KC Whiteley is one of three Vermonters just back from Alberta, Canada's tar sands rich province. She took pictures, showing how forests there have disappeared.
"It's really a wasteland now, it's full of chemicals and there's nothing really growing there. Your eyes burn, a lot of people worse respiratory masks, particularly older people," Whiteley said.
Extracting tar sands oil is complex, and dirtier than more conventional oil.
"They use a lot of chemicals in the, after the tar sands are extracted in order to make it liquid enough to flow through a pipeline," Whiteley added.
Whiteley's motivation for making the trek north came from pipeline concerns.
Right now, a pipeline running from Montreal to Portland, Maine carries crude oil from the coast into Canada, passing through the Northeast Kingdom and Northern New Hampshire along the way. Many, like KC, fear it could soon be more dangerous tar sands oil flowing through New England.
There is no official proposal to allow tar sands to flow through the Portland to Montreal pipeline, nor is there a plan to reverse the flow all together. However, people in New England are watching so carefully because similar proposals have been made for other stretches of pipeline in Southern Canada.
Proponents of tar sands say the oil could be North America's ticket to energy independence, but opponents worry a spill would be disastrous.
"It's a sticky viscous substance. It's like peanut butter, instead of floating on the surface of water where it could be skimmed off off or trapped, it sinks, attaches to the bottom," Jim Murphy of the National Wildlife Federation said.
Many Vermont towns have spoken out against tar sands already, and now South Portland, Maine has too.
An ordinance just passed, essentially blocking tar sands export from the city.
"It shows a few things- it shows that communities in Northern New England do not want the risk of tar sands, and it shows that communities can take action protecting themselves from those risks,” Murphy added.
Late Wednesday afternoon, the Vice President of Portland Pipeline Corporation, released the following statement regarding the South Portland, Maine vote:
“We are disappointed in Monday night’s ordinance vote, but not surprised. The biased process that led to its predetermined passage has been slanted against Portland Pipe Line Corporation and the entire working waterfront since day one. Recent comments by South Portland city councilors make it abundantly clear that they have no interest in allowing Portland Pipe Line Corporation and other terminals in the harbor to adapt to and meet the needs of a dynamic industry and the energy needs of the region and North America. The council’s vote against jobs, energy and the waterfront is the culmination of a rush to judgment led by councilors over the past several months that has ignored plain science in favor of fear, promoted by a vocal group of off-oil extremists. Our commitment to our employees and their families, and the families, businesses and communities that rely on Portland Pipe Line Corporation every day, remains rock solid. As we evaluate several options concerning this job-killing ordinance, we will continue our daily focus on outstanding, safe and environmentally-responsible service, which has defined our company as an award winning and excellent corporate citizen in South Portland and the region for over 73 years.”
Congressman Peter Welch told us he is actively fighting a bill in Congress that would make transporting tar sands through the pipeline easier.
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