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Elizabeth Shope’s Blog

Fifteen Organizations Call on Mass. Governor Patrick to Keep Tar Sands out of Massachusetts

Elizabeth Shope

Posted September 4, 2014

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Today, fifteen organizations including NRDC sent a letter to Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, calling on him to take action to keep tar sands oil out of the Massachusetts fuel supply. Tar sands cause 17 percent more greenhouse gas emissions over their full life-cycle than conventional fuels because it is so difficult to extract tar sands from beneath the Boreal forest and refine it from thick near-solid tar sands bitumen into fuels. Absent action to keep it out, this dirty fuel could soon comprise 11.5% to 18% of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic fuel supply.

Massachusetts has traditionally stepped up as a climate leader. In fact, in 2009, Massachusetts supported the idea of a regional Clean Fuels Standard that would reduce the carbon intensity of the region’s fuel supply. Governor Patrick also signed the Global Warming Solutions Act into law, has been a leader in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), and recently has taken major steps to support electric vehicles. Allowing tar sands-derived fuels to become a significant component of the state’s fuel mix would cancel out many of the important gains made with RGGI these other carbon-reducing policies.

The groups signing on to the letter collectively represent more than 190,000 Massachusetts members. Thousands of residents have written to Governor Patrick asking him to keep tar sands out of Massachusetts. Tar sands oil does not fit in a clean energy economy, and represents a step backward at a time when we need to move rapidly toward clean energy and transportation. No one who advocates cleaner transportation can fail to notice that the tar sands industry would have us move in the wrong direction.

The letter specifically calls for a Clean Fuels Standard (CFS) in Massachusetts, which “would both hold the line against more carbon-intensive transportation fuels, as well as promote lower-carbon alternative fuels, leading to lower overall transportation fuel carbon intensity in the Commonwealth.” More immediately, there are some key steps that Massachusetts needs to take towards the Clean Fuels Standard:

  • Track the sources and carbon intensity of the state’s fuels, which will provide the framework to move forward with broader policies.
  • Enact a ‘no backsliding’ policy that would mandate that the carbon intensity of the state’s transportation fuel mix can’t get worse.

Tar sands are not just problematic because of their carbon intensity. Tar sands extraction also destroys land, pollutes air and water, decimates wildlife, and is causing severe public health issues for First Nation communities downstream, who are facing high rates of rare cancers that appear to be linked to tar sands pollution. The transportation and refining of tar sands is equally problematic, with air pollution, and risks of tar sands spills that can be impossible to clean up. On its path to Massachusetts, the tar sands would put our heartland at risk from pipeline spills, spew asthma-inducing pollution into Gulf Coast communities which are already failing to meet air quality standards, and then be piped as refined product up to the Northeast. Tar sands fuels could also come to Massachusetts from Eastern Canadian or Mid-Atlantic refineries. The damage caused by tar sands is too great, and Massachusetts should not be complicit in this destruction.

The last few months of Governor Patrick’s Administration are critical. Massachusetts has an incredible opportunity to step up as a leader, help keep tar sands out, and move states in the region towards a Clean Fuels Standard.


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A Proud CanadianSep 4 2014 09:07 PM

When I look at the oil imports coming into the US North East and mid Atlantic, I noticed that OPEC imports have dropped precipitously from around a 1,000,000bpd in 2008, down to around 300,000bpd today. Canada has been pretty steady at the 250,000bpd mark for the last 10 years. This must make OPEC countries very worried and thus this powerful incentive to stop Canadian oil production is clear. OPEC interests in supporting the NRDC in this regard are quite clear as well.

And of course you are making false comparisons again. You compare oilsand crude to conventional crude when you know that oilsand crudes will displace other heavy crudes such as those from Venezuela. Your State Department did this analysis and showed negligible increases in GHGs between the two. The comparison to conventional crudes is a false one. You know it yet you and others continue to do it. Why? (Hint …. See previous paragraph). Let’s talk about removing the oilsands when the need for heavy oil is removed.

But, of course, what you as a country want to do is your own business. Continue to import ISIS oil (sorry, I meant to say Saudi oil). Continue to import Nigerian and Venezuelan oil. The world will be much better off as your dollars (and as it seems once again, your troops) head there.

Michael BerndtsonSep 7 2014 11:58 AM

NRDC is cool with having tar sands carrying pipelines buried all over Illinois like a giant bowl of spaghetti coated with 5 to 6 feet of topsoil? A huge chunk of all tar sands produced is flowing to PADD II refineries (Midwest). And chiefly the big ones in and around Chicagoland. Soon, like this year, tar sands will flow from Illinois down to Cushing, OK via the Enbridge Flanagan pipeline. Making Keystone XL and Anthony Swift superfluous.

Elizabeth ShopeSep 7 2014 09:49 PM

Michael- I'm not sure what would make you think this. We have never and will never support tar sands pipelines in the Midwest or anywhere else. We fought Keystone I. We fought Alberta Clipper. We're fighting the expansion of Alberta Clipper. Along with a number of other pipelines- really trying to keep tar sands in the ground in Alberta and limit tar sands expansion.

The tar sands industry would like to triple tar sands production by 2030, and to do that, they need ALL of the proposed tar sands pipelines and more. The extent to which we have stopped cross-border pipelines over the last 5 years is already having an impact on tar sands production, as you can read about in Anthony's blog:

A Proud CanadianSep 8 2014 08:59 PM

I think Michael is talking about this. I'm sure that you've seen this before.

1.2Mbpd of rail capacity coming by the end of 2015. That's 1.5 Keystone XLs and much faster too. Thanks NRDC!!

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