Tipping Point: The Age of the Oil Sands
Photo credit: Garth Lenz

350.org and the Green Mountain Global Forum are teaming up to host a screening of a documentary film and a subsequent panel discussion about tar sands oil and its environmental hazards in light of what appear to be plans to transport tar sands oil through the Northeast Kingdom via the existing Portland/Montreal pipeline.

The film, Tipping Point: The Age of the Oil Sands, will be screened on Sunday, November 11 at 7:00 p.m. The panel discussion will follow that Tuesday, November 13, also at 7:00 p.m. Shelley Kath of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and representatives of other environmental NGOs (VPIRG, National Wildlife Federation, 350.org) will comprise the panel, which will discuss the numerous problems associated with tar sands oil and the potential of passing a community resolution to ban tar sands oil in the Mad River Valley and beyond.

Tar Sands Oil — Coming to a town near you — and how you can stop it!
Canadian pipeline company Enbridge Inc. appears to be reviving a previous plan to transport tar sands oil through some of the most important natural and cultural landscapes in eastern Canada and Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. In terms of Vermont, this would impact the nine towns of Jay, Troy, Newport, Irasburg, Barton, Sutton, Burke, Victory, and Guildhall via the existing Portland-Montreal pipeline. In Vermont, it would also cross fifteen bodies of water, including the Crystal Lake and Lake Memphremagog watersheds.

There is absolutely no upside to Vermonters to this plan, and the downside is enormous in that tar sands oil is a highly corrosive mix that has been likened to liquid sandpaper, and given this, frequently ruptures through the pipe in which it's traveling, resulting in massive inland oil spills. These spills destroy wildlife and unleash a myriad of human health concerns.

On July 25, 2010, there was a tar sands oil spill in the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. Over one million gallons of tar sands oil spilled into that river. Clean up of it is ongoing; total clean-up cost to date is over $800 million.

In addition to traveling through the towns and bodies of water mentioned above, the pipeline crosses through Victory State Forest, the Missisquoi River, and the Connecticut River.

The current plan would reverse the direction of oil flowing through two major pipelines—Enbridge Line 9 and the Portland/Montreal Pipeline. But under the plan, the pipelines would not carry conventional oil, but Canadian tar sands oil—the dirtiest oil on the planet—along an approximately 750-mile route. The pipeline's route would run east through Ontario and Quebec, and down to the New England seacoast, finally ending in Portland, Maine's Casco Bay, for export.

The removal of tar sands oil from the ground is a destructive business. Large swaths of Alberta's Boreal forest are destroyed, and a massive amount of energy creating carbon pollution is used to produce the heavy oil. Because of the corrosive qualities of tar sands oil its transport poses unique risks that aging conventional oil pipeline systems (like the one this oil would run through) are not equipped to handle. A spill along this pre-existing pipeline could harm rivers, lakes, and bays that are vital resources for millions of people in Canada and the United States, especially given that tar sands oil spills are more prevalent and potentially more damaging than conventional oil spills.

A new analysis released early in October by environmental groups finds that ExxonMobil is the majority owner of the pipeline in question and it is apparently partnered with Enbridge in this venture. ExxonMobil's subsidiary Imperial Oil Limited owns 76 percent of the pipeline, while Canadian oil giant Suncor Energy owns the remaining 24 percent.

To educate the public about the environmental and health risks of tar sands oil in general and the proposed plan for this pre-existing pipeline in particular, the Green Mountain Global Forum, in conjunction with 350 Vermont, is hosting two events in the Valley in November. On Sunday, November 11, there will be a screening of a documentary about tar sands. Tipping Point: The Age of Tar Sands, will screen at the Big Picture Theatre at 7:00 p.m. A panel discussion will follow on Tuesday, November 13, also at Big Picture, also at 7:00 p.m. Participants in the panel discussion will include Shelley Kath—National Resources Defense Council consultant and attorney based in Montreal; Jim Murphy—Senior Counsel for the National Wildlife Federation, based in Montpelier; Ben Walsh—Clean Energy Advocate at VPIRG in Montpelier; and Jean Binette—Canadian citizen/Environmental Activist/Leader of the Dunham committee for the environment (CEDunham). View the video of the panel discussion.

"Rather than putting our state and our world at risk," said Ben Walsh, Clean Energy Advocate with VPIRG, "Vermont should say no to this project and continue our move toward clean, sustainable sources of energy."


Venue: The Big Picture, 7 p.m. start. This is a free event and open to the public.