Pipeline Application Means “Dirtiest Oil on the Planet” Is Headed to New England’s Doorstep

Media Releases

Groups call on U.S. State Department to require full environmental review of cross-border tar sands pipeline proposal, before it is too late

Environment Maine

Canada’s mega-oil pipeline company Enbridge filed an application today to move forward on the reversal of its Line 9 pipeline, likely bringing tar sands oil eastward to Montreal.  If approved, this would open the door to bringing the corrosive tar sands through Ontario, Quebec, and New England for export. 

“Today’s application is clear evidence that oil companies are planning to send tar sands across eastern Canada and New England,” said Dylan Voorhees, Clean Energy Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine.  “Today we are calling on the U.S. State Department to require a full environmental review of any proposal to bring tar sands through ExxonMobil’s New England pipeline.”

In today’s formal application to Canada’s National Energy Board, Enbridge seeks to:

  • Reverse the flow of its “Line 9” pipeline to Montreal to carry oil from west to east.
  • Transport “heavy crude” from western Canada. Enbridge specifically told journalists that tar sands or “diluted bitumen” could be sent down the pipeline if the permit is approved.
  • Increase the flow of the pipeline by 25 percent to 300,000 barrels per day.

While Canada’s National Energy Board (NEB) must review all major pipeline projects or modifications in Canada—and has already approved reversal of part of Line 9 between Sarnia, Ontario and Montreal—New Englanders are concerned that there is no similar review process in the United States. However a Presidential Permit, which can be granted by the U.S. State Department for cross-border oil pipelines, can require a full environmental review, as it has for the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.  Without a new Presidential Permit requirement, there would be no similarly full review on the U.S. side of the border.

“Today’s application is a wake-up call that we are at risk from a pipeline that would bring dirty tar sands to our doorstep,” said Environment Maine Director Emily Figdor. “Everyone who cares about a healthy environment, clean drinking water, and our nature-based economy should join us in asking our elected officials to demand a Presidential Permit before the ExxonMobil pipeline starts carrying tar sands and it is too late.”

“If there was a spill in the Sebago Lake watershed, tar sands oil could cause catastrophic damage to our drinking water source,” said Gary Libby, a Trustee of the Portland Water District. “We cannot afford the poisoning of our drinking water. We cannot afford tar sands oil going through this pipeline. That’s why we need to demand a full environmental review.”

“It doesn’t take a whole lot of toxic pollution to close a clam flat,” said Chad Coffin, President of the Maine Clammers Association. “Without excellent water quality, 2,000 Maine clammers are out of business. An increased risk of a spill from tar sands oil in this pipeline is a real threat to our jobs and livelihood. If our coastal waters are not clean, it’s impossible for all Maine fisheries, not just the clamming industry, to market the Maine brand.”

Worrisome signs all suggest the Canadian pipeline reversal application filed today is almost certainly a precursor to a reversal of the Portland-Montreal Pipeline:

  • In late 2011 the pipeline company and lobbyists for tar sands met with Maine Governor Paul LePage to promote tar sands oil, according to documents obtained through Maine’s Freedom of Access Law.
  • Over the last few months, officials with the pipeline company have handed out information touting tar sands oil to towns along the pipeline, while their oil industry allies have sent opinion pieces to Maine newspapers defending tar sands.
  • Research uncovered the fact that the pipeline running through New England – the Portland-Montreal Pipeline – is controlled by ExxonMobil.  ExxonMobil has direct interests in the tar sands, and a poor environmental track record in pursuit of its massive profits.

A federal Presidential Permit is critical if Maine citizens want a full environmental review of the plan to use the pipeline for tar sands before the pipeline is reversed and begins transporting tar sands oil. In 2008-2009, the pipeline company quietly lobbied the State Department not to require a Presidential Permit. The State of Maine may not have authority to require such a review.

“Like many others here, I own a business that is utterly dependent on the quality of natural resources unique to our region,” said Seabury Lyon from Bethel. “The 60-year-old pipeline travels along the Androscoggin for over 13 miles, and an oil spill would directly jeopardize area businesses and the very fragile economy of our entire region. I don’t trust the oil companies to protect the public interest; although I am confident they will do everything they can to grease the skids for their oil projects.”

Enbridge had previously denied it is seeking to bring tar sands east, but this new application means those statements were as hollow as opponents feared. The evidence is mounting that oil companies wish to bring tar sands across Ontario, Quebec and New England. In the application announcement, Enbridge and the National Energy Board acknowledge the line may carry “heavy crude” and its purpose would be to access “western Canadian crude.”  These terms indicate the line will carry tar sands oil, which is considered some of the dirtiest oil on the planet having significant impacts on the climate.

Tar sands oil is more toxic, corrosive and dangerous to ship through pipelines, putting Maine treasures like Sebago Lake, Casco Bay and the Androscoggin and Crooke Rivers at risk.  When tar sands does spill, it causes more damage to the health of people and our environment, and is nearly impossible to clean-up — even at enormous expense — as evidenced by the 2010 spill in Michigan’s Kalamazoo River. That spill is still being cleaned today, at a cost of $725 million and counting, making this tar sands spill the most expensive inland pipeline spill in history. Even in its more refined form of Synthetic Crude Oil, tar sands has a massive environmental and climate footprint.

“I’ve been guiding on the Crooked River and other pristine Maine waters for years,” said Brooke Hiddell a Registered Maine Guide.” Maine’s large outdoor recreation industry depends on clean, healthy waters for salmon, brook trout, and other species—and an increased risk of an oil spill into these waters from tar sands oil being forced through Maine’s aging pipeline would be devastating to the entire Sebago Lake watershed.”

Citizens and organizations in Maine (and across the northeastern US) have been raising concerns about tar sands pipelines over the past year. For example:

  • In April 2012, more than 3,000 Maine citizens weighed in with the Canadian National Energy Board in opposition to an earlier line reversal application. In total, 41,000 comments in opposition were submitted.
  • In June, 18 organizations from across the U.S. and Canada first publicized Enbridge’s plan, releasing a detailed report on the threat of tar sands coming to New England and Eastern Canada.
  • In July, nearly 250 Maine citizens rallied in opposition to the plan in locations from Bethel to South Portland on the anniversary of the catastrophic Kalamazoo tar sands spill. Thousands of citizens from across the region rallied that same day.
  • In November, citizens of Portland, Harrison and Casco gathered over 2,000 signatures to create municipal resolutions opposing tar sands and tar sands fuels.