No Tar Sands Pipeline Construction Until True Impacts are Clear

Line 6B Enbridge Energy
The pipeline that burst during the Enbridge diluted bitumen oil spill in Michigan - July 2010

Pipelines are out of sight and often are out of mind for many Americans–including Congress and the agencies that regulate the pipelines.

Last year I learned this lesson the hard way when parts of my hometown were devastated by a massive tar sands (diluted bitumen) pipeline oil spill caused by Enbridge Energy. Before Enbridge realized there was a spill, they had allowed their pipeline to spew nearly 1 million gallons of diluted bitumen into the Kalamazoo River watershed– sickening people, killing wildlife and devastating over 30 miles of river.

The Enbridge spill, and the many others since, demonstrates the dangers of tar sands oil pipelines to people and wildlife habitat. Most the pipelines in this country were built for transporting conventional crudes.  However, in the last decade that conventional crude has switched to diluted bitumen (raw tar sands crude), as the Alberta tar sands region became more developed and oil companies discovered it more expensive to refine tar sands oil before shipment.

This unrefined tar sands oil, diluted bitumen, is more corrosive and toxic than conventional crudes.

NWF is urging pipeline regulatory agencies to halt all diluted bitumen pipeline construction projects and permits until investigations into recent pipeline spills are complete and appropriate regulations are in place to safeguards our communities and natural resources.

Kalamazoo River polluted with raw tar sands oil

The Enbridge spill is a prime example of what will go wrong when diluted bitumen oil pipelines do not have proper regulations in place. In a recent interview by NPR, Mark Durno with the Environmental Protection Agency – Region 5 gives his accounts into the difficulties of cleaning up diluted bitumen spills, also expressing his concerns over more frequent pipelines spills in the future.

As one would come to expect from oil companies, these oil pipeline operators are looking to make more money, as quickly as possible. Companies like Enbridge Energy and TransCanada are proposing massive tar sands pipeline expansion projects, like the Keystone XL–despite overwhelming local opposition and concerns around pipeline safety. These expansion projects provide several immediate and obvious risks:

• Locks Americans into an extremely dangerous and dirty energy future when our nation should focus on investing in renewable energy
• Continues to put communities, our land, our wildlife and natural resources at risk of more hazardous and frequent oil spills
• Will only continue to increase gas prices around parts of the US
• The expansion of the tar sands oil fields, in Alberta Canada, will continue to drastically increase greenhouse gas emissions adding to the climate change crisis.

Until the health and environmental impacts of the Enbridge spill are truly researched, and the investigation into these recent spills is complete – Congress, the Secretary of State and pipeline regulators should halt approval of all proposed projects.

The National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes Regional Center is committed to helping the communities and wildlife impacted by the Enbridge oil spill. Help NWF hold dirty energy accountable. To learn more about this issue and help prevent expansions of these pipelines in our heartlands, please visit NWF Action Fund Center. Take action: Save Sandhill Cranes from a new tar sand oil pipeline.