Michigan Oil Spill a Glimpse into Looming Tar Sands Nightmare

The Enbridge pipeline that gushed 1 million gallons of oil into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River isn’t just any pipeline, and Canadian tar sands crude isn’t just any oil.

09-08-2010 // Jennifer Janssen
Oil in Kalamazoo River

After weeks of denial, Enbridge Energy finally acknowledged that it was tar sands oil that spilled from the ruptured pipeline in Michigan.

What’s the Big Deal?  Tar sands oil is one of the dirtiest and most controversial fuels. Extracting the oil is an energy-intensive, highly polluting process that has already destroyed northern boreal forests and wetlands the size of Florida. Compared to conventional crude oil production, tar sands production creates an estimated 82 percent more greenhouse gas. Meanwhile, the increasing transport of tar sands into the U.S. threatens our water supplies and wild places with frequent pipeline spills while keeping the country hooked on dirty fossil fuels.

Tar sands are disastrous to wildlife, and not only due to frequent pipelines spills. The process of extracting the thick bituminous substance from the earth beneath northern boreal forests destroys wildlife habitat and pollutes rivers downstream.

Lynx, caribou, grizzly bears and moose, as well as migrating songbirds and waterfowl depend on the northern boreal forests. Their habitats are under siege as oil companies clear cut forests, drain wetlands, reroute rivers and construct open pit mines and sludge lagoons at a quick pace and massive scale.

Huge quantities of water and natural gas are used to extract each barrel of tar sands oil. The polluted water is left in giant toxic lakes that are large enough to be seen from space. Thousands of migrating ducks have drowned after landing in the toxic sludge.

Proposals to build dangerous pipelines transporting dirty tar sands into the United States are on the rise.  The Keystone XL pipeline proposal threatens wildlife and communities in Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. The proposed Keystone XL pipeline would traverse rivers and carve across prairies, flow on top of vital aquifers, and threaten agricultural land, Native American lands, ranchers and wildlife when it leaks or breaks, as it unquestionably will.

Each pipeline that is permitted to bring inefficient, polluting, ecologically disastrous and expensive tar sands to the U.S. further increases our dependence on dirty fuels, and undermines the nation’s ability to transition to a clean energy economy that creates good American jobs and confronts the threat of global warming.

The National Wildlife Federation is fighting the expansion of destructive tar sands extraction and pipelines, including the Keystone XL pipeline, to protect American waters from the fate of Michigan’s Kalamazoo River and move the U.S. away from its dependence on dirty fuels and onto the path of more clean energy and more clean energy jobs.

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