WASHINGTON, DC, July 26, 2016 – The threat of devastating tar sands spills did not end when President Obama rejected the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline last November, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is warning today in a report that lays out TransCanada’s reckless Plan B. That scheme calls for building a pipeline to transport the dirtiest fuel on the planet across Canadian prairies and then shipping it by tanker down the Atlantic Coast to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico.
NRDC—which has called on the president to ban such tankers from U.S. waters—warns that TransCanada’s plan to ship daily at least 900,000 barrels of tar sands oil would threaten our coasts from Maine, beginning near Acadia National Park, to Texas, after crossing the Gulf of Mexico, with tar sands spills that are impossible to clean up and add grievously to the carbon pollution fueling dangerous climate change.
“TransCanada is back with a vengeance. Its new and equally misguided proposal seeks to build a pipeline carrying tar sands oil from Alberta to the East Coast of Canada –and then shipping it via tankers to U.S. refineries on the Gulf coast for processing and export,” said Anthony Swift, director of the Canada Project at NRDC. “Each tar sands-bearing tanker would be a floating catastrophe waiting to happen.
“The fact is we simply do not have the tools to contain or clean a tar sands spill along our coastlines. And yet this threat is not being considered by regulators in either the U.S. or Canada. For the sake of our climate, communities, commercial fisheries and marine life up and down the eastern U.S. seaboard, this pipeline should not be built. And President Obama can send a clear message by preemptively barring such hazardous tar sands tanker traffic from U.S. waters.”
NRDC released its report “Tar Sands in the Atlantic Ocean: TransCanada’s Proposed Energy East Pipeline,” during a telephone press conference held the day after the 6th anniversary of the Enbridge pipeline tar sands oil spill in Michigan’s Kalamazoo River. Even after spending $1.2 billion to try to clean up the most expensive onshore oil spill in U.S. history, miles of the Kalamazoo River remain polluted.
Equally troubling, since 2010 no spill cleanup technological breakthroughs have emerged. That means that tar sands oil spills—be they in rivers, lakes or oceans—currently cannot be fully cleaned up.
The report notes that the surge in tanker traffic—adding as many as 280 tankers a year—would send tar sands oil along a “shipping route notorious for its extreme tides, dense fogs and treacherous weather,” including hurricanes.
So, exposing hundreds of miles of U.S. coastline to possible tar sands tanker spills would put communities all along the U.S. Eastern Seaboard—many of which depend on tourism and commercial fishing— at an enormous and unacceptable risk, NRDC concludes.
In the crosshairs are the Gulf of Maine, Acadia National Park and the Florida Keys, as well as billion dollar commercial fisheries on the East Coast, including New England and Atlantic Canada’s lobster and sea scallops fisheries.
In addition, the report warns, sonic noise and potential ship strikes from the estimated 280 tar sands tankers plying the Atlantic each year also could harm the endangered North Atlantic Right Whale and the Fin Whale, the second largest species of whale, in addition to dolphins, sea turtles and other marine life.
Finally, locking in new pipeline infrastructure for at least 50 years would enable expanded production of tar sands oil, generating hundreds of millions of tons of climate-damaging carbon pollution each year.
Currently, the proposed Energy East pipeline is under a two-year regulatory review in Canada. As proposed, the 2,580 mile pipeline would carry approximately 35 percent more tar sands oil than the Keystone XL pipeline, and would be the largest and longest pipeline in Canada.
The pipeline would connect to an ocean port in Saint John, New Brunswick, where tar sands oil would be loaded onto enormous ocean tankers and shipped at least 2,500 miles to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico.
Over the course of a single year, the report notes, these tankers could carry 328 million barrels of tar sands oil down the East Coast—enough oil to fill more than 20,000 Olympic pools.
The report cities a 2016 study by the National Academy of Sciences, which determined that tar sands oil, or diluted bitumen, is different from crude oil; it’s heavier and there are no effective strategies to remove it from water. That led the NAS to conclude that the “properties of diluted bitumen…put such spills in a class by themselves” and that emergency responders do not have the tools to clean up a tar sands spill.
“TransCanada’s Energy East proposal is truly Keystone XL on steroids. It’s all risk and no reward for millions of Canadians and Americans, iconic landscapes, valuable fisheries and our climate,” said Joshua Axelrod, a co-author of the report and NRDC policy analyst. “The first step in stopping this dangerous project is to put our oceans off limits to tar sands tankers, and the president should do that now.”