by Anne Dillon and Paulina Essunger from 350VT
A rapidly growing coalition is coming together to protect New England and eastern Canada from tar sands oil companies trying to access east coast refineries and ports, and to protect our future from tar sands expansion.
Oil production from the Alberta tar sands, a region in western Canada rich in tar-like bitumen deposits, has more than doubled in the past ten years. The current level of production – expected to double again by 2020 – exceeds Alberta’s refining capacity. The Harper administration is working hand-inglove with the province of Alberta and oil companies to position Canada as the next Saudi Arabia in terms of oil production and export. They are doing this by proposing chilling restraints on the ability of charitable organizations to advocate on environment, energy, and other issues, and provide tax receipts for donations; gutting the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and other key environmental protection laws that provide important checks on unbridled resource extraction; fudging pollution reports; and much more.
However, in their attempts to bring tar sands oil to distant refineries and the global market, oil companies are meeting broad resistance from farmers, ranchers, indigenous communities, unions, students, and other large groups of people intent on blocking the transport and export of tar sands oil from Alberta to the south and west. Therefore, Canadian producers are turning more of their attention eastward, to refineries and ports here.
For instance, fossil-fuel giant Enbridge (a parent company of Gaz Metro, Green Mountain Power’s owner) is planning to spend $2 billion on this “eastern access initiative” by modifying existing infrastructure and potentially laying additional pipelines. Among other components, this initiative includes expanding the volume capacity of a pipeline known as Line 6B, from Indiana to Ontario. Line 6B is the home of the massive 2010 Kalamazoo River spill. When the line ruptured, line operators back in Alberta repeatedly overrode the alarms, increased the pressure, and let more than one million gallons of tar sands crude contaminate the river.
The Line 6B expansion is now part of Enbridge’s response to that spill, but it was in the works before the spill. A 2008 financial document presents the expansion as one of the three parts of a project known as “Trailbreaker”:
“…If you turn to slide 5, that project is named Trailbreaker. It involves expansion of our Line 6B from Chicago to the Ontario border, reversal of Enbridge’s Line 9 to Montreal and reversal of a third-party pipeline in Portland, Maine.”
The western-most part of Trailbreaker expands Line 6B, the line into Ontario. The middle part involves reversing the flow of Line 9, so it flows from Ontario to Montreal, Quebec. And the third part, the eastern-most part, would bring tar sands oil into and across New England via Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine – by reversing the flow of the Portland-Montreal Pipeline. For New Englanders of all stripes the downside of this plan is enormous.
Enbridge is openly pursuing the first two parts of Trailbreaker, from left to right. If these are not blocked, Enbridge will be poised to break a trail for tar sands bitumen to flow into Vermont.
A corridor of the Portland Maine Pipeline traverses Vermont, entering in the Northeast Kingdom and traveling through the towns of Jay, Troy, Newport, Irasburg, Barton, Sutton, Burke, Victory, and Guildhall before continuing on through the relatively unspoiled landscapes of New Hampshire and on into Maine.
In Vermont, the PMPL cuts through Victory State Park and the nearby Victory Basin Wilderness Management Area, a sanctuary for wilderness ranging from minks and snapping turtles to bears and otters. In New Hampshire, the PMPL runs along the Androscoggin River for over fifteen miles. It also connects with Sebago Lake, which supplies drinking water for Portland and for 15 percent of Maine’s population.
The oil companies are quietly going about their business, hoping no one will notice what they’re up to, but not only are we noticing, we are on red alert. Carbon levels in the Arctic were just measured at 400 parts per million. The safe upper limit is 350. We need to work together to reduce our ballooning carbon footprint, and its multidimensional costs, now. We need to insure that our precious wildlife is not devalued to the point of obliteration and extinction by the unchecked corporate greed of fossil energy corporations. We need to guarantee that our wonderful last bastions of wilderness remain forever wild for future generations to enjoy and learn from.
Please step forward with us now.
“In very broad terms, if oil were to leak from a pipeline into a water body, then there are a couple of federal statutes which may be triggered. The Clean Water Act (CWA) provides for a civil penalty for the unpermitted discharge of oil into navigable waters, and also requires the responsible party to pay for removal and damages. The CWA also imposes a reporting requirement in the event of a spill. Likewise, the Oil Pollution Act imposes liability when oil is discharged into navigable waters. However, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, which imposes liability for the release of hazardous substances and provides for their clean up, would likely not apply because it excludes petroleum from the definition of ‘hazardous substances.’” – Rebecca Wagner, environmental Lawyer.” – Rebecca A. Wagner, Esq.
Tar sands oil is the highly noxious crude that the infamous Keystone XL pipeline was and is designed to transport. It is a mixture of tar sands and natural gas liquids and/or other light, volatile petroleum products containing benzene, toluene, and xylene. Sludge-like and viscous, when heated to facilitate its movement through the pipelines, its highly abrasive quality have caused people to liken it to liquid sandpaper.
Any pipeline is a disaster waiting to happen, a conventional pipeline transporting tar sands oil all the more so. Line 6B, built in 1969, was never meant to carry tar sands oil. In a business-as-usual context, this disasterwaiting- to-happen simply becomes fuel for the drive to lay more and bigger pipe. Remarkably, a catastrophic spill becomes not a rationale for doubling down on, or hundred-folding, our efforts to get off fossil fuels, to transform our energy and transportation systems. Instead, the spill is used as justification for accelerating the ability to bring tar sands oil to global markets, a reinterpretation of “new pipelines” as something that protects us against spills. This vicious cycle spins in familiar concert with that of a community that chooses to further cement itself into an infrastructure embedded in fossil fuels when rebuilding following extreme weather and its destructive impacts.
From the June, 2012, Green Energy Times