Monday, March 10, 2014
By Sarah Kasprzak Lachance
CAPE PORPOISE - The problems with tar sands go far beyond the transportation concerns.
There's been a lot of chatter since TransCanada announced last month its plans to push forward with the Energy East pipeline. Last week, Gov. LePage announced his full support of Energy East and tar sands oil, from which I infer that he would allow that toxic oil to run through the Portland-Montreal Pipe Line.
The only good news for this project is for the overseas markets, like China and India, two of the bigger investors in tar sands development and buyers of tar sands oil.
The rest of the news is just bad, both for Maine and the planet, in regard to the environmental destruction that will result if this proposed pipeline gets built and brings some of the planet's dirtiest fuels to market.
Here in Maine, reflecting on the horrific disaster in Lac-Megantic, where 47 people were killed in July, one may see this new pipeline as good news in that it will lessen the need for transport by rail. The bad news is that with a project of this scale, we could likely see another five years of oil transported on antiquated rail through Maine before the project is completed.
Others are feeling a sense of relief that this decision may take the pressure off the potential reversal of the Montreal-Portland Pipe Line. After all, the Energy East pipeline would run northeast from Montreal, basically wrapping around our northern border with Canada all the way to Saint John.
Personally, I don't see this as any assurance that the industry isn't still considering the Portland-Montreal Pipe Line as a means of tar sands transport.
• TransCanada has shared its goal of wanting to "feed eastern Canadian refineries." The Suncor refinery in Montreal, which is basically the top of the Portland-Montreal Pipe Line, meets that definition. And with a proposed 1.1 million barrels a day funneling through that pipeline, chances are the folks at Portland-Montreal Pipe Line will be clamoring for a piece of the action.
• Another important point of the new proposal: The Energy East pipeline involves an estimated 870 miles of new construction. That's a lot of backyards, as well as the sacred land of First Nations peoples. Why would TransCanada not consider using the existing Portland-Montreal Pipe Line, which has already endured the time-consuming process of taking over people's land via eminent domain?
• Historically, we know that pushing bitumen tar sands oil through older pipelines brings environmental disasters like the ones along Michigan's Kalamazoo River and in Mayflower, Ark., because these pipes weren't designed to withstand the higher pressure and higher temperatures needed to force tar sands through them.
However, these companies have shown to us that they don't care about safety, they care only about profits. So, the existing Portland-Montreal Pipe Line running through Maine and along the Sebago Lake watershed -- whether it's 60-plus-years-old or not -- still looks appealing in their eyes.
The spin coming out of TransCanada on this being a "historic opportunity" is absolutely true, as the environmental costs on all fronts of this project are staggering.
Which opportunity are TransCanada and its financial and political backers most proud of?
• Is it being a major player in the destruction of Canada's boreal forest, one of the world's most important ecosystems, of which a portion the size of Florida has already been destroyed?
• Or is it the creation of massive stockpiles of petroleum coke, a dirty byproduct of tar sands development, which the oil industry is sneaking overseas to nations with weak environmental standards or dropping in impoverished neighborhoods, polluting their air?
• Or is it the biggest historic opportunity of all: continuing to meet our energy needs through the burning of fossil fuels, as leading climate scientists have warned us not to do?
Going after this type of energy is putting us on a fast track toward a climate that will look unlike the one we enjoy today. We have already put too much carbon dioxide in the air, and the changing climate sends us an alarm daily with new rainfall records, new heat wave records, longer droughts and more intense storms.
This Mainer's response to TransCanada's announcement that it's moving forward with the Energy East pipeline is simple: I don't care whether TransCanada tries to transport the stuff north, south, east or west. I'm in the fight to stop the massive development of some of the dirtiest energy on Earth, no matter what direction. And, based on what we've been seeing lately, I'm pretty sure I'll have lots of company.
Sarah Kasprzak Lachance of Cape Porpoise has been working on climate change and renewable energy issues for more than a decade.