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Elizabeth Shope’s Blog

That Pipeline through New England? It's (Mostly) Owned by Exxon. And They Want to Transport Toxic Tar Sands Oil through It.

Elizabeth Shope

Posted October 10, 2012

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Today, ten national and local Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire organizations including NRDC released a fact sheet exposing Big Oil's stealth campaign to bring extra dirty tar sands to New England. The research shows that ExxonMobil -- not some friendly local New England company -- is actually the majority owner of the Portland-Montreal oil pipeline, which currently transports conventional oil through New England from Portland, Maine to Montreal, Quebec. What’s more, Exxon’s pipeline companies are aiming to reverse the pipeline for sending dirty tar sands to Portland, Maine – facilitating an expansion of the tar sands in Alberta, Canada and allowing tar sands to be shipped to refineries on the East Coast of Canada or the United States, or even to Europe or Asia. While the pipeline companies have been down-playing the idea that tar sands would be sent through the reversed pipeline – and even that they are planning to reverse the pipeline – all evidence points to the contrary: pipeline company Enbridge is aiming to reverse their Line 9, which would enable them to send tar sands all the way to Montreal and as recently as October 2011, officials from the pipeline company and the Canadian consulate met with Maine Governor Paul LePage to talk about tar sands oil. A reversal of the Portland-Montreal Pipeline coupled with a reversal of Line 9 would enable Enbridge and Exxon to send tar sands all the way to Portland.

 Trailbreaker Map.JPGThe fact sheet explains and documents the slightly convoluted link between ExxonMobil and the Portland-Montreal Pipeline:

The line has two direct corporate owners: Montreal Pipe Line Limited (MPLL), which owns the stretch in Canada, from Montreal to the U.S. border; and the Portland Pipe Line Corporation, which owns the U.S. section and is a wholly-owned subsidiary of MPLL. In turn, Montreal Pipe Line Limited’s ultimate parent is ExxonMobil: Exxon subsidiary Imperial Oil Limited holds a majority interest in the pipeline. A smaller portion is owned by the Canadian giant Suncor Energy. Imperial and Suncor are among the biggest developers of Alberta’s tar sands and stand to benefit greatly from this project to transport tar sands oil across the region for export.

This is important for people to understand, because company names like Montreal Pipe Line Limited and Portland Pipe Line Corporation imply regional ownership – when in fact significant Big Oil muscle and money lie behind this project.

What exactly is so troubling about the idea of Exxon’s pipeline companies and Enbridge transporting tar sands through Eastern Canada and New England? To name just a few reasons for concern:

  • Tar sands is a dirty fuel – extra damaging and risky to the environment and public health throughout its entire lifecycle of extraction, pipeline transport, refining, and combustion. An area of Alberta’s Boreal forest the size of Florida could eventually be decimated if industry is allowed to continue expanding their extraction efforts. The damage from tar sands extends globally, as it causes 20% more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional oil, taking us in the wrong direction when the world needs to transition to clean energy.
  • Tar sands pipelines pose greater safety risks to the land and water along their path. Diluted bitumen – raw tar sands mixed with a diluent so that it can be transported via pipelines – is more corrosive and abrasive than conventional oil, creating a greater spill risk. And, when tar sands pipelines do spill into rivers, rather than floating on the surface, the diluted bitumen separates – with the diluents evaporating and the bitumen becoming submerged and impossible to fully clean up.
  • Exxon and Enbridge already have a bad track record with tar sands pipelines. ExxonMobil, the company responsible for the disastrous Valdez oil spill that rocked the world in 1989, was also responsible for the July 2011 Silvertip Pipeline spill that dumped 42,000 gallons of oil into the pristine Yellowstone River in Montana. While that oil spilled happened to be conventional crude oil, the pipeline is also used to move corrosive tar sands “diluted bitumen.” Enbridge’s best-known pipeline spill was the million gallon tar sands spill into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River in July 2010. Just last week—more than two years after the spill – the Environmental Protection Agency told Enbridge that they still need to keep cleaning up the river.
  • It is unacceptable for pipeline companies to deceive the public – especially when it comes to tar sands pipelines. With all the risks posed by tar sands pipelines, the public deserves to know and have a say in what toxic substances can come through their communities. It seems that realizing the strong opposition to the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline from Alberta to the U.S. Gulf Coast and the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline from Alberta to the British Columbia Coast, Enbridge, Exxon and its subsidiaries, and Suncor may be trying to sneak this pipeline through piecemeal, and without letting communities along the pipeline route know that the true purpose for the pipeline reversal would be to transport tar sands to Portland, Maine.

 Thumbnail image for Casco Bay Credit NRCM.JPGCasco Bay, Maine is one of the areas that would be threatened by a tar sands pipeline to Portland. Credit: NRCM.

New England residents are realizing what is happening, though, and are beginning to express their concerns. Exxon needs to realize this project isn’t going to face any less scrutiny than the Keystone XL or Northern Gateway tar sands pipelines. Lee Margolin, owner of the Pennesseewassee Brewing Company in Harrison, ME, said:

As a landowner and a businessman who depends on the clean waters along the Crooked River, I’m very concerned about the possibility of tar sands running through this pipeline. Ale has only four ingredients and one of them is clean water, so it is exceedingly important to quality of my product. I also happen to have a doctorate in biology and understand some of the chemicals involved in tar sands, and I’m a member of a local fishing club—no matter which hat I wear, this proposal makes me very worried.

It’s time to stop turning to the bottom-of-the-barrel “solutions” like tar sands. People don’t want tar sands in Nebraska, Texas, Michigan, British Columbia, New England, or Europe. Communities all over are saying no to having their land, their rights, and their air and water quality bulldozed by pipeline companies. It’s time for companies like Exxon, Suncor, and Enbridge to start turning towards clean energy solutions of the future.

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Michelle C.Oct 12 2012 10:19 AM

Thank you for this great article. I found it really informative.

At the top of the article, you have the following words tagged "biogems, dirtyfuels, international, maine, oilsands, tarsands, trailbreaker, vermont" however, "New Hampshire" is not tagged though our state will be impacted by the tar sands pipeline.

Trailbreaker/Enbridge Line 9 will cross the Connecticut River, traverse a number of small mountain communities, and come very close to the White Mountain National Forest and the Appalachia Trail before crossing into Maine.

Elizabeth ShopeOct 12 2012 11:26 AM

Michelle- thanks so much for your comment, for reading my blog, and for following the issue! You are completely right and I have now added New Hampshire as a tag ("newhampshire"). It was an unintentional omission in a rush to get my blog posted -- I am very much aware that the pipeline crosses through New Hampshire, which happens to be one of my favorite states.

I actually went to high school there and spend at least a little bit of time up north of the White Mountains almost every summer -- and would hate to see the state face a tar sands spill like the one in Michigan's Kalamazoo River.

On a related note, have you seen our report about the pipeline called Going in Reverse It includes a list of some of the special places (some in NH) that a tar sands pipeline would put at risk.

Leslie B.Oct 16 2012 07:20 PM


Leslie B.Oct 16 2012 07:30 PM

apologies for earlier short post (getting help from a kitten)

Thank you for this article. I'm still learning about the subject and appreciate your posting this. I did go to a meeting in South Portland recently; however, wasn't able to get some questions answered.

My first question is (and I acknowledge that I'm not looking at the big picture and only looking right now at the immediate effect on South Portland, ME): why isn't Exxon processing the tar sands nearer to where they're being mined? or using the closed refineries in Montreal?

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