The South Portland City Council has voted to ban the export of Canadian tar-sands crude through the city, effectively ending any attempt to bring the crude from western Canada through a pipeline into the city. While there are no such plans in the work, Portland Pipeline Corporation Vice-President Tom Hardison spoke against the proposal.
“I continue to be concerned about the clearly intended consequences the passage of this ordinance will have on the energy industry in South Portland and the industry’s ability to adapt to and meet the needs of a dynamic industry and the energy needs of the region and North America,” Hardison said.
Crude from the tar sands of western Canada is fueling a surge in North American production, but environmentalists say tar sands oil is difficult to clean if spilled and dangerous to ship.
“It’s an awesome accomplishment,” says Emily Figdor of Environment Maine. “It really gives me hope that other communities that also are dealing with serious local impacts from tar sands infrastructure can come together and similarly protect what is so dear to them.”
South Portland councilor Michael Pock was the only “no” vote, as he was two weeks ago. Opponents of the new ordinance say the referendum could hurt the city’s economic future, though the ordinance was crafted to allow existing petroleum handling in the city to continue.
An attorney for Portland Pipeline Corp., Matt Manahan, warned the ordinance would be found to be pre-empted by federal and state law. But Sean Mahoney of the Conservation Law Foundation challenged that and said his organization will support South Portland if the city faces suit to overturn the anti-tar-sands ordinance.
Opponents of the ordinance will have 20 days to collect some 900 signatures to force a vote on the ordinance.
Coastal Maine residents are pushing to formally prohibit tar sands from being shipped from their port
by Sarah Lazare, staff writer
Standing ovation for the South Portland Draft Ordinance Committee as it unveils plan to block tar sands Wednesday, June 25. (Photo: Environment Maine)
Residents of a small city in coastal Maine are pushing to formally ban Big Oil’s plans to pump tar sands through their community, and they’re pretty sure they’re going to win.
Over 200 people wearing matching sky-blue tee-shirts flooded a city council meeting in South Portland on Wednesday night to cheer a presentation on a proposed ordinance that would prohibit the bulk loading of crude oil—including tar sands—as well as new infrastructure for such purposes within city limits.
Backers of the legislation, known as the Clear Skies Ordinance, say tar sands transport through their city would devastate their waterfront, unleash toxic air pollution, and risk dangerous spills.
And they have reason to worry.
South Portland is the starting point for the 236-mile long “Portland-Montreal Pipeline” which is majority-owned by Exxon-Mobil. The pipeline is critical to move Canadian tar sands to a major port for loading on oil tankers for export. Canadian pipeline company Enbridgeappears to be moving forward with plans to pump tar sands, via their Canadian Line 9 pipeline, through New England to South Portland’s Casco Bay, where the oil would then be exported to global markets.
According to Environment Maine, the Portland-Montreal Pipeline is also central to the Energy East pipeline, proposed by Canadian company Transcanada, that would pump 1.1 million barrels of tar sands daily from Quebec to New Brunswick,
“The threat is not abstract,” said Taryn Hallweaver of Environment Maine in an interview with Common Dreams. “Tar sands oil will flow to Montreal as early as this summer for the first time ever, right at New England’s doorstep.”
The Clear Skies Ordinance to block tar sands emerged from a six-month-long public process launched by South Portland’s City Council. It was drafted by a committee of appointed land-use experts and is slated for further consideration by the city council and planning board, with a vote slated for late-July.
Robert Selling of Protect South Portland told Common Dreams that he is “extremely hopeful” that this ordinance. He emphasized that the draft ordinance was met with “enthusiastic response” and “standing ovations” at Wednesday’s meeting.
“I think it’s going to be a model for other communities,” he said.
The Mounties bombed an oil installation as part of a dirty tricks campaign in their investigation into sabotage in the Alberta’s oil patch.
The revelation came at the bail hearing Thursday of two farmers who the Crown says have turned their complaints that oil industry pollution is making their families ill into acts of vandalism and mischief.
After countless marches, arrests, Congressional votes, and editorials, the five-and-a-half year battle over the controversial Keystone XL pipeline is nearing its end. If a recent ruling in Nebraska doesn’t delay the decision further, America could find out as soon as this spring whether or not the pipeline, which has become a focal point in America’s environmental movement, will be built.
But while critics and proponents of Keystone XL have sparred over the last few years, numerous pipelines — many of them slated to carry the same Canadian tar sands crude as Keystone — have been proposed, permitted, and even seen construction begin in the U.S. and Canada. Some rival Keystone XL in size and capacity; others, when linked up with existing and planned pipelines, would carry more oil than the 1,179-mile pipeline.
The tar sands oil industry scored a regulatory victory on Thursday when the Canadian National Energy Board approved a plan by energy giant Enbridge to reverse the flow of Canada’s ‘Line 9’ oil pipeline eastward from Ontario to Montreal.
Many Mainers may not have heard of Enbridge, But they will. Enbridge is a gigantic energy company with it’s sights on Maine. Enbriidge wants to move oil to Casco Bay via the Portland-Montreal Pipe Line. The prospect of crude oil being piped to Portland has mobilized citizens in Maine and beyond to protest.
TransCanada Corp. is seeking firm financial commitments from companies seeking to ship crude oil from Western Canada to refineries in Eastern Canada.
The Calgary-based company announced on Tuesday morning a bidding process that will allow interested producers to make binding commitments for space on the pipeline. Companies will have from April 15 to June 17 to enter into long-term commitments to use the pipeline.
The open-season process follows a successful expression-of-interest phase and talks with potential shippers.
TransCanada said if the next phase is successful, it plans to start seeking regulatory approvals later in 2013, and the oil could start flowing to Eastern Canada by late 2017.
The proposal would be to convert 3,000 kilometres of the company’s natural gas pipelines to allow for crude oil to be transported. The company would also be looking at building 1,400 kilometres of new pipeline from Quebec into Saint John.
The pipeline could carry between 500,000 and 850,000 barrels of crude oil per day from Alberta and Saskatchewan to the eastern refineries, according to the company.
Premier David Alward called the west-east pipeline proposal an historic initiative. Alward made the comments in front of the Irving Oil refinery in Saint John on Tuesday.(Robert Jones/CBC)
Federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said on Tuesday TransCanada’s announcement was a “positive step.”
“We welcome such proposals, because they can generate thousands of Canadian jobs and long-term economic prosperity — particularly in Quebec and the Maritimes — for generations to come,” Oliver said.
The federal minister said the proposed pipeline project must meet a series of regulatory reviews.
If the project moves forward, Oliver said it would be an important piece of energy infrastructure for Canada.
“Pipelines moving oil from Alberta to Quebec to New Brunswick would be among the most expansive and ambitious stretches of energy infrastructure in the entire world and would contribute to the energy security of Canada and all of North America,” he said.
Officials from the Saint John-based Irving Oil Ltd. have said in the past their refinery could handle western crude oil.
The Irving Oil refinery is the largest in Canada and can process 300,000 barrels of oil per day. Saint John also has a deep-water port and a liquefied natural gas facility.
Oliver said he has recently toured the Irving refinery and the Ultramar refinery in Levis. The federal minister said he plans to tour Suncor’s refinery in Montreal in the coming weeks.
3 days in Alberta
New Brunswick Premier David Alward responded to TransCanada’s announcement on Tuesday morning during a news conference held at the Irving Oil headquarters, calling it an “encouraging step forward.”
The New Brunswick premier said the pipeline proposal is a “historic initiative” for both the province and the country.
“We envision New Brunswick as Canada’s next energy powerhouse and Saint John as the anchor of that powerhouse,” Alward said in front of more than 30 Irving Oil employees.
“If we proceed, this project will strengthen our national and provincial economies and create jobs and economic growth today and for generations to come,” he said, suggesting the project has the potential to be as important to Canada’s economic future as the railway was in the past.
Alward said the pipeline will create high-paying jobs in New Brunswick and will keep workers in the province instead of heading to western Canada to find employment in the oilsands.
“I want to see the day when the mother or father, the son or daughter leave their New Brunswick home in the morning to go to work in the development of natural resources, they will return for dinner that night, not three or four weeks later,” he said.
Alward spent three days in Alberta in February talking to Alberta Premier Alison Redford and oil executives about the possibility of the west-to-east pipeline.
The project has the possibility of creating 2,000 jobs during the construction phase of the pipeline and a few hundred refining jobs after, according to some estimates.
Alberta has been interested in the project, because oil from that province is now being shipped to the United States, where there is a glut. That means oil producers are getting $20 to $40 less per barrel than the world price.
Those lower prices translate into lower royalties for the provincial government, and that is causing a potential multi-billion dollar deficit in Alberta. A pipeline to the Irving Oil refinery would allow Alberta producers to charge the higher world price.
A new pipeline would also alleviate Canada’s dependence on foreign oil and increase the value of Canada’s crude oil through shipping to world markets from the deep-water port of Saint John, said Alward.
Port Saint John president and CEO Jim Quinn welcomed the prospect of playing an integral role in bringing Canadian crude to global markets.
“This opportunity for Saint John and our port is phenomenal,” Quinn said in a statement.
The port, which for 50 years has been handling petroleum cargo for both import and export, currently handles the largest oil tankers in the world, as well as the largest crude carriers, he said.
TransCanada Corp. may build 1,400 kilometres of pipeline, extending its capacity into Saint John. (Courtest of TransCanada)
IF President Obama blocks the Keystone XL pipeline once and for all, he’ll do Canada a favor.
Canada’s tar sands formations, landlocked in northern Alberta, are a giant reserve of carbon-saturated energy — a mixture of sand, clay and a viscous low-grade petroleum called bitumen. Pipelines are the best way to get this resource to market, but existing pipelines to the United States are almost full. So tar sands companies, and the Alberta and Canadian governments, are desperately searching for export routes via new pipelines.
Canadians don’t universally support construction of the pipeline. A poll by Nanos Research in February 2012 found that nearly 42 percent of Canadians were opposed. Many of us, in fact, want to see the tar sands industry wound down and eventually stopped, even though it pumps tens of billions of dollars annually into our economy.
The most obvious reason is that tar sands production is one of the world’s most environmentally damaging activities. It wrecks vast areas of boreal forest through surface mining and subsurface production. It sucks up huge quantities of water from local rivers, turns it into toxic waste and dumps the contaminated water into tailing ponds that now cover nearly 70 square miles.
Also, bitumen is junk energy. A joule, or unit of energy, invested in extracting and processing bitumen returns only four to six joules in the form of crude oil. In contrast, conventional oil production in North America returns about 15 joules. Because almost all of the input energy in tar sands production comes from fossil fuels, the process generates significantly more carbon dioxide than conventional oil production.
There is a less obvious but no less important reason many Canadians want the industry stopped: it is relentlessly twisting our society into something we don’t like. Canada is beginning to exhibit the economic and political characteristics of a petro-state.
Countries with huge reserves of valuable natural resources often suffer from economic imbalances and boom-bust cycles. They also tend to have low-innovation economies, because lucrative resource extraction makes them fat and happy, at least when resource prices are high.
Canada is true to type. When demand for tar sands energy was strong in recent years, investment in Alberta surged. But that demand also lifted the Canadian dollar, which hurt export-oriented manufacturing in Ontario, Canada’s industrial heartland. Then, as the export price of Canadian heavy crude softened in late 2012 and early 2013, the country’s economy stalled.
Canada’s record on technical innovation, except in resource extraction, is notoriously poor. Capital and talent flow to the tar sands, while investments in manufacturing productivity and high technology elsewhere languish.
But more alarming is the way the tar sands industry is undermining Canadian democracy. By suggesting that anyone who questions the industry is unpatriotic, tar sands interest groups have made the industry the third rail of Canadian politics.
The current Conservative government holds a large majority of seats in Parliament but was elected in 2011 with only 40 percent of the vote, because three other parties split the center and left vote. The Conservative base is Alberta, the province from which Prime Minister Stephen Harper and many of his allies hail. As a result, Alberta has extraordinary clout in federal politics, and tar sands influence reaches deep into the federal cabinet.
Both the cabinet and the Conservative parliamentary caucus are heavily populated by politicians who deny mainstream climate science. The Conservatives have slashed financing for climate science, closed facilities that do research on climate change, told federal government climate scientists not to speak publicly about their work without approval and tried, unsuccessfully, to portray the tar sands industry as environmentally benign.
The federal minister of natural resources, Joe Oliver, has attacked “environmental and other radical groups” working to stop tar sands exports. He has focused particular ire on groups getting money from outside Canada, implying that they’re acting as a fifth column for left-wing foreign interests. At a time of widespread federal budget cuts, the Conservatives have given Canada’s tax agency extra resources to audit registered charities. It’s widely assumed that environmental groups opposing the tar sands are a main target.
This coercive climate prevents Canadians from having an open conversation about the tar sands. Instead, our nation behaves like a gambler deep in the hole, repeatedly doubling down on our commitment to the industry.
President Obama rejected the pipeline last year but now must decide whether to approve a new proposal from TransCanada, the pipeline company. Saying no won’t stop tar sands development by itself, because producers are busy looking for other export routes — west across the Rockies to the Pacific Coast, east to Quebec, or south by rail to the United States. Each alternative faces political, technical or economic challenges as opponents fight to make the industry unviable.
Mr. Obama must do what’s best for America. But stopping Keystone XL would be a major step toward stopping large-scale environmental destruction, the distortion of Canada’s economy and the erosion of its democracy.
Thomas Homer-Dixon, who teaches global governance at the Balsillie School of International Affairs, is the author of “The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity and the Renewal of Civilization.”
Plus this update: LePage’s private dealings with TarSand companies
Defending Water for Life in Maine and Stop the East-West Corridor members have anticipated exposure of the link between tar-sands oil and the East-West Corridor due to pressure to get the oil from Alberta to east coast ports. Over time their plan has become more clear.
While other environmental groups are focused on opposing the reversal of the Portland-Montreal Enbridge pipeline to transport tar sands from Montreal to Portland, we believe the East-West Corridor is a very viable option for this highly competitive industry.
While Exxon/Mobil wants Enbridge, TransCanada wants another route to the Atlantic. Now, Canada has expressed a desire to ship tar-sands oil to Irving’s refinery in St. John’s, placing tremendous pressure on the development of the East-West Corridor through Maine.