The Upland Pipeline: New Tar Sands Menace, or Industry Pipe Dream?

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The Upland Pipeline: New Tar Sands Menace, or Industry Pipe Dream?

Given existing opposition to proposed pipelines, 'it’s clear that Upland will simply never make it past the concept phase,' declares environmentalist

The Upland pipeline would carry crude oil northward from North Dakota to Saskatchewan. (Photo: Geof Wilson/flickr/cc)

Apparently undeterred by recent political hurdles and public opposition, the corporation behind the Keystone XL pipeline plans to ask the U.S. government to permit a new and different pipeline project, one that would bring North Dakotan Bakken crude oil across the border into Canada, where it would connect with the controversial Energy East line.

TransCanada executives confirmed last week that they have signed contracts with shippers for enough capacity on the proposed 285-mile, $600-million Upland Pipeline Project to go forward with the endeavor. The Wall Street Journal reported that, according to a person briefed on the plan, the Upland pipeline "aims to transport up to 300,000 barrels a day" and could be operational by 2018.

While it is not clear exactly where Upland would cross the U.S.-Canada border, reports indicate it could be north of Minot, N.D. The pipeline is expected to connect to the proposed 1.1-million-barrel-per-day Energy East pipeline in Moosomin, Saskatchewan, and would be subject to regulatory reviews in Canada and the United States, including a national interest analysis similar to the one the U.S. State Department is now conducting on Keystone XL. 

But while TransCanada's spirits seem to be buoyed by better-than-expected 2014 profits, environmentalists said the corporation shouldn't get too comfortable.

"TransCanada would be foolish to think Americans and Canadians will let up the fight after Keystone XL," David Turnbull, campaigns director for Oil Change International, told Common Dreams. "The proposed Energy East pipeline in Canada, which the Upland pipeline would link to, is facing massive public opposition and is by no means a sure thing despite Prime Minister Harper's doggedness. Canadians all along the Energy East route are fighting back, saying no to tar sands flowing through their backyards."

Among the concerns about Energy East are that the proposed 2,858-mile pipeline would traverse at least 90 watersheds and 961 waterways between Alberta and New Brunswick—raising the prospect of a devastating spill—and would have the same climate impact of seven million cars on the road. Similar worries have galvanized the climate movement against Keystone XL.

Cam Fenton, Canadian tar sands organizer with 350.org, told Common Dreams: "Upland Pipeline is just another pipe dream from TransCanada. For this project to ever carry real oil, it needs the Energy East proposal built—which just isn’t going to happen, given the unprecedented opposition we’ve seen from people across Canada. Earlier this month, we teamed up with other organizations and climate activists to deliver the largest petition Canada's pipeline regulator had ever received, from people opposed to Energy East’s toxic impact on our planet. Throw on the fact that Upland needs a permit from the U.S. State Department, which has held up Keystone XL for years on end, and it’s clear that Upland will simply never make it past the concept phase."

The Council of Canadians has raised specific concerns about the receipt and delivery terminal TransCanada intends to build in Moosomin. 

"This tank farm would pose a spill risk to the community and emit volatile organic compounds posing a further threat to their air quality," Council of Canadians political director Brent Patterson wrote recently.

Which is why, activists say, TransCanada can expect a grassroots fight wherever it attempts to expand its tar sands empire.

"We're going to show up wherever they're doing these projects," Scott Parkin, an organizer with Rising Tide North America, vowed in an interview with Common Dreams. "We're going to stand with these communities."

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