Maine groups react in strong opposition
Portland/Augusta Maine – Today international energy giant TransCanada applied for permits to build its Energy East pipeline to carry tar sands oil from Alberta to Quebec and New Brunswick. Leading conservation groups in Maine denounced the plan.
If approved, the pipeline would be the largest in North America, and would pass just miles from the border in Aroostook County, putting Maine waterways such as the St. John River at significant risk of a tar sands oil spill.
The pipeline would carry a product that Mainers have learned a great deal about in the last few years: unrefined tar sands.
Mainers have become increasingly aware of tar sands and the variety of threats that this dirty form of oil poses to the state and beyond. Citizens across the state have worked diligently to raise awareness with friends, neighbors, and elected officials, in response to the potential threat of the Portland Montreal pipeline reversing its flow to carry tar sands across Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine and out to tankers in Casco Bay.
Since 2012, seven towns and cities near the Portland-Montreal pipeline passed resolutions opposing the transportation of tar sands oil through their communities. With the recent passage of the Clear Skies Ordinance in South Portland, citizens again expressed concerns about local tar sands impacts. In this case, increased air pollution and dramatic changes along their working waterfront was their call for action.
Both of Maine’s U.S. Representatives and U.S. Senator King have expressed opposition to the transport of tar sands oil through the state – largely motivated by concerns over water quality. More recently, conservation groups have raised concern that refined oil and gasoline from tar sands could start to enter the region, which would cause a massive increase in our climate-changing carbon emissions at a time when Maine and the region are striving to reduce them.
The proposed pipeline is a massive industrial project, expected to carry 1.1 million barrels (that’s 44 million gallons) of tar sands oil per day, through a combination of existing pipelines designed to carry natural gas, and a brand new pipeline to be built from Montreal, Quebec to St. John, New Brunswick. The proposed export terminal in St. John is just 70 miles from Calais, and another proposed export terminal in Cacouna, Quebec is a mere 47 miles from the Maine border. In some areas of Maine, the pipeline would come within 25 miles of the border. In Madawaska, the pipeline would be just a few miles over the border in neighboring Edmundston. The tar sands pipeline would cross at least five tributaries of the St. John River upstream from Maine communities including Madawaska and Van Buren.
“Sneaking a tar sands pipeline just over the Maine border will not solve our problems with tar sands,” said Emmie Theberge, Clean Energy Advocate for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “The proposed energy east pipeline would still threaten to pollute our waters and air, and send our climate past its tipping point. For more than 50 years, NRCM, our members, and the people of Maine have worked to protect the waterways of Aroostook County, from the Allagash to the St. John River. It would be totally unacceptable for a huge new tar sands pipeline just across the border in Canada to threaten the St. John’s water quality, wildlife habitat, and recreational resources.”
“In Maine, folks don’t look at things through the NIMBY lens very often. Learning about the environmental injustices happening up in Alberta Canada to First Nations people and their way of life is enough for them to get involved. The Energy East pipeline would allow further destruction of this land, its people, and the planet through climate change,” said Sarah Lachance, co-coordinator of 350 Maine’s Tar Sands Team. “I think it’s fair to say that lots of Mainers join people across Canada opposing the proposed Energy East pipeline.”
“Just as we are concerned about air quality impacts from a tar sands export terminal in South Portland, including the respiratory problems associated with burning off benzene and other cancer-causing chemicals, we know the same concern exists for the people up in St. John, New Brunswick and Cacouna, Quebec,” said Taryn Hallweaver of Environment Maine.
“At both proposed export terminal points, endangered whale species would be gravely impacted by increased tanker traffic”, says Glen Brand of Sierra Club Maine. “The pipeline would threaten critical habitats for the Right Whale in the Grand Manan Basin in the Bay of Fundy, and for the St. Lawrence Beluga in Cacouna.”
Maine conservation groups have pledged to increase public awareness in the northern and eastern parts of the state where the impacts of the project would be felt most directly.
TransCanada’s application was filed with Canada’s National Energy Board, which last year granted permission for another pipeline company (Enbridge) to pipe tar sands across Ontario and Quebec to Montreal. The Board has gained a reputation amongst Canadian conservation leaders for severely limiting public participation in its decision-making and consistently granting permission for the oil industry to build what it wants where it wants. The Energy East permitting process is expected to last well into 2015.