Although the lion's share of fossil fuel production is in Canada's western provinces, the other side of the country is also locked into dirty energy sources. For the first time, a new analysis maps out all fossil fuel projects in the region that are currently in operation, development and under consideration, along with ones that have been cancelled.

Released Tuesday by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives-NS in partnership with the think tank's B.C. office and the Corporate Mapping Project, the report focuses on the four Atlantic provinces and Quebec between 2010 and 2021. The report, titled Mapping Fossil Fuel Lock-In and Contestation in Eastern Canada, suggests the region is sitting at a crossroads. There have been 19 new extractive projects proposed since 2010 that stand to threaten the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. But many of those projects have been defeated after opposition from communities across the region, which should signal the need to transition to truly clean energy, the report says.

Graphic from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives/Corporate Mapping Project

In Nova Scotia, where this month’s wildfires have prompted thousands to evacuate, the Alton Gas project was cancelled in 2021 after strong Mi'kmaw opposition. There is a moratorium on fracking in the province, which followed public pushback, and also a pause in Newfoundland. In neighbouring New Brunswick, a moratorium has been in place since 2014 after huge opposition and protests from Indigenous supporters — many from Elsipogtog First Nation — and other opponents. And while Premier Blaine Higgs has recently said he wants to expand fracking regardless of the moratorium, First Nations have said they are prepared to push back again.

These victories are notable, said Emily Eaton, co-author and professor of geography and environmental studies at the University of Regina, and spread beyond Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

“Socio-ecological movements in all five provinces have challenged fossil fuel projects and these rising ‘flashpoints’ of resistance have succeeded in blocking most of the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure,” the report reads.

Eaton notes an interesting example with the Goldboro liquefied natural gas (LNG) project in Nova Scotia, which was stalled after Mi'kmaq protested over safety concerns around the 5,000-person work camp necessary for the construction. The company, Pieridae, then said it was considering a floating barge instead of an on-land facility to liquefy natural gas piped in from Alberta and see it shipped off to Europe. However, the company has recently said it’s now hoping for a smaller project with natural gas sourced from within Atlantic Canada, namely fracked gas from New Brunswick.

Graphic from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives/Corporate Mapping Project

“I think one of the things we found in this research on Eastern Canada is the extent to which this region is really interconnected,” said Eaton. “So for example, a lot of successful resistance to fracking and the Alton Gas project in Nova Scotia, a lot of the history and success was laid on top of the Elsipogtog resistance in New Brunswick.”

Here's the rundown on a new report from Corporate Mapping Project and @CCPANS @CCPA_BC, which argues that “now is an opportune moment to develop an alternative Eastern Canadian vision of an energy transition.”

Similarly, movements in Quebec have also affected nearby provinces, added JP Sapinski, co-author of the report and assistant professor of environmental studies at Université de Moncton. Very strong opposition to the TransCanada Energy East pipeline preceded its cancellation in 2017, he explained. If completed, it would have carried 1.1 million barrels of crude oil a day from Alberta through Quebec to an export terminal in Saint John, N.B.

"What social movements do: either they make it unfeasible because of social licence ... politically it becomes not feasible, or they're able to delay when these projects can come online, and so they push back when the companies start turning profits, and depending on the economic context, that's played out a lot in the last 10 years," said Sapinski. "Movements were able to delay a little bit more, just enough so that the companies figured out that projects won't work out because of no social licence, and dicey potential for profits."

Time for transition

While the stories of resistance are important, Eaton says there are still notable pushes to expand fossil fuels in many of the eastern provinces, and many rely on fossil fuels for electricity generation, heating and transportation. While Quebec (which banned oil and gas exploration in the province in April 2022) and Prince Edward Island (where 99 per cent of energy generation in the province comes from wind) are leading the way, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia are further behind.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, the province has ambitious plans to double offshore oil production by 2030, and oil development “looms large, culturally and politically/economically, as it is cast by dominant political actors as the province’s only chance against poverty,” reads the report. However, last week, Equinor announced the Bay du Nord offshore oil project — which is seen as a flagship for the province’s push for oil — is on hold for at least three years in addition to facing an active court case.

In New Brunswick, the largest provincial emitter — Irving Oil’s refinery in Saint John — is also the largest employer. The Irving family, who are by far New Brunswick’s most wealthy and powerful corporate family, are a force against the province transitioning, said Sapinski.

Meanwhile, the report describes Nova Scotia’s lock-in to fossil fuels as “ambiguous.” While the province is home to Canada’s only underground coal mine, that operation mines mainly metallurgical coal, which is used for steelmaking. While the Donkin coal mine is a notable source of emissions, the province relies on international markets to fuel its coal plants, which make up 52 per cent of energy generation.

The Progressive Conservative government in Nova Scotia supports natural gas, LNG and offshore oil and gas, but the “window for viable development seems to be closing,” says the report. The year 2021 was the fourth in a row that the offshore board received no responses to its bid for offshore oil exploration.

Ultimately, the report argues that “now is an opportune moment to develop an alternative Eastern Canadian vision of an energy transition.” With the hydrogen industry bubbling up, there are major concerns around it masquerading as another way to lock in fossil fuels.

“Over the last decade, struggles against fossil fuels and the intensifying pressure to expand their extraction have laid a strong foundation for this work. The capacity to imagine this alternative and enact it through broad-based citizen-driven movements now exists across this region,” reads the closing of the report.

“This is a propitious moment for just transition organizing across Eastern Canada.”

Updates and corrections

| Corrections policy
June 6, 2023, 12:30 pm

This article has been updated to clarify that 99 per cent of energy generation in Prince Edward Island is wind, not that 99 per cent of its energy mix is wind - most of the energy consumed in the province is imported from New Brunswick.

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That first CCPA map should have the colours reversed. The cancelled ones should be green, the operating and under construction should be red.