Editorial: Fight tar sands oil — for the right reasons

copyright the Chronicle February 26, 2014

Next week at Town Meeting four Orleans County towns will vote on a resolution that basically says they don’t want tar sands oil to be shipped through the Portland Pipeline’s Northeast Kingdom oil lines.  They are Albany, Glover, Westmore, and Charleston.

Unfortunately, none of those towns are host to the pipeline and would not be directly affected by any such plan.

For years now, Vermont environmentalists have warned about the possibility of the flow of the lines being reversed and Canadian tar sands oil being shipped south and west through them from Alberta to Maine.  For two years, 350 Vermont has attempted to show opposition by persuading towns to adopt resolutions at Town Meeting.

Although their efforts were a bit more organized this year, they still seem to be inept at best.  One of the towns that would be most severely affected by any oil spill is Barton, yet that town will not be voting this year on a tar sands resolution.

Once again, organizers have missed an opportunity to bring a serious matter to the attention of the impartial or uninformed by failing to organize in the very towns that have the most at stake.

We have a few things to say about this:

One is that it’s all well and good to hold informational meetings, but it’s likely you’re preaching to the choir.  The people most prone to attend are those who already have concerns.

To address a bigger audience, it would make sense to diligently work in those towns that have a vested interest in the issue, get that resolution on the Town Meeting agenda, and start a discussion among those who haven’t given much thought to the matter.  A spill or leak in Barton, say, would cause direct, and severe, harm.

Dissembling, or overstating a matter, does not help either.  There’s much sturm and drang among anti-tar sands organizers about the age of the pipelines that run through the Northeast Kingdom, and about the higher likelihood that tar sands oil, rather than regular crude, would rupture them.

But according to The National Institute of Science, an independent organization, that’s not true. Its report, commissioned by the federal government, says tar sands oil, which must be diluted to run through a pipeline, is not more likely to break a pipeline.

However, what does appear to be true is that if a rupture occurs, you’ve got one hell of a mess on your hands.  In 1952 when there was a pipeline leak in Orleans County, one of the methods employed to clean it up was to burn the oil off the surface of the water.

Probably no one would think these days that that’s a good idea, but even if they did, tar sands oil sinks rather than floats once its diluting material has evaporated, and the communities that have had to deal with such a spill have seen years, and billions, spent on cleanup efforts.

The use of tar sands oil is a serious issue, but maybe not for the precise reasons that Vermont environmentalists have expressed.

To be fair, they have talked about the stunning environmental destruction involved in extracting it from western Canada.

That is what we should oppose, to start with.  We are reaching the bottom of the barrel when it comes to providing energy through the means we’ve traditionally known.  In order to come up with more fossil fuels, we’re wrecking the environment and water supplies.  This is certainly not in our long-range interests.

Vermonters should vote for the resolution.  What could possibly be our motivation for allowing tar sands oil to be shipped through the Northeast Kingdom?  We would benefit in no way, take a great environmental risk, and inadvertently support the vast destruction that Canada has engaged in to provide dirty energy to the world at a time when that is the last thing we need.

But the organizers of this movement to oppose shipping tar sands oil through the Northeast Kingdom should also understand that this is serious business, and it should be maturely and honestly addressed.  People are in search of concrete information rather than public relations.

A symbolic walk, a movie showing — these are fine things, but not nearly as effectual as an intelligent and focused organizational effort to get these resolutions on the Warnings in towns that have a vested interest and where a discussion among the undecided could occur — T.S.

For more editorials and opinions that have been printed in the Chronicle, visit our Editorials and Opinions page.

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