By Dr. Daniel Parenteau
Sun Chronicle/KeepMECurrent op-ed
It is widely believed that Big Oil is pursuing a possible plan to transport tar sands oil through some of the most important natural and cultural landscapes in Central Canada, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. Under the plan, Enbridge’s Line 9 and ExxonMobil’s Portland-Montreal pipeline would be reversed to send Canadian tar sands oil – some of the dirtiest oil on the planet – along an approximately 750-mile route. The pipeline would run east through Ontario and Quebec, and down to the New England seacoast, finally ending in Portland’s Casco Bay, from where tar sands oil could be sent anywhere in the world for refining.
Enbridge has taken steps to implement this plan by filing permit applications with Canada’s National Energy Board to reverse the flow of the pipeline and expand Line 9. Meanwhile, Portland-Montreal pipeline officials have been actively lobbying local government officials in New England to promote tar sands. But communities in New England, Ontario, and Quebec are fighting this risky tar sands pipeline and supporting clean energy solutions.
Canada’s boreal forest and wetlands in Alberta are home to a diverse range of animals, including lynx, caribou and grizzly bears, and serve as critical breeding grounds for many North American songbirds and waterfowl. Oil companies are scraping up hundreds of thousands of acres of this wildlife haven to mine tar sands – silty deposits that contain small amounts of crude bitumen.
Extracting tar sands, and turning this bitumen into crude oil, uses vast amounts of energy and water, causing significant air and water pollution. This is three times the global warming pollution of conventional crude production. The rush to strip-mine and drill tar sands in the boreal is destroying and fragmenting millions of acres of this wild forest for low-grade petroleum fuel.
TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would be the third new dedicated tar sands pipeline, and would lock the United States into a dependence on hard-to-extract oil and generate a massive expansion of the destructive tar sands oil operations in Canada in coming decades. Tar sands developments are already wreaking havoc on both people and wildlife in the region. For aboriginal peoples, the mining reduces local water supplies and increases exposure to toxic substances.
Two of the world’s biggest oil companies are trying to transport toxic tar sands oil through New England. This dangerous pipeline project (dubbed the “Exxon/Enbridge Tar Sands Pipeline”) would put people and wildlife at risk from oil spills, polluted water and runaway climate change impacts.
ExxonMobil and Enbridge Inc. – the company responsible for the disastrous Kalamazoo River tar sands spill – are working on a project in New England that would put Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine in harm’s way. Construction of this covert pipeline could mean transporting up to 12.6 million gallons of tar sands oil per day through those states and would contribute to the expansion of habitat-destroying tar sands operations in Alberta, Canada.
The Exxon/Enbridge tar sands pipeline project seeks to reverse the flow of two existing pipelines in order to ship crude oil from Alberta’s tar sands region to the Maine coast. The first pipeline, Line 9, runs from Sarnia, Ontario, to Montreal. The second pipeline, called the Portland-Montreal Pipe Line, runs from Montreal through Vermont and New Hampshire all the way to Portland.
Naturally, as humans, our view of the environment is completely anthropocentric. We think of it as resources to fuel and fill our needs and wants. We assume that it is our divine right to decide upon the fate of a piece of land and all the myriad species which that piece of land might support, most of which we are never even consciously aware of. And thus it is not surprising that the quality of life for all species is deteriorating in direct correlation to the degree with which we exploit “our natural resources.”
The web of life exists not as a co-existing haphazard assembly of competing species, but as an interwoven and interdependent mutually supporting tapestry of life. So, to pull one string affects the whole; to pull at dozens of strings simultaneously upsets the overall ecological balance.
So why do we so haphazardly destroy the integrity of this web of life, exhaust its resources to the last leaf, for the sake of greedy self-interest and a free market economy? If there is to be a future, and life on this planet to continue as we know it, we must urgently recognize our position in this web of life and seriously address the imbalances in our ecosystem for which we are responsible and change our relationship with mother earth from an exploitive approach to a sustainable one. Tar sands oil is not the answer.
At a time when we must embrace a clean energy future, tar sands take us far in the wrong direction. The United States should instead implement a comprehensive oil savings plan and reduce oil consumption by increasing fuel efficiency standards, hybrid cars, renewable energy, environmentally sustainable biofuels, and smart growth to meet our transportation needs.
Dr. Daniel Parenteau is a freelance writer residing in Biddeford. He is a business analyst and strategic consultant. His column appears every other week and covers a wide variety of topical issues at issue in the region.