Oil by Pipeline

Pipelines designed to carry oil across our country also carry a history and risk of spilling huge amounts of oil, harming wildlife and our environment.

The National Wildlife Federation fights to defend against potentially harmful pipelines, such as Line 5 and the Portland-Montreal pipeline.

Line 5

oil pipeline, NWFBuilt in 1953, Line 5 is an aging pipeline that transports up to 23 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids from Superior, Wisconsin, to Sarnia, Ontario, crossing the Great Lakes on the lakebed of the Straits of Mackinac between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. It is operated by Enbridge, the same company responsible for a 2010 pipeline rupture that spilled over a million gallons of oil into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River. The Straits of Mackinac are “the worst possible place for an oil spill,” according to a University of Michigan study commissioned by the National Wildlife Federation, which estimates that up to 700 miles of Great Lakes shoreline are vulnerable to a worst-case scenario oil spill, which includes critical habitat for the endangered piping plover shorebird. Loons, wolves, moose, and other wildlife would also be directly impacted if an Enbridge pipeline had another disaster like the 2010 Kalamazoo spill.

Protecting the Great Lakes

The National Wildlife Federation has been a leader in identifying the threat posed by Line 5 to the Great Lakes, as well as working in a constructive effort to decommission Line 5. Our Great Lakes Regional Center executive director, Mike Shriberg, serves on the Michigan Pipeline Safety Advisory Board, and our Pipeline Safety Expert Beth Wallace is a recognized subject- matter expert on Line 5, helping to first identify its risk after the Kalamazoo River oil spill, and whose research has uncovered 29 spills of over one million gallons on Line 5 since 1968. Through the National Wildlife Federation’s role as a trusted, nonpartisan convener, we help coordinate the Great Lakes Business Network and work with the Wolfpack to educate decision-makers and the public about Line 5 through public comment, dives, documentaries, reports, and social and traditional media. Additionally, we have filed two federal lawsuits related to Line 5 in an effort to protect the Great Lakes from the threat of oil spills.

Portland-Montreal Pipe Line

A pipeline company majority-owned by of the world's biggest oil companies, Exxon, is eager to transport toxic tar sands oil through New England. This dangerous pipeline project (known as the Portland-Montreal Pipe Line), runs through some of northern New England’s most treasured and remote resources, and would put people and wildlife at risk from oil spills, polluted water, and runaway climate change impacts.

Tar Sands and Their Impact

great blue heron covered in oil from the Enbridge oil spill in Kalamazoo, David KenyonTar sands—also called oil sands—are a combination of sand, clay, water, and bitumen. One of the dirtiest fuel sources, these sands are mined in order to extract their bitumen, which can be refined into oil. The production and processing of tar sands oil produces three to four times the amount of carbon emissions as conventional oil, as the extraction process is more energy-intensive.

Tar sands oil is a viscous and volatile substance that has proven almost impossible to clean up when it spills into waters. Tar sands pipelines have already been plagued by catastrophic spills, and impacted waters like the Kalamazoo River, which is still polluted in some spots.

This project runs near or over some of New England’s most beautiful and remote waterways, including:

Challenging the Pipeline

For almost a decade, the Exxon-owned Portland Pipe Line Corporation has been seeking to send Alberta-derived tar sands through its pipeline that runs from Montreal, Canada, to Portland, Maine. Tar sands are already flowing into Montreal and the company has made it clear that they want to use their pipeline to pump this perilous oil to Maine where it can be sent away by tanker. Originally hatched in 2008 when the tar sands and fracked oil boom decreased demand for the imported conventional oil being shipped by pipeline to Montreal, the company’s plans have been thwarted at every turn. But the company continues to try to overrun the will of the people in New England, who have rejected putting wildlife and natural resources at risk of a tar sands oil spill that could mar habitat areas for decades or longer.

At the forefront of the fight is a 2014 ordinance passed by the City of South Portland, which protects its waterfront against the infrastructure that the company would need to offload tar sands from the pipeline to ships. The company is challenging this ordinance in court. Over 50 towns in the region have passed resolutions stating that they don’t want the risk of tar sands. If the company wins in court, this project—which could eventually transport over 300,000 barrels per day of tar sands oil across New England—will still face incredible opposition.

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Where We Work

More than one-third of U.S. fish and wildlife species are at risk of extinction in the coming decades. We're on the ground in seven regions across the country, collaborating with 52 state and territory affiliates to reverse the crisis and ensure wildlife thrive.

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