Groups: New England Tar Sands Pipeline Plotted 'Behind Closed Doors'

Oil giants lobby tar sands plan behind closed doors while denying their intention

A new analysis released today by national and regional environmental groups shows that US oil giant Exxon Mobile and Canada's Suncor hold a majority stake in a pipeline system that local residents along its route fear could soon be used to transport tar sands from western Canada to the New England coast.

The central concern of the report (pdf) surrounds a 2008 proposal by Canadian oil giant Enbridge to reverse the flow of existing east-to-west oil pipelines that would allow transport of tar sands oil--categorized by many as the "dirtiest oil in the world"--from Alberta to the deepwater harbor of Portland, Maine.

The local companies who manage the pipelines companies insist the idea has been shelved for economic reasons, but multiple recent actions lead the environmental groups to believe that the proposal is now being quietly revived behind closed doors. Pointedly, the groups argue that the oil giants who own these local pipeline subsidiaries should not be trusted.

"Unbeknownst to most of the public," said the groups in a statement, "a major portion of the proposed tar sands pipeline that would cut across the Great Lakes, Ontario, Quebec and New England to Portland, Maine, is actually owned by oil giants Exxon-Mobil, Imperial Oil, and Suncor Energy - all of whom have a deep stake in tar sands extraction."

As the report explains:

The line has two direct corporate owners: Montreal Pipe Line Limited (MPLL), which owns the stretch in Canada, from Montreal to the U.S. border; and the Portland Pipe Line Corporation, which owns the U.S. section and is a wholly-owned subsidiary of MPLL. In turn, Montreal Pipe Line Limited's ultimate parent is ExxonMobil: Exxon subsidiary Imperial Oil Limited holds a majority interest in the pipeline. A smaller portion is owned by the Canadian giant Suncor Energy. Imperial and Suncor are among the biggest developers of Alberta's tar sands and stand to benefit greatly from this project to transport tar sands oil across the region for export.

With regionally-anchored names like "Montreal Pipe Line Limited" and "Portland Pipe Line Corporation," the ten environmental groups involved with the report--which represent members in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont--claim that the international oil giants who own these subsidiary companies would rather hide the fact that some of the world's most notorious polluters are operating in their backyards.

By hiding their identities behind a convoluted ownership structure, "It's easy to lose sight of who is really driving this tar sands pipeline proposal," said Dylan Voorhees, Clean Energy Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. "But the company's corporate family tree reveals that the vast majority of the pipeline is ultimately owned by the world's largest company - ExxonMobil, and, unfortunately, Exxon does not have Maine's interests in mind. They will act to maximize their tar sands profits with little regard to the risk poised to Maine's people, environment or natural resource economy."

"This information is a double whammy--not only is ExxonMobil, the largest oil company in the world, behind the plan to transport dangerous tar sands oil through Maine, but its local representatives have misled the public about the status of the project," said Environment Maine Director Emily Figdor.

According to the report:

For months ExxonMobil's local subsidiary, the Portland Pipe Line Corporation, has sought to deflect rising concerns in Maine about tar sands transport by denying that there is an "active" proposal to reverse the use the existing pipeline to transport tar sands. However, documents released today reveal that the company met with Governor LePage and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection last year specifically to discuss Canadian tar sands. That meeting happened in October 2011, several months after Enbridge submitted an application in Canada to reverse the Canadian portion of the project in order to carry dangerous tar sands oil eastward.

On the Canadian side of the border, advocates of the first phase of the project have repeatedly claimed that they want to bring tar sands east for Canadian use and denied that they are resurrecting the full tar sands reversal plan formerly known as "Trailbreaker." But this just doesn't fit the facts--including the fact that the Canadian consulate itself joined the Maine leadership meetings to talk about tar sands.

"Today's revelation is doubly troubling because Exxon's apparent partner in this tar sands pipeline scheme is Enbridge, the company that owns the line from Ontario to Montreal where it connects to Exxon's line to Portland," said Jim Murphy, an attorney with National Wildlife Federation. "Two years ago Enbridge spilled a million gallons of tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River, with devastating impacts to the ecology, public health, recreation and property values. Independent review found that extreme negligence led to the spill. These aren't the kind of companies we can trust with Maine's natural resources."

"This pattern of misleading statements and trying to hide what is really going on is troubling," said Glen Brand, Executive Director of Sierra Club Maine. "Clearly these pipeline companies are worried that if Maine people and others really see the full picture of what is going on to bring tar sands through the region, they will face even greater public opposition. Exxon and Enbridge have dirty track records with oil and tar sands, so it is understandable why they prefer their dealings to be behind closed doors."

And what are the main issues for these environmental groups and concerned residents? NRDC's Elizabeth Shope offers just a few:

  • Tar sands is a dirty fuel - extra damaging and risky to the environment and public health throughout its entire life-cycle of extraction, pipeline transport, refining, and combustion. An area of Alberta's Boreal forest the size of Florida could eventually be decimated if industry is allowed to continue expanding their extraction efforts. The damage from tar sands extends globally, as it causes 20% more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional oil, taking us in the wrong direction when the world needs to transition to clean energy.
  • Tar sands pipelines pose greater safety risks to the land and water along their path. Diluted bitumen - raw tar sands mixed with a diluent so that it can be transported via pipelines - is more corrosive and abrasive than conventional oil, creating a greater spill risk. And, when tar sands pipelines do spill into rivers, rather than floating on the surface, the diluted bitumen separates - with the diluents evaporating and the bitumen becoming submerged and impossible to fully clean up.
  • Exxon and Enbridge already have a bad track record with tar sands pipelines. ExxonMobil, the company responsible for the disastrous Valdez oil spill that rocked the world in 1989, was also responsible for the July 2011 Silvertip Pipeline spill that dumped 42,000 gallons of oil into the pristine Yellowstone River in Montana. While that oil spilled happened to be conventional crude oil, the pipeline is also used to move corrosive tar sands "diluted bitumen." Enbridge's best-known pipeline spill was the million gallon tar sands spill into Michigan's Kalamazoo River in July 2010. Just last week--more than two years after the spill - the Environmental Protection Agency told Enbridge that they still need to keep cleaning up the river.
  • It is unacceptable for pipeline companies to deceive the public - especially when it comes to tar sands pipelines. With all the risks posed by tar sands pipelines, the public deserves to know and have a say in what toxic substances can come through their communities. It seems that realizing the strong opposition to the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline from Alberta to the U.S. Gulf Coast and the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline from Alberta to the British Columbia Coast, Enbridge, Exxon and its subsidiaries, and Suncor may be trying to sneak this pipeline through piecemeal, and without letting communities along the pipeline route know that the true purpose for the pipeline reversal would be to transport tar sands to Portland, Maine.

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