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Ribbons of Oil

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U.S. / Canada pipeline

The conflict between economics and an interpretation of national policy set in motion nearly a decade of political debate, the major political issue of the day.

On pleasant summer days when thousands of Torontonians visit the city's network of parks that string along the Don Valley, strolling on miles of pathways, picnicking under the spread of giant oaks (from where black squirrels might drop acorns on them), or tossing Frisbees across acres of lawn, there is only a small sign to indicate that under their feet is a large natural gas pipeline. When a householder in Montreal twists a dial to ignite a burner on her kitchen stove, there is nothing to indicate that the blue flame is connected to deeply buried saturated rocks as distant as the Yukon, through an unbroken network of pipelines and processing facilities. Sixty percent of the energy used by Canadians is moved through a network of 430,000 miles of oil and gas pipelines, exceeding the length of the nation's railway trackage by about 15 times. Pipelines carrying Canadian energy stretch from the Pacific to the Atlantic, from the edge of the Arctic Circle, south into the United States as far as Oklahoma, and include the world's longest oil and gas pipelines. Buried 6 ½  feet below the surface, silent and unseen, pipelines are the safest, most environmentally benign, and lowest-cost mode of overland transportation. The cost of moving one litre of oil from Edmonton through more than 1,800 miles of pipeline to Sarnia is barely one cent.1

The emergence of the Western Canada Sedimentary Basin as a major oil and gas province brought with it the need for pipelines. First came the long-distance oil pipelines, followed by the gas lines.

Politicians were quick to draw an analogy between the railways, which had knit Canada together seven decades earlier, and the pipelines, which were seen as just as vital to the nation's economic future. The Interprovincial (now Enbridge) pipeline to move oil east came first, followed by the Trans Mountain (now Terasen) line to move oil west. They were not built without emotional political debate, the pre­cursor of much stormier debate about the routing of gas pipelines that would soon follow.

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