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Protest tar sands oil pipelines

Recent spills resulting from ruptures of pipelines carrying tar sands oil from western Canada undermine the assertion that Canadian crude is a safe alternative to dangerous offshore drilling, environmentalists say.

Local activists with the Rainforest Action Network and other groups were set to protest at the Candadian consulate here this afternoon, calling for a moratorium on all tar sands oil pipeline expansion in the U.S.

Recent spills near Kalamazoo, Michigan and in Romeoville, Illinois, occurred on the Lakehead pipeline operated by Canadian company Enbridge, part of a huge network of pipelines to bring tar sands oil from Canada to refineries in the Midwest and Gulf Coast.

Enbridge and TransCanada, another Canadian pipeline company, are now at work on two multibillion-dollar pipeline expansions in Illinois, the Tribune reports.

Construction preliminaries for an Enbridge line through Illinois to a pipeline hub in downstate Patoka (previously covered here) have stalled since the Illinois Commerce Commission denied the company’s request to use eminent domain, said an attorney representing landowners opposed to the project.

“Enbridge doesn’t want to have to pay fair market value for the land they want,” said Thomas Pliura of LeRoy, Illinois.

Tar sands oil extraction destroys boreal forests and consumes vast quantities of water, and refining it produces toxic and carcinogenic pollution, as well as three or more times the carbon emissions of conventional oil, said Debra Michaud of RAN.

Michaud said the Canadian tar sands project is “the largest industrial project ever undertaken on the planet,” costing hundreds of billions of dollars and potentially covering an area the size of Florida.  (The $3.8 billion expansion of BP’s refinery in Whiting — which will double its capacity to handle tar sands oil — is the largest industrial project in Indiana’s history, she said.)

“What kind of a future are we investing in?” Michaud asked.  “Do we have the political will to invest in a future where our children and grandchildren can survive?  We’ve got to shift our priorities.”

The group’s action comes as a Utah state regulator gave the go-ahead for a tar sands oil project proposed by a Canadian company there, though critics say it would overwhelm the state’s already-stressed water supply.  It would be the first such project in the U.S.

In Washington, the House Transportation and Infrastrucuture Committee is holding a hearing on the Kalamazoo River spill tomorrow.

After that spill, Enbridge wouldn’t confirm that the pipeline carried tar sands oil, but recently mercury has been detected on the river’s bank – a telltale sign of the highly toxic Canadian crude, said Josh Mogerman of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

He said pipelines carrying tar sands oil may be at greater risk because bitumen in the product is highly corrosive and moving the thick oil requires higher pressure.

In Michigan, with Enbridge and federal regulators coming under fire for an inadequate system of inspections and monitoring, pipeline safety experts “are urging the state legislature to adopt new rules that will not leave Michigan reliant on an understaffed federal agency with inadequate regulatory authority,” the Michigan Messenger reported.

In Illinois, unlike many other states, regulation of existing oil pipelines is left to the federal government, said a spokesperson for the Illinois Commerce Commission.

The Tribune reports that oil companies have reported 117 spills in Illinois since 2000.

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Category: energy, environment


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