Three vital water systems, three tar sands pipelines

Posted Tuesday, April 9, 2013 in Investigation

Three vital water systems, three tar sands pipelines

The yellow marker is the crude oil pipeline marker. The river in the background is the Androscoggin.  Photo credit: Stephen Demetriou.

by Gina Hamilton

LAKE SEBAGO -- The Canadian energy giant Enbridge is trying very hard to bring tar sands oil through Maine, one way or another.

The most likely scenario is that the Montreal-Portland pipeline, never intended for heavy crude from the tar sands of Alberta, will have its flow reversed, and this sludgy, corrosive oil will be sent down from Montreal to Portland, under some of the most pristine locations in western and southern Maine.

Enbridge would control the pipeline north of the border.  In the U.S., the pipeline would be controlled by Exxon.

The pipeline crosses the Crooked River six times.  The Crooked River provides 40 percent of fresh water to Lake Sebago, which is the sole drinking water supply for 15 percent of the population of Maine, including all of Portland.

credit: Stephen Demetriou

The pipeline runs along the Androscoggin River for 13 miles.  The Androscoggin can also currently provide drinking water if treated, is home to many species of fish, as well as a major energy producer in the state. The river forms the boundary of two of Maine's largest cities -- Lewiston and Auburn -- as well as the largest water feature in the Brunswick/Topsham area. 

Enbridge, the energy company that controls the pipeline in Canada, has a highly questionable record with its other oil pipelines.  In particular, the 2010 Kalamazoo River spill has been a nightmare for property owners, town officials, and the EPA.

Enbridge pipeline break on the Kalamazoo River.  Credit: Lansing State Journal

Enbridge fought nearly every step of the clean up process when the rupture of the pipeline spilled more than 20,000 barrels of tar sands crude into the Michigan waterway.  The sludge has still not been cleaned up; Enbridge has fought every order for additional studies, additional dredging, and additional payment to homeowners with tainted wells.  Sen. Levin said that Enbridge showed a shocking disregard for human health.  Three years later, Enbridge's lawyers are still fighting EPA rulings.

Enbridge is apparently a bad corporate citizen.  This is the company that would bring tar sands to the Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont border, and would operate the pipeline in Quebec, near and under Maine's most important water systems. But Enbridge unfortunately isn't alone.

Last week, another tar sands pipeline that was never built for the heavy, corrosive sludge known as "tar sands oil" split in Mayflower, Arkansas.

Source: EPA

Exxon, which would bring the Maine pipeline into New England, is the culprit in this case, and they are doing everything possible to keep people from knowing what kind of a disaster they've caused.  Independent video demonstrates that cleanup workers have pumped the oil into a local wetland.  Reporters are being kept away and threatened with arrest.  There are misleading statements about how much oil has been spilled.

No one knows yet how much soil has been contaminated.  Although Exxon swears blind the oil hasn't found its way into Lake Conway, the drinking water source for the community, 20 miles north of Little Rock, no indepenent verification has yet been done, and wetlands feeding the lake are known to be contaminated.  Some state officials have gone on record as saying conclusively that the lake has been affected.  "Of course there is oil in Lake Conway," Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said on Monday.  Lake Conway feeds the Arkansas River, a major tributary of the Mississippi.

But Exxon has refused to allow reporters access, and independent testing of the lake has not occurred.  Images of the wetland that feeds the lake shows the oil-blackened landscape littered with "absorbent pads" that appear to be nothing but paper towels.

Photo credit: Tar Sands Blockade

In short, the technology for dealing with a tar sands spill is woefully inadequate to deal a spill of this magnitude, but no one is admitting that ... yet.

What this disaster will mean for the future of the Maine pipeline and the larger Keystone XL pipeline is anybody's guess.  But at the very least, Maine and the other affected New England states should be aware that the companies involved, even if they are operating with the best intentions in the world (and that has yet to be demonstrated) have no earthly idea what to do when spills occur ... and spills will inevitably occur.

In the meantime, Enbridge appears to be moving ahead with its plan, regardless of considerable local opposition in New England.  The Calgary, Alberta company filed an application in December with Canada's National Energy Board asking for approval of three requests: a flow reversal of the company's "Line 9" pipeline from Westover to Montreal, to enable the pipeline to carry oil from west to east; permission to transport heavy crude from western Canada; and an increase in the flow of the pipeline by 25 percent, to 300,000 barrels per day. 

All of it is destined for foreign markets.

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