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While the Keystone XL Pipeline occupies national attention, many are unaware of its sister project that's a lot closer to home. Tar sands oil, the dirtiest oil on the planet, may soon be on its way through Vermont. Canadian energy giant Enbridge recently applied for a permit to reverse the flow of oil in its pipeline from Sarnia, Ontario to Montreal. The next step is to reverse the flow of an aging crude oil pipeline, the Portland Montreal Pipe Line, which crosses Vermont and New Hampshire on its way to Maine. Under this scenario, tar sands oil would pass through the Northeast Kingdom en route to the coast for export.
What's so wrong with tar sands oil? First, it's nearly solid and needs to be diluted for transport. The chemicals used are neurotoxins that are released into the air, water and soil in the event of a spill. Tar sands oil is also abrasive, hot and highly acidic. It can grind and burn its way through a pipe, making it much more likely to spill, especially in the case of old pipelines intended for conventional oil, like the one that runs through Vermont. In addition, tar sands oil is heavy. It sinks and can't be effectively removed from the environment, making cleanup from a spill insanely expensive and effectively impossible. Most importantly, tar sands oil is a "carbon bomb." Its production creates between three to five times the greenhouse gas emissions as conventional oil.
Piping tar sands oil through Vermont doesn't do a darn thing for us. No jobs will be created. No revenue will come our way. We bear all the risk while others reap the profits. And, we will be the ones left with the bill and the mess! Any way you slice it, tar sands oil is a bad deal for Vermont and the planet.
A statewide campaign is under way to spotlight oil company plans to ship tar sands oil through New England and to generate citizen opposition. Here in The Valley, people are circulating petitions in Fayston, Moretown, Waitsfield and Warren. By signing the petition, you are 1) opposing the transport of tar sands oil through Vermont, 2) encouraging the phase-out of all forms of tar sands oil, 3) calling for thorough environmental reviews of the impact of pipeline spills, 4) and communicating these resolutions to government and industry. There are already 40 towns in Vermont with these resolutions in the works.
Burlington's city council recently passed a broad resolution opposing piping tar sands oil through Vermont, calling on the city to divest from tar sands related companies and move away from the use of fossil fuels. That seems a lot easier than gathering signatures, but I'm glad that we're starting with a petition here in The Valley.
Gathering signatures is about more than just getting this resolution on the ballot for Town Meeting Day in March. It's about having conversations with our neighbors about the kind of world, state and towns we want to live in. It gives us the chance to talk as a community about a global issue of local urgency with specific environmental and economic risks for us all.
It's time to find out more about tar sands oil. It's not just a lucrative industry for faraway Alberta, Canada, a deadly health issue for native people living downstream of the tar sands fields, or a problem for farmers in distant Texas whose land is usurped by pipeline construction. It's coming home to Vermont as our problem. Let's do something about it.
New lives in Warren.