| CHARLOTTETOWN, Prince Edward Island
CHARLOTTETOWN, Prince Edward Island Dec 15 For
years, heavy equipment operator Ashley Underhill has tried to
defy the notion that one could only make a good living in
Canada's poorer east coast by spending most of the time away
from the family in the nation's western oil patch.
One reason Underhill had battled on, working on small
private contracts, including snow clearing and wood cutting, was
Energy East, a planned 4,600-km (2860-mile) pipeline between
Alberta's oil sands and the east coast and the promise of an
economic boost it could bring. But the approval for two western
pipelines last month dimmed Energy East's prospects and now
Underhill is looking to work in the oil sands in western Canada.
"People are really scrounging out here in the Maritimes,
looking for work," said Underhill of Miramachi, New Brunswick.
"Unless Energy East comes a lot sooner, I'll probably inquire
about going out (west)."
TransCanada Corp's Energy East pipeline is
projected to bring nearly 5,000 construction jobs to New
Brunswick, which is its final destination.
The project was slated to begin in 2017 if approved and
enjoys broad support in all Atlantic provinces - New Brunswick,
Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador.
But while the government appointed a new panel on Monday for the
pipeline's regulatory review, it has yet to say when it will
restart the process that was stalled in September. Meanwhile,
projects in the west have already cleared key hurdles.
Last month, Ottawa approved Kinder Morgan Inc's
Trans Mountain pipeline expansion to the Pacific coast and
Enbridge Inc's Line 3 to the United States, making it
less pressing to build another export route.
If those pipelines succeed, "is there a need for Energy East
in the next five to 10 years? The answer's probably not," said
AltaCorp Capital analyst Dirk Lever.
TransCanada spokesman Tim Duboyce said Energy East would
deliver Canadian crude to eastern refineries that currently
import foreign oil, something other routes could not accomplish.
"Shippers remain firmly committed," he said.
New Brunswick's government also firmly backs the pipeline,
estimating it would give the province's C$32-billion ($24.11
billion) economy a roughly 10 percent bump. Prince Edward
Island's government has said the pipeline would reduce the
province's reliance on imports and stabilize fuel prices.
But Energy East faces stiff opposition from environmental
groups, particularly in New Brunswick's more prosperous western
neighbor of Quebec, which the pipeline would cross. In
September, regulatory hearings in the province were suspended
after it emerged that panel members met privately with a company
A delay or cancellation of Energy East would deal a severe
blow to an already struggling region.
"We have lots of outward migration, very little job growth,"
said David Murrell, economics professor emeritus at the
University of New Brunswick. "We're a have-not province, and we
need it. It's an all-or-nothing thing," he said about the
Joel Richardson, vice-president of the Canadian
Manufacturers and Exporters industry group in New Brunswick and
Prince Edward Island, echoed that sentiment, saying Energy East
would help keep workers in the region. The approvals for the
western pipelines would not stem the exodus.
"The risk is very real that we could see more and more
workers leaving Atlantic Canada again."
The Atlantic-coast region, where 6.6 percent of Canada's 35
million people live, has been beset by a stagnant economy,
westward migration and a rapidly aging population. Unemployment
rates for the region ranged from 8 percent in Nova Scotia to
14.3 percent in Newfoundland and Labrador last month, well above
the national 6.8 percent average.
The region has depended on the oil-rich west for jobs for
years and was hit hard by tumbling crude prices. As prices
stabilized this year some oil producers have started gingerly
hiring again, though on a smaller scale than during the boom
The mood today could not be more different than in 2013,
when TransCanada announced the Energy East plan and New
Brunswick's Conservative premier fought back tears at a local
event, saying the pipeline would "change the fate of many of our
The province's current Liberal government also backs the
project, but at the federal level the Liberals have been
non-committal. When asked about Energy East, Natural Resources
Minister Jim Carr would only say the pipeline needed to clear
the independent energy regulator first.
"We are not champions of individual projects," he told a
Nov. 30 industry event.
Mechanic Rick Blanchard said people in Atlantic Canada were
frustrated with decisions they thought favored western Canada
and felt Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should have done more to
help Energy East navigate a rigorous approval process.
"It would have been nice if it was in our own backyard
rather than 4,000 km (2485 miles) away," Blanchard said of the
pipeline approvals. "We've lost a lot here in New Brunswick,"
said Blanchard, who lives in Saint John, the province's largest
"There are guys willing, wanting and able to work, and they
($1 = 1.3273 Canadian dollars)
(Additional reporting and writing by Ethan Lou and Nia Williams
in Calgary, Alberta; Editing by Tomasz Janowski)