Tar Sands Disaster?

By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  August 15, 2012

Both concern and scrutiny are on the rise, though, in the wake of recent news. The US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration recently mandated that Enbridge provide a comprehensive safety plan before being allowed to restart operations along Line 14, which ruptured in Wisconsin on the very same day that the Canadian NEB approved Enbridge's Line 9A proposal. That day, more than 60,000 gallons of crude oil were released into a field.

And that's nothing compared to the Kalamazoo River spill in 2010, in which an Enbridge pipe carrying diluted bitumen (i.e. tar sands oil) cracked, releasing one million gallons of oil and contaminating 36 miles of river in southwestern Michigan. More than 150 families were relocated; it's cost $700 million to clean up so far; and the river only re-opened to the public this summer.

"Instead of remaining on top of the water, as most conventional crude oil does, the bitumen gradually sank to the river's bottom, where normal cleanup techniques and equipment were of little use," according to an in-depth report from Inside Climate News, a non-profit online news organization. "Meanwhile, the benzene and other chemicals that had been added to liquefy the bitumen evaporated into the air."

Regarding pipeline safety, here's what Enbridge president Al Monaco said in an August 3 statement: "Our goal at Enbridge is — and will continue to be — the prevention of all spills. In 2011 alone we invested about $400 million to ensure the safety and integrity of our system, and that amount is set to increase substantially — to more than $800 million — in 2012. Over the past two years we have doubled the number of staff dedicated to leak detection and pipeline control systems, and substantially strengthened our focus on the tools, technologies and strategies to ensure the fitness of our pipelines."

But when it comes to a 70-year-old pipeline, is that enough? Especially when the pipeline passes Sebago Lake, the source of drinking water for much of Southern Maine?

Last month, the Natural Resources Council of Maine organized a rally at the Raymond boat launch on Sebago Lake to commemorate the two-year anniversary of the Kalamazoo spill and to indicate opposition to tar sands oil coming through Maine. Several similar events took place across the state. They highlighted not only the danger of spills, but also the absurdity of using fossil fuels to extract more fossil fuels.

"A lot of people expressed their concern," said Michael McClellan, Raymond's Republican state representative. He was on vacation during the rally but is now looking into the matter.

McClellan was one of 44 Maine state senators and representatives to cosponsor a legislative resultion last year that called on "the president and Congress . . . to support the completion of the Keystone XL pipeline."

It's unclear how many of those elected officials would support a similar project that passed through Maine.

"It was done to shine the light that we need to reduce the cost of home heating oil here in Maine and we need to look at all alternatives," says state senator Jon Courtney, who sponsored the bill and is currently running to oust US Congresswoman Chellie Pingree from her 1st District seat. But, he adds, "anything that came through Maine we'd need to make sure that we first and foremost protect the environment . . . We need to provide low cost energy without sacrificing the environment."

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Related: Future-proofing, Are Logan Airport pollution and Massport indifference killing Boston's proud clam-digging tradition?, Harvard students push for fossil-fuel divestment, More more >
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