All Risk, No Reward
By Michael Marx, Beyond Oil Campaign Director
Proposed Upper Midwest Tar Sands Pipeline Expansion Threatens Great Lakes and Climate
Last week the BP Whiting tar sands refinery in Indiana dumped more than fifteen hundred gallons of crude oil into Lake Michigan. BP isn’t saying exactly how much they spilled or whether it was tar sands or conventional crude oil. But we know that Lake Michigan was poisoned by the nation’s largest tar sands refinery. Tar sands are the dirtiest source of oil on Earth. They're more toxic, more corrosive, and more polluting than conventional sources of oil. And once again BP has proven that it can’t be relied on to prioritize safety, or tell the truth about oil spills.
The Sierra Club has fought the Keystone XL pipeline because tar sands pipelines are unsafe for the people in their path. From the mining operations along pipeline routes to refinery fence-line communities, these pipelines are disastrous. This week the Beyond Oil campaign and 13 other groups are releasing All Risk No Reward, a new report on the proposed Alberta Clipper tar sands pipeline expansion.
The Alberta Clipper, also known as Line 67, is an existing pipeline that currently pumps up to 450,000 barrels per day of tar sands crude from Hardisty, Alberta, to Superior, Wisconsin. From the Canadian border, the pipeline traverses 327 miles of North Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, passing through tribal lands, forests, and farms, rivers, and lakes, before terminating at Lake Superior. Enbridge, the company that owns the pipeline, is asking the State Department for an amended Presidential Permit to almost double the pipeline’s capacity to 800,000 barrels per day and to construct two new tar sands storage tanks on the shores of Lake Superior.
Expanding the Alberta Clipper tar sands pipeline to move more dirty, dangerous tar sands crude through the Upper Midwest would greatly increase the risk to American and tribal lands and waters, including the Great Lakes, of devastating tar sands spills. Like exploding crude oil rail cars, earth-scraping mining operations, and the heavily polluting tar sands refineries, these pipelines are not safe. And higher capacity means more crude pumped at higher pressure, raising the risk of accidents and exposing communities to tar sands’ full complement of disturbing climate, safety, and environmental implications.
Enbridge, the company behind the Alberta Clipper proposal, has a dismal safety record. From 1999 to 2010, Enbridge was responsible for more than 800 spills that released 6.8 million gallons of hydrocarbons. Canada’s National Energy Board and the U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) have repeatedly cited the company for safety violations, including a record $2.4 million fine in connection with an explosion that killed two workers in Minnesota. Enbridge is also responsible for the worst onshore oil spill in U.S. history, the 2010 Kalamazoo River disaster, in which a ruptured Enbridge pipeline poured nearly a million gallons of tar sands crude into Michigan's Talmadge Creek and Kalamazoo River. Four years and a billion dollars later, oil is still being found and parts of the Kalamazoo remain poisoned by tar sands crude.
That tragedy in Michigan, like the more recent one in Arkansas that sent tar sands crude flowing across lawns and driveways, is a grim illustration of the threat tar sands pipelines pose to families, homes, and waterways. The Alberta Clipper route crosses the Mississippi River, the drinking water source for 15 million people, twice. And a rupture anywhere in the Great Lakes region could be devastating. The Great Lakes provide drinking water for more than 40 million people and support tourism, recreation, a $7 billion fishery industry, and a $16 billion boating industry. But even those numbers don’t begin to reflect the cultural and environmental importance of protecting the Great Lakes from toxic tar sands pollution. And as with the Keystone XL pipeline, the Sierra Club is prepared to fight the Alberta Clipper expansion proposal to the end.
The proposal still needs to secure permits from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission and an amended Presidential Permit from the Obama administration. We expect that President Obama will hold this proposal to the same climate test that he articulated for Keystone XL: the project will not be in the national interest if it would significantly exacerbate carbon pollution. We remain confident that Secretary Kerry and President Obama will recognize how Keystone XL flatly fails that test, and that the same will hold true for the proposed Alberta Clipper expansion. This proposal would accelerate tar sands industry growth, generating massive carbon pollution at a time when neither the U.S. nor Canada can waste any more time in our transition away from dirty fuels and toward renewable energy.
On Thursday, April 3, residents of the the Upper Midwest will have a chance to help stop this expansion from happening. Join us in St. Paul to stand against tar sands and Alberta Clipper!