New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers Should Take Action Against Tar Sands
From July 13-15, 2014, the Governors of the six New England states, and Premiers of the five Eastern Canada provinces will meet at their annual conference, which will be hosted this year by New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan, in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. The annual conference provides the opportunity for the Governors and Premiers to discuss regional issues such as energy, transportation, climate change, and economic development. They can also vote on resolutions, and tee up discussions for their staff on regional committees to having during the year. While tar sands is not on the agenda for the official conference, there will be a “No Tar Sands!” People’s Conference and Rally on Sunday near the official conference venue, in which activists will call on the Governors and Premiers to take action to keep tar sands crude oil and tar sands-derived fuels out of the region.
Tar sands is the wrong path forward for New England and Eastern Canada for several reasons:
- The transportation of tar sands crude oil – via pipelines, rail, tankers and barges – presents increased risks compared with the transport of conventional crude oil, with an increased risk of spills, and with spills being more challenging to clean up when they do occur. Despite these risks, industry has been promoting several tar sands pipelines and expanded rail terminals to bring tar sands through the U.S. Northeast and Mid-Atlantic and Eastern Canada including ExxonMobil’s Portland-Montreal Pipe Line, and TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline.
- What’s more, without action to keep tar sands out, tar sands-derived fuels will infiltrate the fuel supply of the U.S. Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region, growing to as much as 18% of the region’s fuel supply by 2020. This would wipe out important gains on regional climate change mitigation efforts. Due to the energy requirements for extracting and refining tar sands, tar sands-derived fuels cause, on average, 17% more greenhouse gas emissions than conventionally derived fuels when accounting for everything from extracting through burning the fuel.
- Finally, Alberta, Canada’s tar sands underlie an area of the Boreal forest roughly the size of Florida. Extracting tar sands causes a large amount of greenhouse gas emissions, air and water pollution; destroys habitat for migratory birds, caribou and other species; and creates massive toxic waste lakes that leach into the Athabasca River and watershed. Communities downstream of extraction activities are experiencing high rates of rare cancers and other negative health effects that appear to be caused by tar sands operations. Developing a reliance on this high-impact fuel would make us complicit in this destruction.
Due to these major concerns about tar sands coming to and through New England, last month 25 groups, including NRDC, sent a letter to Governor Hassan and the other New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers expressing concerns about tar sands and calling for the Governors and Premiers to take action. The letter called for adoption of “a resolution to convene a committee of environmental agencies to develop standards and recommendations around fuel carbon intensity across the region” along with “a resolution to more fully investigate the threats associated with the transport and spills of diluted bitumen both by pipeline, rail, and barge.” (You can read the letter text below or see the full letter including signatories if you click on the hyperlink.)
While it was too late for tar sands to be added to the agenda, Governor Hassan sent an encouraging response letter to the signatories detailing the efforts she has taken to protect New Hampshire and the region from tar sands. She also wrote, “because this topic is of significant importance to the region and to New Hampshire, I will direct my representatives on the appropriate committees to raise these issues in the coming year.” And she states that “[a]t the regional level, in coordination with the Northeastern States for Coordinated Air Use Management (NESCAUM), the regional association of northeastern state air agency directors, we are working to develop tools necessary to track the carbon intensity of petroleum fuels entering the region.”
These are important steps for creating a tar sands free future for the Northeast. While Governors and Premiers may not specifically be discussing tar sands next week, they will be discussing energy innovations. Decreasing the greenhouse gas impact of the transportation sector will require a reduction in energy demand through vehicle efficiency. At the same time, states must avoid the dirtiest fossil fuels, such as tar sands, and begin implementing policies that spur innovation in the clean energy sector. We hope this conference will set the stage for additional actions to develop clean energy and keep the Northeast tar sands free.
June 13, 2014
The Honorable Maggie Hassan
Governor of New Hampshire
2014 Chair of New England Governors-Eastern Canadian Premiers Conference
107 North Main Street
Concord, NH 03301
Dear Governor Hassan,
We write with respect to the upcoming New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers (NEG-ECP) Conference scheduled for July 13-15 this year in New Hampshire. We ask the Conference to confront growing public concern about the encroachment of tar sands into Eastern Canada and New England by pipeline, rail, barge, and as a refined fuel, and convene working committees to evaluate the threats posed by tar sands spills and evaluate standards for fuel carbon intensity in the region.
As you are likely aware, pipeline proposals in both the U.S. and Canada have focused significant public attention on the risks of transporting tar sands diluted bitumen through pipelines. Simultaneously, new research suggests that the annual influx of tar sands-derived fuels into the U.S. Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region could have a substantial climate impact that would negate the carbon pollution reductions the U.S. Northeast region has sought under its landmark Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Climate policies in Canada such as Quebec’s greenhouse gas cap and trade system could be undermined.
Together, the transport of tar sands diluted bitumen via pipeline and the consumption of tar sands as a refined fuel is a grave risk to the region. We believe the NGA-ECP Conference should provide state and provincial decision-makers with an opportunity to understand these risks and identify policy solutions to address these pressing issues.
Pipeline proposals to carry tar sands diluted bitumen
Public concern over the transport of diluted bitumen has grown considerably in the past several years. Many of the concerns have focused on the potential impact of a spill to waterways given that diluted bitumen has different chemical properties than conventional oil. Now that Enbridge’s Canadian Line 9 is approved to bring tar sands to Montreal, many in the U.S. believe that the Portland Pipe Line Corporation will request permission from the U.S. State Department to reverse the flow on the Portland-Montreal Pipe Line (PMPL) in order to transport tar sands. In response, dozens of communities in Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, and Quebec have passed resolutions in opposition to a reversal. A spill of diluted bitumen from the PMPL pipeline could threaten drinking water supplies, wildlife, fishing and other water dependent industries, and public health across New England.
At the same time, TransCanada is moving ahead with its Energy East pipeline proposal which, if approved, would carry tar sands diluted bitumen and potentially impact hundreds of communities across all of Eastern Canada. Once diluted bitumen is loaded onto tankers there is also the possibility of a marine oil spill into both the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and the Bay of Fundy. The pipeline would also have the climate pollution impact equivalent to adding seven million new cars to Canada’s roads.
An influx of tar sands into the region’s refined fuel mix
A new analysis indicates that by 2020, as much as 18 percent of the U.S. northeast region’s fuel supply could be derived from carbon-intensive tar sands - up from less than 1 percent in 2012. If that occurs, it would increase greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 10 million metric tons per year. This would offset the carbon pollution reductions that the region is seeking under its landmark Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative over the next five years. Unless states take immediate action to hold the line against growing carbon emissions, and boost efforts to support the clean fuels sector, the influx of tar sands fuel would undo years of progressive climate policy.
We ask the NEG-ECP adopt a resolution to convene a committee of environmental agencies to develop standards and recommendations around fuel carbon intensity across the region. Last year, the NEG-ECP passed Resolution 37-3, concerning transportation. This resolution built on priorities raised at the 2012 conference to facilitate a more sustainable transportation future and identified the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while exploring opportunities to advance the green economy through investments in clean, efficient, and sustainable transportation. A resolution at the 2014 conference addressing the encroachment of high carbon intensity fuels like tar sands in our transportation fuel mix is correlated to, and logically evolves from, the transportation resolutions adopted at the 2012 and 2013 conferences.
We also ask the conference adopt a resolution to more fully investigate the threats associated with the transport and spills of diluted bitumen both by pipeline, rail, and barge. Rapidly growing evidence shows that spills of diluted bitumen pose greater threats to water resources than conventional oils, with serious implications for emergency response and clean up. Major tar sands spills in Marshall, Michigan in 2010 and Mayflower, Arkansas in 2013 provide direct evidence of these unique challenges. Now is the time for state and provincial decision-makers to better understand the inherent risks of transporting diluted bitumen and options to confront and eliminate these risks.
We would also be pleased to have an opportunity to present our views and research on these issues and thank you for considering these recommendations.
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