I wrote this op-ed about Trailbreaker for my local newspaper, the Lincoln County News. It was published a couple of weeks ago, but I wanted to share it with you!
Let’s Keep Tar Sands Oil Out Of Maine
By: Chloe Maxmin
July 15, 2012
You’ve heard of Keystone XL and TransCanada. You’ve heard of the national uprising over this massive plan to transport tar sands oil straight through the United States. But have you heard of Enbridge’s “Trailbreaker?” Have you heard of the the plan to pump tar sands oil through Maine?
Enbridge, the largest Canadian oil exporter, wants to transport tar sands oil from Montreal, through Vermont and New Hampshire. At that point, it would enter Maine near Bethel and run through 26 communities, including Lynnville, Norway, Raymond, Windham,Westbrook, Portland, and South Portland. The tar sands trail would cut through dozens of precious ecosystems and communities throughout New England.
To accomplish its goal, Enbridge plans to reverse the flow through two existing major pipelines: Line 9 — which goes from Sarnia to Montreal — and the Portland/Montreal Pipeline (PMPL). This plan is called “Trailbreaker.”
These pipes currently carry conventional oil, but tar sands oil poses a new threat. A mixture of clay, sand, water, and bitumen (a hydrocarbon that can be processed into crude oil), tar sands is extracted from under Canada’s Boreal Forest. It is a gooey tar-like substance that must be diluted with toxic carcinogenic chemicals to get through a pipeline. Compared to conventional oil, it is 70 times more viscous, 20 times more acidic, and has three times the spill rate. Producing crude from tar sands also emits three times more greenhouse gas emissions than producing conventional oil.
There are several dangers. First, PMPL is over 60 years old and Line 9 is almost 40 years old. They weren’t built for tar sands oil, and so there is a higher risk of spills. The pipeline parallels the Androscoggin River for 15 miles, often within 100 yards. PMPL runs 300 yards from Sebago Lake, the drinking water source for 15% of Maine’s population and a recreational center. It also crosses the Crooked river–which provides 40% of the inflow to Sebago–a total of six times. PMPL ends in Casco bay, threatening the marine economy and wildlife. The consequences of a spill would be widespread and devastating.
Enbridge has a poor track record. In 2010, an Enbridge pipeline ruptured and released 1 million gallons of tar sands oil into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River. A 39-mile stretch of river was closed-off, and there were severe environmental and health effects. Tar sands oil sank to the bottom of the river, amplifying the consequences. Businesses in the area closed for good. The clean-up, which continues today, cost $725 million. We must learn from Kalamazoo and prevent a catastrophe like this from happening in Maine.
I was able to visit the existing PMPL pipeline to see which areas would be endangered by tar sands oil. I imagined a large metal above-ground pipe charging through Maine’s lush woods. Instead, there were yellow metal posts innocently stuck in the ground. Upon closer inspection, the words “Crude Oil Pipeline” appeared in small black lettering. The pipeline was underground, snaking its way through Maine and ultimately to Canada. I saw where it dives under streams and through beautiful rural areas. In the middle of Maine, a toxic substance was silently threatening the health of the natural environment, local residents, and hundreds of other people downstream.
I was surprised by the surreptitiousness of the pipeline. I didn’t expect Enbridge to put up big “Warning” signs with educational pamphlets about crude oil. But, if I had not been looking for a pipeline or taken notice of the yellow posts in the ground, I would never have known that pipe was transporting dangerous material through some of the most pristine wilderness in the world under my feet– a river, farmland, forest and homes. The entire process is hidden, and it really scared me.
The threats are very real for us in Lincoln County. A spill in Casco Bay or Sebago Lake would have severe effects on the Maine economy, affecting tourism and the marine industry. Maine would not be the idyllic land that so many flock to see. We would be the face of a disaster, poster-child for tar sands pipelines gone wrong. We don’t want this for our environment, our health, and our neighbors.
Trailbreaker sharply raises the threat level from fossil fuels, and it is emblematic of the larger need to end dependence on oil. The campaign to stop this latest threat is just getting off the ground. A coalition of environmental organizations—including National Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, National Wildlife Foundation, Natural Resources Council of Maine and Environmental Defense Canada—are working together to gather information and develop an action plan. There are a series of events coming up that you can get involved with.
On July 25, there are actions around the state and country to commemorate the two year anniversary of the Kalamazoo River spill. Mainers will have the opportunity to learn from history and show support for a tar sands free Northeast.
On July 29 there is going to be a peaceful march and rally in Burlington, VT at the New England Governor’s Conference. This will be the largest action so far around this issue. There will be a bus from Portland to Burlington as well. If you are interested in coming to Burlington, please let me know. I am interning for the Maine Sierra Club this summer and can put your name on the list for a bus.
For more information on Trailbreaker and upcoming opportunities, visit www.tarsandsfreeNE.org and www.maine.sierraclub.com. We can educate ourselves and one another about the dangers of tar sands oil and Trailbreaker.