skip to main content

→ Top Stories:
Clean Power plan
Safe Chemicals

Elizabeth Shope’s Blog

New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers Should Take Action Against Tar Sands

Elizabeth Shope

Posted July 11, 2014

, , , , , , , , ,
Share | | |

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:

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.   

 Tar Sands Free Northeast.jpg

June 13, 2014

The Honorable Maggie Hassan

Governor of New Hampshire

2014 Chair of New England Governors-Eastern Canadian Premiers Conference

State House
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.


Share | | |


A Proud CanadianJul 11 2014 08:44 PM

New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers Should Take Action:

Yes they should. OPEC oil flows into eastern Canada and the North East US.
As we transition off of fossil fuels, this is an opportunity to have OPEC oil stay in the ground. The world will be a much better place because of it.

Would you like me to gather a dozen people and send you a picture. Perhaps military family members........

gsJul 12 2014 03:50 PM

To Friends of Our Planet,

As a concerned resident of Massachusetts who addressed Arlington Town Meeting this past spring, I asked my local representatives to sign a letter and a resolution regarding regional tracking of GHG intense fuels and rejecting the transportation Tar Sands and its derived products into the Northeast.

Now I am writing to Massachusetts Governor Patrick, asking him and the other regional heads of state to seize the opportunity at this weekend's NEG/ECP Conference to come to an agreement and resolve to halt expansion of Tar Sands Oil from coming into the Northeastern U.S. and Canada. The NEG/ECP adopted the Climate Change Action Plan (CCAP) in 2001, setting goals of reducing GHG emissions to 10% below 1990 levels by 2020, and 75-85% below 2001 levels by 2050. Together, they can make policy that makes a huge difference for the future of New England, the Northeast, and the Planet.

A copy of this letter has been sent out to Members of the 38th Conference of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers (NEG/ECP) Hon. David Alward, Hon. Tom Marshall, Hon. Stephen McNeil, Hon. Robert Ghiz, Hon. Philippe Couillard, Gov. Lincoln Chafee, Gov. Maggie Hassan, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Gov. Peter Shumlin, Gov. Paul Le Page, as well as Prime Minister Harper and President Obama, the all the Massachusetts Congressional Delegation, and environmental and energy departments in both countries.

If you can't come to the Rally on Sunday, please support this action with your voice and your keyboard. It is critical that we stop the expansion of tar sands oil use, NOW!

A Proud CanadianJul 12 2014 09:00 PM

Hi gs,

Since you are anonymous I'm sure you will answer this question:

You need to fill your car with gas…. You pull up to a gas station and they have 2 pumps. One says “refined in the USA from Canadian oil”. The other says “refined in the USA from Saudi oil”. Which do you choose? Why?

Note that I already know your answer.

Comments are closed for this post.


Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit

Feeds: Stay Plugged In