More than a dozen towns voted to oppose any effort to pump oil from Canadian tar sands across the Northeast Kingdom at town meetings on Tuesday.
The Portland-Montreal pipeline carries crude oil from South Portland, Maine, to Montreal. The company, Portland Pipe Line Corp., is considering a reversal of the flow to bring tar sands oil to ports in Maine.
Several towns along the pipeline’s right-of-way passed nonbinding resolutions Tuesday to oppose pumping tar sands through the state, joining 42 towns statewide, according to 350 Vermont, a branch of the grassroots environmental action group 350.org.
Environmental groups oppose using tar sands oil because of the energy intensive extraction process; fuel derived from tar sands generates 17 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional fuel throughout its life cycle. The heavy crude is also difficult to clean up when it spills, they say.
In Vermont, towns hosting the pipeline fear a spill would be devastating to the state’s waterways and local communities.
Tim Simpson, a selectman in Sutton, said some residents are concerned about pumping tar sands oil through town because the mud-like material is infused with chemicals necessary to loosen it up.
“As far as the tar sands go, there seems to be a fair amount of concern,” he said. “It’s the chemicals they put in it to move it.”
The town, which currently hosts a pump station, had been quiet on the issue given the lack of information about the proposal, Simpson said.
But environmentalists warn the 60-year-old pipeline is not suited to pump a new, heavier Canadian crude.
Jim Murphy, senior counsel for the National Wildlife Federation, said tar sands oil creates a pressure flux as it moves through pipelines, wearing down the structure over time.
“It’s similar to stretching a paper clip,” he said. “You keep bending it, eventually it breaks.”
Cleaning up a pipeline spill is nearly impossible, he said, pointing to a pipeline rupture in 2010 that dumped 840,000 gallons of tar sands oil into Kalamazoo River in Michigan, much of which sank to the river bottom.
“They’ve done three dredges now and there is still oil all over the river bottom,” Murphy said. “And that was four years ago.”
Canadian regulators are expected to decided whether to allow Canada’s Enbridge Oil to reverse the flow of its pipeline to bring tar sands from the west to Montreal refineries as soon as Thursday.
If approved, the decision would bring tar sands from Alberta to Vermont’s doorstep, says Johanna Miller, energy and climate program director for the Vermont Natural Resources Council.
Environmentalists say Vermont – which has spent years moving toward its clean energy goals – has a chance to speak up against the trend of moving heavy crude into the country.
“It’s about either we have a clean, advanced energy future where we transition to renewables, we really invest in conservation, we really look at demand side solutions – but also in new forms of generation that are cleaner,” Murphy said. “Or it’s extreme fossil fuels. And tar sand is emblematic of that.”
Portland Pipe Line Corp. would have to obtain an Act 250 permit from the state before the plan can move forward. The company has yet to apply for the permit.
350 Vermont wants to require President Barack Obama to sign off on the pipeline switch – the same presidential permit pending over the controversial Keystone XL pipeline to transport crude oil from Canada to Texas.
Several towns voted Tuesday to request state and federal officials to review the environmental impacts of pumping heavy crude through the state.
According to a 2014 report by the National Resources Defense Council, in 2012, about 22,000 barrels of tar sands crude arrived in Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states each day, accounting for less than 1 percent of the region’s total demand for oil.
In 2015, this amount is expected to increase to more than 5 percent, and more than 11 percent by 2020, the report states.
Environmentalists say if heavy crude makes its way into Vermont’s fuel mix it would set the state back on its clean energy targets. According to its nonbinding Comprehensive Energy Plan, the state aims to use 90 percent renewable energy by 2050.
The 13 towns voting against the pipeline reversal Tuesday were Albany, Barton, Glover, Hartland, Jay, Richmond, Sheffield, Stannard, Strafford, Sutton, Westmore and Wheelock. Shelburne residents endorsed the measure in a nonbinding voice vote.