than one pipeline out of the oilsands in Alberta. Having a major pipeline in the bag and large rail facilities provides leverage in other pipeline negotiations.
Vladimir Putin’s provocations in Ukraine are spurring interest in that oil from Europe and, strange as it seems, Saint John provides among the fastest shipping times to India of any oil port in North America. Indian companies, having already sampled this crude, are interested in more. That means oil-sands production for the first time would trade in more than dribs and drabs on the international markets. With the U.S. virtually its only buyer, the captive Canadians are subject to price discounts of as much as $43 a barrel that cost Canada $20 billion a year.
“The best way to get Keystone XL built is to make it irrelevant,” said Frank McKenna, who served three terms as premier of New Brunswick and was ambassador to the U.S. before becoming a banker.
So confident is TransCanada Corp., the chief backer of both Keystone and Energy East, of success that Alex Pourbaix, the executive in charge, spoke of the cross-Canada line as virtually a done deal.
By the time Arthur Irving [the Irving family has $10 billion in net worth and control New Brunswick] dropped in on McKenna in June, the Energy East game was into late innings –- and still in danger of falling apart. TransCanada had reached its official deadline the previous day on a so-called open season during which it sought long-term commitments from producers. Arthur Irving had removed one hurdle by consenting to take a minimum 50,000 barrels a day for his refinery (a figure Irving Oil would later increase.)
On June 19, Irving’s Browning sat down with TransCanada’s Pourbaix to work through the final sticking point — the inordinate influence Irving could exercise through its control of the end of the line. Should anything go wrong at the terminal, the refinery would become the only conceivable buyer and could force distressed pricing on them.
TransCanada — much to Arthur Irving’s annoyance –- had worked around him by quietly winning the provincial government’s assurance of land if it proved necessary to build its own terminal, according to people familiar with the plan. At that June 19 meeting, the company backed off, agreeing to form a 50-50 joint venture with Irving Oil, with Irving as the operating partner. In exchange, TransCanada won an assurance that the producers would not be held ransom.
TransCanada had made it known that the pipeline needed 500,000 to 600,000 barrels a day to be viable. Commitments grew to 900,000 barrels, including oil that would exit the pipeline at Quebec.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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