Vermont environmentalists say corrosive tar sands could be routed through their state to the Maine coast if a new application by Canadian oil giant Enbridge is approved.
Enbridge Oil applied to the Canadian National Energy Board on Nov. 30 to reverse the flow of oil between Ontario and Quebec in an attempt to find a route to export tar sands oil from the Canadian west to the east coast — from where it can export to Europe and other markets, according to 350 Vermont.
Environmentalists believe the application signals preparations by Enbridge to route tar sands through Vermont to the Maine coast, prompting groups in the US and Canada, including Environmental Defence, Greenpeace Canada and the Natural Resources Defense Council, to urge the Canadian government and the U.S. State Department to review the full scope of the proposal.
"With this application, the evidence becomes overwhelming that oil companies Enbridge and Exxon-Mobil subsidiary Portland Pipe Line Corporation are planning to send tar sands through eastern Canada and northern New England," states a 350 Vermont release.
“Clearly there are efforts underway to bring dirty, dangerous tar sands to Vermont’s door. Vermonters—and Vermont leaders—are committed to an efficient, renewable energy future," Johanna Miller, Energy Program Director for Vermont Natural Resources Council, told 350 Vermont. "This increasingly imminent plan to move tar sands through Vermont’s majestic Northeast Kingdom to the Maine coast undermines every effort Vermont has made to combat climate change and chart a new, clean energy course."
Plans to move tar sands oil through Vermont to Portland, ME for export to other countries are already underway and could "have cataclysmic effects on climate change," according to Vtdigger.org.
Already, Enbridge "has been in court over plans to alter a pumping station in Quebec near the Vermont border that, environmentalists say, would only be needed to pump oil into a pipeline that stretches across Vermont to Portland, Maine," Vtdigger.org reports.
Josh Mogerman, spokesman for the National Resources Defense Council, said the new application is likely part of a phased strategy to export tar sands oil—designed to reduce the resistance by opponents of tar sands exportation.
But Enbridge has encountered obstacles to its plan, including a decision by President Barack Obama earlier this year not to fast-track consideration of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline from the Canadian west coast to the Gulf of Mexico.
Jim Murphy, an attorney with the National Wildlife Federation, told Vtdigger.org that Enbridge has been changing its strategy:
In May, a company spokesman admitted in Canadian parliamentary proceedings that it plans to refine and export tar sands oil through its East Coast pipeline network, saying that the oil could be piped to Maine and then shipped to St. John, New Brunswick, for refinement, Murphy said. The Canadian oil company TransCanada also has been talking to New Brunswick and Quebec officials about the possibility of moving more Western Canadian crude oil into the region, according to the Canadian Globe and Mail newspaper.
Although spokesmen for Enbridge and the Portland-to-Montreal Pipe Line Corporation deny any plans to do so, environmentalists say that because a pipeline already exists in the Northeast Kingdom, regulatory hurdles for bringing oil through Vermont into Maine could be much lower than with the Keystone project. Enbridge already obtained "tentative, unofficial" permission to do so in 2008, but abandoned the plan after the economy faltered, according to Ben Walsh of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group.
Currently, environmentalists hope activists who protested the Keystone XL pipeline will pressure government officials to prohibit Enbridge's plan.
“It is crucial that any tar sands project impacting Vermont be given thorough and searching review by the Obama Administration,” said Jim Murphy, senior counsel for National Wildlife Federation. “We are confident that if an honest evaluation of climate impacts, spill risks and renewable alternatives occurs, President Obama will conclude this likely tar sands project is not in the national interest, and should not be allowed.”