Canada-New England Tar Sands Pipeline Hits Strong Opposition

41,000 Comments Submitted to Stop Proposed Pipeline Reversal Likely to Bring Tar Sands to New England

04-23-2012 // NWF Staff

A proposal by Canadian Energy giant Enbridge, Inc. to partially reverse the flow of a Canadian pipeline received 41,000 comments in opposition.  The reversal is the first step in an apparent scheme to ship tar sands oil through New England in order to access East Coast and overseas markets.  Comments to the Canadian National Energy Board (NEB) expressed concerns about the environmental and public health impacts of the proposal.

The NEB, the Canadian federal agency that oversees permitting interprovincial pipelines, is reviewing Enbridge’s proposal to reverse the flow direction of a portion of its aging 62-year-old pipeline to move tar sands crude approximately 125 miles from Sarnia to the Westover Oil Terminal, outside of Hamilton, Ontario. Pipeline companies have sent clear signals that the real intent is a long-range plan to ship tar sands oil further on through Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine to tankers in Portland harbor for Eastern U.S. and overseas markets. 

A more responsible approach would be for the Canadian Energy Board to order an investigation into the full environmental impact of the larger project, including the safety implications of shipping tar sands and impacts on the environment, waterways and communities and carbon pollution from burning tar sands oil,” said Jim Murphy, Senior Counsel at NWF. “Enbridge is trying to skirt scrutiny and downplay their goals by breaking the plan into smaller pieces. The public isn’t fooled. New Englanders are opposed to tar sands in our region and demand a transparent process.”

The latest permit application follows Enbridge’s 2008 effort, a pipeline project called “Trailbreaker” to move tar sands oil 750 miles from mining operations in Alberta through Ontario and Quebec and across New England to Portland, Maine, where the crude would be loaded onto tankers for export.  Purportedly due to the economic downturn, Enbridge temporarily shelved the project.

“The people of Vermont do not want to live side-by-side with the dirtiest fuel in existence flowing through our communities, threatening to seep into our streams and lakes and pollute our natural resources.  The Canadian government should stop this spurious scheme,” said Steve Crowley, Chair of the Vermont Sierra Club.  “Not only can pipelines rupture, pumping stations can break down too, wreaking untold harm on a community.

Alberta tar sands oil is a heavily-polluting type of viscous crude oil, a mixture of sand, clay, water and bitumen that must be diluted before it can be pumped through pipelines. Diluted bitumen is more corrosive on pipelines than conventional oil and harder to clean up when spilled, as proven by the devastating spill of over 800,000 gallons from an Enbridge pipeline of over one million gallons into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River in 2010, a spill that made at least 145 people ill.

Pipeline breaks and leaks and pumping station mishaps have the potential to spew tar sands oil into numerous natural treasures in New England. Here in Vermont, the pipeline cuts through the Missisquoi river basin, which flows into Lake Champlain and feeds the Missisquoi Wildlife Refuge, one of Vermont’s richest wildlife communities.  It then goes through the Victory State Forest, home to 130 birds species, including many rare to Vermont, as well as moose, deer, fox and other wildlife.  The pipeline also travels over the Connecticut River, which drains most of Eastern Vermont and is one of just 14 United States Rivers designated an American Heritage River.  A pipeline rupture could leave these and other resources sullied with tar sands oil for decades.

Extracting tar sands oil destroys acres of pristine boreal forest and leaves behind huge toxic wastelands, including holding ponds, in Canada, an area that is habitat for 50 percent of North America’s migratory birds.

See this factsheet for more information

The coalition of U.S. and Canadian public interest and environmental groups leading efforts to stop the Trailbreaker pipeline include:

  • Conservation Law Foundation
  • Environmental Defence Canada
  • Environment Maine
  • Environment Northeast
  • Èquiterre
  • Friends of the Earth
  • Natural Resources Council of Maine
  • Natural Resources Defense Council
  • National Wildlife Federation
  • Sierra Club
  • University of Vermont students
Related Resources
  • Trailbreaker
    One of the world's biggest oil companies is trying to transport toxic tar sands oil through New England. This dangerous pipeline project (dubbed "Trailbreaker") would put people and wildlife at risk from oil spills, polluted water and more.