Legal action planned on tar sands oil in Vermont

Several environmental organizations will hold a news conference Tuesday morning to announce legal action to ensure that Vermont has a say over any plan to move tar sands oil through the state.

I provided a lengthy background in a June 2012 post about tar sands oil, but here’s a shortened version: There’s an existing oil pipeline that runs from Portland, Maine to Montreal, by way of the Northeast Kingdom. Currently, it carries imported oil to Canadian markets. A few years ago, the Canadian pipeline operator Enbridge developed a plan to reverse the flow so the pipeline could carry tar-sands oil from Alberta to Portland for export. That plan was shelved, but there are signs it’s being revived.

Enbridge has gained approval from the Canadian government to reverse the pipeline from Sarnia, Ontario to Montreal. That could simply be a move to carry western oil to eastern Canadian markets; but it’d be awfully tempting to make the oil available for export, and Portland is by far the closest option.

The issue at the core of this lawsuit: since it’s an existing pipeline, would the operator be able to simply adjust its existing Act 250 permit, or would it need to start from scratch and seek a new one? If the former, the state and Vermonters would have little say.

The environmental groups plan to seek court action to ensure that the reversal would require a fresh Act 250 process.

On a separate track, State Rep. David Deen has introduced a bill that would mandate Act 250 review for any change in use for existing oil pipelines.

Tar sands oil is truly nasty stuff; it’s sludgy and corrosive, and a 2010 pipeline break in western Michigan caused a major amount of damage, which is still being cleaned up. (Details in that same June post.)

The groups holding tomorrow’s presser include the Conservation Law Foundation, VPIRG,, and the National Wildlife Federation.  

3 thoughts on “Legal action planned on tar sands oil in Vermont

  1. They do not have the required refineries in Canada, so the reversal of flow to Montreal is highly unlikely to be intended to bring that oil to eastern markets within Canada, unless they also plan to build a specialized refinery there.

    The reason for the proposed KXL pipeline is because it would bring the oil to one of the few places with refineries that can handle that kind of “crude” oil, which conveniently also has easy access to the Gulf of Mexico for export to countries with much higher fuel prices (aka: more profit).

    The reversal scheme is just an attempt to make an end-run around the opposition to the KXL pipeline – get it to a port, ship if from there to the gulf, get it refined, ship it to the highest bidder.

    The stuff is not as profitable as regular crude, because of the specialized refining needs, as well as the cost of extracting it to begin with. Thus, it’s in the investors’ best short-term monetary interest (which, of course, is all that really counts) to get it to the most expensive markets possible.

    Keeping it land-locked in Canada is the only way to keep it out of the atmosphere.  

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