Asks USEPA and DOT to Protect Communities from Tar Sands Spills
Montpelier, VT; Augusta, ME — Today, citing inadequate current rules, a coalition of hunter-angler, conservation groups, former government officials, and landowners at risk of tar sands spills filed a petition with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), requesting the agencies develop new safety standards for tar sands oil pipelines. Among other provisions (listed below), the groups are calling for a moratorium on building new tar sands pipelines until improved rules that specifically address tar sands pipelines are finalized.
“It is hard to believe, but the United States has never developed rules designed for pipelines that carry tar sands,” said Jim Murphy, lead counsel for the National Wildlife Federation, which is spearheading this petition effort. “Given the huge risks involved in moving dirty tar sands oil through pipelines across the country, woefully inadequate safety standards, and the companies’s dismal spill history, it is clear that we need tough new standards to protect our health and the environment.”
Here in Maine, Portland Montreal Pipeline Company, majority owned by ExxonMobil Corporation, has said it welcomes the opportunity to use its 62-year-old oil pipeline to move toxic tar sands from Montreal across Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine to Portland harbor.
“Maine and New England have done so much to protect our coasts and marine resources from water quality hazards, because they are so central to our economy and our identity,” said George LaPointe, former Commissioner of Maine’s Department of Marine Resources. “The possibility of tar sands flowing through an old oil pipeline here puts our drinking water, rivers and Casco Bay at risk. It is unacceptable not to have pipeline safety standards that take the specific risks of tar sands into consideration.”
“We are petitioning the EPA today to ensure they develop standards that will help prevent problems from tar sands in pipelines,” says Lisa Pohlmann, executive director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “The rules on the books were designed for conventional oil, but tar sands flow differently, act differently when they spill, and present different hazards from regular oil. Think of the risks to Maine’s wildlife, clean waters, natural resources, outdoor economy and communities.”
Current federal pipeline regulations were established long before tar sands oil production ramped up, and they do not cover the unique aspects of the oil. As production grows, tar sands oil is increasingly shipped through pipelines by mixing the raw substance, asphalt-like bitumen, with toxic and volatile diluents. The result is a toxic, acidic substance that must be moved at unusually high temperatures and pressures. These factors may threaten pipeline integrity.
Art Greene, with NH Trout Unlimited in Littleton NH, said “From the Connecticut River on the West to the Androscoggin River on the East the pipeline here makes 79 river and stream crossings. A tar sands spill in any one of our pristine waters would be devastating to our fish and wildlife and to the North Country’s economy. We need to know our communities will be protected before they are allowed to bring this stuff through our rivers and streams and backyards.”
When diluted bitumen does spill, as was seen in the tragic July 25, 2010 tar sands spill in Marshall, MI that fouled almost 40 miles of the Kalamazoo River, tar sands spills are exceedingly difficult to respond to. The heavy bitumen sinks to stream, wetland and river bottoms while the diluents create a toxic cloud. This presents challenges far different from convention oil, which generally floats on water and does not release as many poisonous gases.
“The pipeline runs right across my property,” said Brent Kinsley, a farmer and maple sugarer from Irasburg in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. “Any problems with the pipeline — especially if it is transporting tar sands oil — puts my farm and my business at great risk. I have serious concerns, and it’s my hope that we use every tool in the toolbox to protect the economic and climate change interests of landowners like me and U.S. citizens in general.”
“Current regulations treat tar sands the same as conventional oil, but tar sands oil is far from ‘conventional,'” said Pohlmann. “Tar sands is diluted with toxic chemicals like benzene that are dangerous to human health. Tar sands is difficult to clean up because it is so heavy and thick it sinks to the bottom of water bodies, as we learned from the disastrous spill in Kalamazoo. Current regulations and cleanup methods don’t address the unique characteristics of tar sands oil.”
EPA has stated that despite spending an unprecedented amount — $750 million so far — on clean up, the Kalamazoo River will be contaminated for the foreseeable future. The National Transportation Safety Board cited weak regulations as a major factor in the lack of preparedness that led to the severity of the Kalamazoo spill. Enbridge, the company responsible for the spill, was not even required to inform spill responders that tar sands was spilled and it took several days for them to do so.
The petition requests new standards tightening several aspects of oil transport and pipeline safety:
- stronger safety requirements than those for conventional crude oil;
- industry reporting of products carried through pipelines and their schedules;
- stronger industry spill response plans;
- shut down requirements upon the first indication of a leak or other pipeline failure;
- repair of pipelines as soon as defects are discovered;
- company payments into the spill trust fund at a rate that reflects the fuel’s true risk;
- a moratorium on building new tar sands pipelines until new regulations are final;
- transparent pipeline inspection reporting; and
- pipeline inspection and monitoring by independent entities unaffiliated with pipeline or energy companies.
Between 2007 and 2010, pipelines in North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan â the main states with a history of tar sands oil pipelines â spilled almost three times more crude oil per mile of pipeline when compared to the U.S. national average.
- Under the U.S. Constitution and the federal Administrative Procedure Act, citizens can file a formal petition requesting that a federal agency take specific actions required by law or change existing regulations. This petition requests a change in existing regulations. Federal agencies are required to respond in a timely manner.
Portland Montreal Pipeline Company, majority owned by Exxon Mobil, has said it welcomes the opportunity to use its 62-year-old oil pipeline to move toxic tar sands from Montreal across Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine to Portland harbor.
- Tar sands are heavy, viscous oil, diluted with toxic chemicals. Pipelines that carry this substance appear to be more likely to spills than conventional oil pipelines, and tar sands are more difficult to clean up than conventional oil.
- Tar sands spilled almost three times more than crude oil, per mile of pipeline, as compared to the U.S. national average between 2007 and 2010, in the main states with tar sands pipelines (North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan.)
- Enbridge’s 2010 Kalamazoo River nearly one million gallon tar sands pipeline spill in Michigan cost over $750 million, and is already considered the costliest onshore oil spill in U.S. history and EPA believes it may never be fully restored to health.
- Tar sands oil emits significantly more global warming pollutants over its life cycle than fuels made from conventional oil.
APPALACHIAN MOUNTAIN CLUB;
BRUCE AND ROXANN BOETTCHER;
MR. AND MRS. L. A. BREINER;
SUSAN M. CONNOLLY;
CONSERVATION LAW FOUNDATION;
NICK AND BECKY COOK;
JULIA TRIGG CRAWFORD;
DAKOTA RESOURCE COUNCIL;
DAKOTA RURAL ACTION;
STEVEN DASILVA AND KATHY REDMAN DASILVA;
CALVIN AND CATHY DOBIAS;
GREAT LAKES ENVIRONMENTAL LAW CENTER;
RON HOLLAND AND LAURIE GREEN;
LAMAR W. HANKINS;
JACK AND LYNELLE HUCK;
INDIGENOUS ENVIRONMENTAL NETWORK;
JOHN KASSEL, FORMER SECRETARY, VERMONT AGENCY OF NATURAL RESOURCES;
BRENT AND RONA KINSLEY;
JIM KNOPIK AND CAROLYN KNOPIK;
RON AND BRENDA KNOPIK;
TOM AND GAIL KNOPIK;
ROBERT W. KRUSZYNA AND HARRIET G. KRUSZYNA;
GEORGE LAPOINTE, FORMER COMMISSIONER, MAINE DEPARTMENT OF MARINE RESOURCES;
VERMONT STATE SENATOR VIRGINIA LYONS;
MICHIGAN STUDENT SUSTAINABILITY COALITION;
MIDWEST ENVIRONMENTAL ADVOCATES;
MINNESOTA CONSERVATION FEDERATION;
MINNESOTA CENTER FOR ENVIRONMENTAL ADVOCACY;
NATIONAL WILDLIFE FEDERATION;
NATURAL RESOURCES COUNCIL OF MAINE;
NEBRASKA FARMERS UNION;
NEBRASKA WILDLIFE FEDERATION;
NEW HAMPSHIRE AUDUBON;
NEW HAMPSHIRE TROUT UNLIMITED;
NEW HAMPSHIRE WILDLIFE FEDERATION;
NORTHERN PLAINS RESOURCE COUNCIL;
MAINE STATE SENATOR JOHN L. PATRICK;
JOAN KRUSE ROGERS;
SAVE THE DUNES;
SEBAGO LAKE ANGLERS ASSOCIATION;
JERAMIE AND BRENDA VANLEER;
VERMONT NATURAL RESOURCES COUNCIL;
VERMONT PUBLIC INTEREST RESEARCH GROUP;
WESTERN ORGANIZATION OF RESOURCE COUNCILS;
and WISCONSIN WILDLIFE FEDERATION