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While America Waits On Keystone Decision, A Different Tar Sands Pipeline Just Got Approved

By Emily Atkin  

"While America Waits On Keystone Decision, A Different Tar Sands Pipeline Just Got Approved"

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The route of Enbridge's Line 9, which would connect to a tar sands pipeline in Alberta on one side, and to Montreal on the other. The Montreal connection eventually goes to the eastern coast of Canada.

The route of Enbridge’s Line 9, which would connect to a tar sands pipeline in Alberta on one side, and to Montreal on the other. The Montreal connection eventually goes to the eastern coast of Canada.

CREDIT: National Energy Board

While all eyes in America were turned to President Obama’s looming decision on the Keystone XL pipeline, Canadian regulators on Thursday approved their own, smaller version — a pipeline that would for the first time directly connect Alberta’s tar sands to Montreal.

Canada’s National Energy Board have approved a proposal by Enbridge Inc. to allow the reversal and expansion of their Line 9 pipeline. The “reversal” means that the pipeline can now carry crude oil east rather than west. The “expansion” means it can now also carry tar sands oil from Alberta — the same type of oil that would be transported by the Keystone XL pipeline if approved.

With the reversal and expansion approved, environmentalists say the controversial tar sands oil can now be pumped almost to the New England border. This is because on one side, Enbridge’s Line 9 connects to a pipeline that carries tar sands. On the other side, Line 9 connects to a 236-mile-long line pump from Montreal to Portland, Maine. The National Resources Defense Council says that Portland connection has been targeted by the tar sands industry as a way for getting the oil into the United States via New England.

Line9

CREDIT: NRDC

Tar sands oil — a thick, hard-to-extract mixture of heavy oil, sand, and water — has been deemed the “dirtiest type of liquid fuel” by scientists who say the unique and energy-intensive extraction process produces three times the greenhouse gas emissions of conventionally produced oil.

Though environmentalists are decrying the Canadian regulator’s decision, they also note that Line 9 is, by comparison, “small potatoes” to other pipelines like Keystone XL. Those bigger pipelines, according to NRDC, will actually drive expansion of the tar sands reserves, causing more harmful carbon to be emitted into the atmosphere. By comparison, the Line 9 expansion “has never been viewed by the tar sands industry as playing a role in driving the expansion of tar sands projects,” the NRDC says, but is “a large and harmful step in the wrong direction.”

“Today’s decision should energize residents of New England to stand up and say unequivocally: We do not want tar sands in our communities and we do not want to play any role in encouraging the tar sands industry to continue with its irresponsible and dangerous development,” NRDC’s Canada Project Director Danielle Droitsch wrote in a blog post Thursday.

More about the Line 9 expansion can be found here.

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