VNRC, Others, Highlight the Risks of Possible Tar Sands Proposal

June 21, 2012

There is a likely plan in the works to reverse an existing pipeline that runs from Canada through Vermont, New Hampshire and on to Maine to carry what many experts say is the “dirtiest oil on the planet” — tar sands.

While, there is no “live” proposal yet in the U.S., it’s pretty clear that the pipeline companies — Enbridge and Portland Montreal Pipeline — are looking for a path to deliver this dirty fuel being extracted in Alberta out to the the eastern seaboard and overseas.

VNRC and a growing, diverse coalition of groups are working hard to get in front of this shortsighted proposal to move this toxic substance through some of our state’s wildest places.

That’s because the very nature of the project — an antiquated, existing pipeline carrying highly corrosive, toxic materials — could be disastrous for Vermont’s waters, environment and tourist economy. It could also be disastrous for the climate.

A recent report issued by the Natural Resources Defense Council, VNRC and others describes this “Trailbreaker” project. The report, titled Going in Reverse: The Tar Sands Threat to Central Canada and New England outlines the dire implications of tapping tar sands for fuel, describes the history of the “Trailbreaker” project and posits that tar sands might soon be coming to the Northeast.

It’s not a stretch of the imagination. In fact, there was a plan to do so in 2008, shelved largely by a rocky economy at that time. That plan would have sent oil east, through an existing pipeline that runs through Jay, Troy, Newport, Irasburg, Barton, Sutton, Burke, Victory and Guildhall. And it’s this route many believe oil companies want to, in a piecemeal fashion, quietly move forward again.

One of the big problems? Tar sands is not like regular crude oil. It’s a gritty, asphalt-like substance that needs to be chemically diluted and pumped under extremely high pressure and high heat to be moved through pipes. In Vermont, where the existing pipes are 62-years-old, it could set the stage for disastrous oil spills. These spills could pollute some of Vermont’s most pristine waterways, including drinking water sources, and wild places for decades.

“These companies have had a certain amount of trouble persuading Nebraskans and Texans to let their tar sands sludge endanger those states,” said Bill McKibben, President and Co-founder of, referring to the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline. “My guess is that here in Vermont people will be at least as wary. We know that the carbon it contains makes another Irene that much more likely by warming the atmosphere. It’s a bad bargain all around for Vermont.”

VNRC and many other organizations agree with McKibben. Find out far more about this potential project by reading the report, here.

Check out the news coverage from the Going In Reverse report release, which describes the project in more detail and highlights where the Shumlin Administration might land on this proposal here and here.