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Enbridge confirms plans to build New England tar sands pipeline, announces massive pipeline expansion

Posted May. 17, 2012 / Posted by: Kim Huynh

Yesterday evening, Canadian pipeline company Enbridge kicked off one of the most sweeping expansions in its history, a $3.2 billion (Canadian) series of pipeline projects that would carry some of the world’s dirtiest oil—tar sands oil—across Canada, the American Midwest, and even New England, a region that currently doesn’t import tar sands.

The extraction and processing of tar sands oil is one of the largest industrial operations in the world. Tar sands oil emits three times more greenhouse gases during production than conventional gasoline, making tar sands oil production the fastest-growing contributor to Canada’s carbon pollution and the continent’s biggest carbon bomb. Tar sands extraction also harms the health and cultural traditions of downstream indigenous communities.

Moving to break ground on Trailbreaker

Enbridge, the largest transporter of Canadian oil exports, further confirmed its scheme yesterday to pipe tar sands oil through New England with the Trailbreaker pipeline project. Trailbreaker would transport tar sands by reversing the direction of oil flowing through two major pipelines—Enbridge Line 9 and the Portland/Montreal Pipeline—along an approximately 750-mile route from Ontario and Quebec in Eastern Canada through Vermont, New Hampshire, and terminating in Portland, Maine’s Casco Bay, where the oil would be exported into the international market on super tankers.

Along its path, Trailbreaker would threaten New England's most important waters, including Sebago Lake, the major drinking water resource for greater Portland, Maine’s largest metropolitan area, and would terminate at Casco Bay, a large, rich estuary near Portland, Maine that is home to a variety of coastal natural resources and a thriving marine economy.

In August 2011, Enbridge asked the Canadian National Energy Board for permission to reverse part of its Line 9 pipeline through Ontario, a furtive move to revive the Trailbreaker project. We joined environmental and public interest groups in the US and Canada to deliver a petition with more than 17,000 signatures from Friends of the Earth activists, demanding that the energy board conduct a thorough review of the pipeline’s likely impacts. All together, our allies on both sides of the border submitted more than 41,000 comments opposing this tar sands pipeline project, smashing through our initial goal of 25,000 comments.

Public hearings on Enbridge’s proposal to reverse Line 9 begin on May 23rdin London, Ontario—yet yesterday’s announcement makes it overwhelmingly clear that Enbridge is scheming to circumvent a rigorous review process by reversing the entire Line 9 pipeline from Ontario to Montreal, four times the distance the National Energy Board is currently looking at, in its underhanded plot to eventually pipe tar sands through New England. The National Energy Board must order a comprehensive environmental and economic review of Enbridge’s broader ploy to bring tar sands into the US.

Read more about Enbridge’s Trailbreaker project.

Doubling Line 6B: a Kalamazoo disaster redux?

Enbridge’s expansion also includes plans to double the capacity (from 250,000 barrels/day to 500,000 barrels/day) of the very same tar sands pipeline—Line 6B—that burst in the wee hours of the night in July 2010, spilling over a million gallons of tar sands crude into the Kalamazoo River and causing the largest tar sands spill in US history. Almost two years later, small businesses are still hurting, property values are down, and miles of river remain closed. Residents living near the site of the disaster in Marshall, Michigan are still sick from the spill’s toxins, experiencing seizures, mysterious rashes, headaches, and memory loss. Read the Cornell Global Labor Institute’s study on the public health, economic, and social disruption resulting from the Kalamazoo River spill.

As our Canadian allies at Environmental Defence Canada and Equiterre have put it:

“Getting raw tar sands oil through pipelines is like moving hot, liquid sandpaper that grinds and burns its way through a pipe, thus increasing the chance that weakened pipelines will rupture.”

These pipelines must operate at higher temperatures and pressures to move the thick tar sands through a pipe and are subject to severe problems with leak detection and safety issues from the unstable mixture of heavier and more toxic chemicals. Tar sands pipelines have an abysmal safety record, with a spill rate three times the national average for conventional oil in some parts of the US, putting communities at risk of devastating oil spills and pollution to air and drinking water.

What’s more, the cleanup costs of the Kalamazoo spill have now surpassed $700 million, 10 times as much per liter as the cleanup costs for conventional crude oil, particularly because of tar sands oil’s uniquely corrosive properties. According to the EPA, the clean up of the Kalamazoo spill has been especially difficult because conventional oil response techniques have been ineffective. While conventional oil floats on the surface, tar sands is thick and heavy and sinks in water, making it very difficult to clean up.

More pipelines = more risks to our water, land, and climate

Ultimately, Enbridge’s announcement has massive implications for tar sands development across both Canada and the US and will involve major pipeline expansions and reversals designed to ferry tar sands oil eastward.  In addition to reviving the Trailbreaker project and doubling the capacity of the pipeline that led to the Kalamazoo River oil spill, Enbridge’s announced plan includes:

- An expansion of the Alberta Clipper pipeline, bringing in an additional 120,000 barrels/day

- An expansion of part of the Lakehead system between Superior and Flanagan Terminal near Pontiac, Illinois from 400,000 barrels/day to 560,000 barrels/day

- A new pipeline bringing 80,000 barrels/day to Enbridge’s Toledo Pipeline that connects the Enbridge mainline at Stockbridge, Michigan and serves refineries at Toledo, Ohio and Detroit, Michigan

- An expansion of the Spearhead North pipeline between Flanagan and Griffith, Indiana for an additional 330,000 barrels/day

This kind of bait-and-switch isn’t anything new from the tar sands industry—by dividing up its dirty and dangerous projects into smaller segments and expanding already existing pipelines, Enbridge is attempting to shield itself from the type of scrutiny faced by tar sands pipelines like TransCanada’s Keystone XL. But Enbridge can’t hide the dirty truth that no matter how it tries to slice it and dice it, tar sands oil has no place in our clean energy, justice-fueled future.

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