With public opposition to the Keystone XL, Northern Gateway and Kinder Morgan pipelines growing more virulent every day, Enbridge, Exxon and TransCanada have all proposed to reverse old pipelines and build new ones to transport tar sands crude to eastern Canada and New England, where it will be exported by supertanker to Europe and Asia.
The most prominent of these proposals is Line 9 through Ontario and Quebec, which Enbridge wants to reverse and increase capacity by 25 per cent. Like other tar sands pipeline proposals, this provides very few local economic benefits, while putting communities, waterways, special places, and millions of people at risk of the impacts of pipeline ruptures and toxic oil spills.
- Reversal of numerous pipelines to Montreal, St. Johns, and Maine
- Key Problems:
- Many pipelines are 40+ years old and high pressure btumen transport is more prone to leaks
- Many cross major population zones including Canada's two largest cities
- Current Status:
- Thousands of citizens and numerous city councils oppose these proposals
Building new tar sands pipelines is bad enough, but reversing old pipelines is another recipe for disaster. For instance, Exxon’s 67-year-old Pegasus pipeline, which spilled about 300,000 gallons of dirty tar sands crude down the streets, across the lawns, and into the gardens, canals, storm sewers, creeks, and wetlands of Mayflower, Arkansas, was reversed seven years ago to carry tar sands crude to refineries on the Gulf Coast.
After the Mayflower spill, the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) issued a corrective action order admitting that the age of the pipeline, and the fact the flow had been reversed, posed a risk to the public.
The tar sands oil proposed to be transported in these pipelines is more corrosive than conventional oil, and because it is more viscous it must be moved at higher pressures. This not only makes pipeline ruptures more likely, the spills that do occur (and they will, inevitably) are more devastating and harder to clean up, because unlike normal oil, tar sands crude sinks in water, coating river or lake beds. It is also very toxic, containing a cocktail of nasty chemicals that make people sick when exposed: benzene, toluene, and hydrogen sulphide.
Transporting tar sands crude to the East Coast would also involve increased bitumen oil tanker traffic along the Atlantic Coast, as most of the oil would be exported to Europe, Asia and India. If one of these tankers were to flounder on Maine’s rocky seacoast or otherwise spill a load of tar sands oil, it would devastate Maine’s commercial fisheries and pollute the coastline for years.
Enbridge has proposed to pump tar sands crude through a repurposed 500-mile pipeline that currently runs westward along the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway from Montreal, Quebec to Sarnia, Ontario. Enbridge, the same company responsible for the devastating pipeline spill of one million gallons of tar sands crude into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River, wants to reverse Line 9 so it can carry tar sands crude to Montreal (and then on to a harbour and oil terminal in South Portland, Maine).
Public hearings on Enbridge’s pipeline reversal plan are scheduled for August 2013.
This pipeline runs through or close to many major urban centres, including Hamilton, Toronto, Kingston, Cornwall, and Montreal, home to millions of people. It also crosses dozens of major rivers and streams that flow into the Great Lakes, a major source of drinking water. A pipeline spill anywhere along this route would have disastrous consequences.
Plans are being developed to transport tar sands crude from Montreal to Maine along the 57-year-old Portland-Montreal Pipeline, which currently transports 600,000 barrels of conventional crude northwest to Montreal every day. The proposal consists of reversing the flow of the 236-mile Portland-Maine Pipeline, which is owned by ExxonMobil, so tar sands crude can be transported through New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine to an oil terminal in South Portland, and then loaded on to super tankers that would transport tar sands crude out of Portland Harbor, Casco Bay, and the Gulf of Maine to refineries in Philadelphia, the Texas Gulf Coast, or elsewhere on the global oil market.
Like Line 9, the Portland-Montreal Pipeline runs through numerous communities and some of New England’s most precious wild country, and crosses dozens of major rivers and streams. A pipeline spill like the ones in Marshall, Michigan and Mayflower, Arkansas, would be almost impossible to clean up and extremely toxic, and a tanker spill in Portland Harbour or along the Atlantic Coast would be devastating.
TransCanada, meanwhile, has proposed to turn its aging Eastern Maininline natural gas pipeline into the Energy East Pipeline, which would transport tar sands crude to the Irving heavy-oil refinery in Saint John, New Brunswick. Eighty per cent of the pipeline (between Saskatchewan and Quebec) already exists, and was originally built in the 1950s to carry natural gas, not heavy tar sands crude. It would need to be extended on either end: in the west to connect the pipe to Hardisty, Alberta; and in the east to either Montreal, Quebec City, or Saint John. These are port cities, which would help the oil industry get the crude to international markets.
The Energy East Pipeline runs right through the Trout Lake watershed, which provides water to North Bay, Ontario. The consequences of a spill along this pipeline route would be disastrous, polluting one or more of the numerous rivers it crosses and putting drinking water sources and aquatic ecosystems at risk.
The spill of approximately one million gallons of diluted bitumen from an Enbridge pipeline that fouled almost 40 miles of Michigan's Kalamazoo River in July 2010 revealed something few Americans were aware of: the Upper Midwest is already awash in tar sands oil. Here's another dirty little secret: Industry plans to expand the flow of tar sands crude into the region.
Tar sands oil comes into the Midwest through Enbridge’s Alberta Clipper line, which enters the United States in North Dakota and connects to the company’s Lakehead System at Superior, Wisconsin. Over the objections of concerned groups, Alberta Clipper was issued a Presidential Permit in 2009. Alberta Clipper currently carries 450,000 barrels per day (bpd) of tar sands oil into the Midwest, but Enbridge is seeking approval to double that amount to as much as 880,000 bpd, which is more tar sands oil than the Keystone XL would carry. It is critical this cross-border expansion be denied by the President.
Enbridge is also taking advantage of the tragic Kalamazoo spill by expanding the line that ruptured, Line 6B, under the cover of replacing it for safety's sake. The new line 6B will triple the company's tar sands oil capacity in the region. Enbridge also plans to expand its 60-year old Line 5 and Line 61, which will allow the industry to send tar sands oil beyond the Midwest to coasts for export. Tar sands oil could flow south on Line 61 and ultimately connect up with the Enbridge/Enterprise Seaway pipeline, which was recently reversed to flow from Cushing, Oklahoma, to Texas. Enbridge hopes to twin the Seaway pipeline, which would give it a total capacity of some 850,000 bpd. To link the northern pipeline system to Seaway and export markets, Enbridge is planning to build a new 36-inch pipeline called Flanagan South.
Industry is also exploring the opportunity to ship tar sands oil on tankers through the Great Lakes and the St Lawrence Seaway.
Like a thousand headed-snake, new pipelines, tanker ports, and other dangerous transportation options like rail keep emerging in order for industry to achieve it's massive expansion of the tar sands. Stopping these pipelines is the best way to limit tar sands expansion, save the earth's climate, and keep dangerous oil spills out of our communities.