Pipeline Approved to Bring Tar Sands to Montreal and New England's Doorstep
The National Energy Board of Canada approved this week a proposal by pipeline giant Enbridge to reverse and increase the flow of crude oil, including tar sands oil, in its pipeline from Sarnia, Ontario to Montreal, Quebec—for the first time directly connecting Alberta’s tar sands to Montreal. This means that tar sands oil—or “diluted bitumen”—can come to Montreal, where the Portland-Montreal Pipeline is then an obvious route for the oil industry to access an export port to send tar sands to the world market.
Citizens, conservation groups, outdoor recreational interests and elected officials in Maine expressed alarm at the decision and called on Maine’s elected officials to ensure the U.S. State Department requires a new Presidential Permit review before tar sands could ever flow through Maine.
“Today’s decision brings toxic tar sands oil right to New England’s doorstep, and one step away from flowing south through Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine,” said Dylan Voorhees, clean energy director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “This decision should put Maine on high alert for the threat of tar sands transportation through our state. That would be unacceptable. Now is the time for the U.S. State Department to commit to an environmental review of any tar sands project in our state.”
The Portland-Montreal pipeline passes along and under the Androscoggin River, crosses the Crooked River six times throughout its watershed, passes alongside Sebago Lake and under a cove of the lake itself, and ends on Casco Bay in South Portland.
In 2013, South Portland passed a temporary moratorium on tar sands export infrastructure, and the towns and citizens of Casco, Harrison, Otisfield, Portland, Raymond and Waterford all passed resolutions expressing serious concern with or downright opposition to tar sands oil flowing through the pipeline in their towns.
“Last year Casco passed a resolution of opposition because of threats to our waters, recreation, and local economy,” said Mary Fernandez, chair of the Casco Selectboard. “We don’t want to end up like Mayflower, Arkansas or Kalamazoo, Michigan. We called on our federal delegation to help us, and that’s all the more important now.”
"Tar sands pose the most significant threat to Sebago Lake that I've seen in my 34 years of fishing on the lake,” said Eliot H. Stanley, Board Member for Conservation, Sebago Lake Anglers Association. “The fact is that a tar sands pipeline spill into the Sebago-Crooked River watershed would devastate the lake, its fisheries, and southern Maine's clean drinking water supply. We cannot permit another Kalamazoo River catastrophe. This irresponsible action by the Canadian Energy Board poses a threat to all Maine citizens and public officials."
“We’ve been expecting today’s news, and it only redoubles our commitment to keep tar sands out of Maine by preventing it from being shipped out of Casco Bay. For our coast, our water and our climate, we simply will not allow tar sands to flow through our beautiful state,” said Environment Maine Director Emily Figdor.
In 2013, in response to pressure from Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, Congressman Mike Michaud, and others, the U.S. State Department, which has jurisdiction over interstate oil pipelines, officially told the Portland Pipe Line Corporation that it should notify the State Department about plans to reverse its own pipeline to carry tar sands. However, the agency has not yet announced whether it would require a new Presidential Permit or any environmental review for a tar sands reversal of the Maine pipeline
"Maine people are counting on the Obama Administration, with the support of Maine's Congressional delegation, to require a new Presidential Permit process and an objective environmental review of the risks posed by pumping dirty tar sands oil through our communities, rivers, lakes and bays, including Sebago Lake and Casco Bay," said Glen Brand, Sierra Club Maine Chapter Director.
Hundreds of Maine citizens have written to or called Senators Susan Collins and Angus King, urging them to take a firm public stand for a Presidential Permit and environmental review.
“As Mainers, we have to do everything we can to protect Sebago Lake, our largest public water supply, and its surrounding wetlands,” said Bob Klotz of 350 Maine. “All we have to do is look to the Kalamazoo River spill that occurred in 2010 and its 40 miles of still-contaminated waterways to know this is a disaster we can’t allow to happen here in Maine.”
Also last year, citizens in South Portland brought forward a citizen-initiated ordinance to protect the city from construction of a tar sands export terminal, including the construction of smokestacks on the waterfront required to burn off toxic gases emitted when loading tar sands onto tankers. When the ordinance fell just short of passage, the South Portland City Council adopted a six-month moratorium on any tar sands project in the city in order to provide time for drafting a new ordinance with the same purpose.
“Considering today’s decision, I’m particularly relieved that our city has established a moratorium on a tar sands project here,” said Eve Raimon, a citizen leader with Protect South Portland. “This makes the work of drafting and adopting a permanent ordinance to restrict a tar sands export terminal on our waterfront all the more essential and urgent.”
In its public statements over the past two years, the Portland Pipe Line Company has vacillated multiple times between denial and enthusiasm for a tar sands project for Maine. After a stint of denials of an active project last fall, oil companies ran ads in South Portland newspapers this week promoting Canadian “oil sands.”
Citizens and public interest organizations in Quebec and Ontario strongly oppose sending tar sands through their communities and across their watersheds.
In 2010, about 14,000 citizens from the New England region sent comments to the National Energy Board opposing the tar sands reversal of Line 9. Included were approximately 2,000 from Maine.
“After today’s disappointing news from Canada, Maine needs to send a strong, clear message that we will not be next,” said Voorhees. “We again call on our Congressional delegation to lead and defend Maine’s interests.”
Maryland will become the first state in the nation Thursday to implement a ban on foam takeout containers.
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Kevin T. Smiley
When hurricanes and other extreme storms unleash downpours like Tropical Storm Beta has been doing in the South, the floodwater doesn't always stay within the government's flood risk zones.
New research suggests that nearly twice as many properties are at risk from a 100-year flood today than the Federal Emergency Management Agency's flood maps indicate.
Flooding Outside the Zones<p>About <a href="https://furmancenter.org/files/Floodplain_PopulationBrief_12DEC2017.pdf" target="_blank">15 million</a> Americans live in FEMA's current 100-year flood zones. The designation warns them that their properties face a 1% risk of flooding in any given year. They must obtain flood insurance if they want a federally ensured loan – insurance that helps them recover from flooding.</p><p>In Greater Houston, however, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1539-6924.2012.01840.x" target="_blank">47% of claims</a> made to FEMA across three decades before Hurricane Harvey were outside of the 100-year flood zones. Harris County, recognizing that FEMA flood maps don't capture the full risk, now <a href="https://www.hcfcd.org/floodinsurance" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recommends that every household</a> in Houston and the rest of the county have flood insurance.</p><p>New risk models point to a similar conclusion: Flood risk in these areas outstrips expectations in the current FEMA flood maps.</p><p>One of those models, from the <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/2020-national-flood-risk-assessment-highlights/" target="_blank">First Street Foundation</a>, estimates that the number of properties at risk in a 100-year storm is 1.7 times higher than the FEMA maps suggest. Other <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aaac65" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">researchers</a> find an even higher margin, with 2.6 to 3.1 times more people exposed to serious flooding in a 100-year storm than FEMA estimates.</p>
What FEMA’s Flood Maps Miss<p>Understanding why areas outside the 100-year flood zones are flooding more often than the FEMA maps suggest involves larger social and environmental issues. Three reasons stand out.</p><p>First, some places rely on relatively old FEMA maps that don't account for recent urbanization.</p><p>Urbanization matters because impervious surfaces – think pavement and buildings – are not effective sponges like natural landscapes can be. Moreover, the process for updating floodplain maps is locally variable and can take years to complete. Famously, New York City was updating its maps when Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012 but hadn't finished, meaning flood maps in effect <a href="https://projects.propublica.org/nyc-flood/" target="_blank">were from 1983</a>. FEMA is required to assess whether updates are needed every five years, but the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/cis/nation.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">majority of maps</a> <a href="https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2017/OIG-17-110-Sep17.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">are older</a>.</p><p>Second, binary thinking can lead people to an underaccounting of risk, and that can mean communities fail to take steps that could protect a neighborhood from flooding. The logic goes: if I'm not in the 100-year floodplain, then I'm not at risk. Risk perception <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/ab195a" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">research</a> backs this up. FEMA-delineated flood zones are the major factor shaping flood mitigation behaviors.</p><p>Third, the era of climate change scuttles conventional assumptions.</p><p>As the planet warms, extreme storms are becoming <a href="https://nca2018.globalchange.gov/" target="_blank">more common and severe</a>. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase at a high rate, computer models suggest that the chances of a severe storm dropping 20 inches of rain on Texas in any given year will increase from about 1% at the end of the last century to 18% at the end of this one, a chance of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1716222114" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">once every 5.5 years</a>. So far, <a href="https://www.rstreet.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/195.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">FEMA hasn't taken into account the impact climate change is having</a> on extreme weather and sea level rise.</p>
Racial Disparities in Flooding Outside the Zones<p>So, who is at risk?</p><p>Years of research and evidence from storms have highlighted social inequalities in areas with a high risk of flooding. But most local governments have less understanding of the social and demographic composition of communities that experience flood impacts outside of flood zones.</p><p>In analyzing the damage from Hurricane Harvey in the Houston area, I found that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aba0fe" target="_blank">Black and Hispanic residents disproportionately experienced flooding</a> in areas beyond FEMA's 100-year flood zones.</p><p>With the majority of flooding from Hurricane Harvey occurring outside of 100-year flood zones, this meant that the overall impact of Harvey was racially unequal too.</p><p>Research into where flooding occurs in Baltimore, Chicago and Phoenix points to some of the potential causes. <a href="https://www.nap.edu/read/25381/chapter/4#16" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">In Baltimore and Chicago</a>, for example, aging storm and sewer infrastructure, poor construction and insufficient efforts to mitigate flooding are part of the flooding problem in some predominantly Black neighborhoods.</p>
What Can Be Done About It<p>Better accounting for those three reasons could substantively improve risk assessments and help cities prioritize infrastructure improvements and flood mitigation projects in these at-risk neighborhoods.</p><p>For example, First Street Foundation's risk maps account for <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/flood-model-methodology_overview/" target="_blank">climate change</a> and present <a href="https://floodfactor.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ratings</a> on a scale from 1 to 10. FEMA, which works with communities to update flood maps, is <a href="https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1521054297905-ca85d066dddb84c975b165db653c9049/TMAC_2017_Annual_Report_Final508(v8)_03-12-2018.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">exploring rating systems</a>. And the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine recently <a href="https://www.nationalacademies.org/news/2019/03/new-report-calls-for-different-approaches-to-predict-and-understand-urban-flooding" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">called for a new generation of flood maps</a> that takes climate change into account.</p><p>Including recent urbanization in those assessments will matter too, especially in fast-growing cities like Houston, where <a href="https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1boBRyDvMFW6W" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">386 new square miles</a> of impervious surfaces were created in the last 20 years. That's greater than the land area of New York City. New construction in one area can also <a href="https://scalawagmagazine.org/2018/01/city-in-a-swamp-as-houston-booms-its-flood-problems-are-only-getting-worse/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">impact older neighborhoods downhill</a> during a flood, as some Houston communities discovered in Hurricane Harvey.</p><p>Improving risk assessments is needed not just to better prepare communities for major flood events, but also to prevent racial inequalities – in housing and beyond – from <a href="https://www.npr.org/2019/03/05/688786177/how-federal-disaster-money-favors-the-rich" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">growing</a> after the unequal impacts of disasters.</p>
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