Guest post by Fossil Free Fellow Tyler McFarland who has been working with 350Vermont this summer.

Lend me your ears (eyes) and I will tell you about the northeast corner of Vermont, known as the Northeast Kingdom.  It is certainly a kingdom, where people live with the landscape.  It is made up of rolling green hills and mountains, many farms, and as if it were not beautiful enough it is the home of Bread and Puppet.  On my first trip to the NEK I decided that moving there to farm for the rest of my life would be a perfectly good decision.


Unfortunately Exxon-Mobil is eyeing Vermont and the Kingdom as a conduit for Alberta tar sands to the coast.  History shows those are the last people you want eyeing you.  They are creepy and disturbing and only ever bring harm.  Through the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont lies the 63 year-old Portland-Montreal Pipeline (PMPL).  The pipeline was originally a rushed job to get oil away from the coast during WWII and has been bringing conventional crude oil from Portland, Maine to Montreal ever since.  The pipeline is owned 76% by Exxon-Mobil and 24% by Suncor.  Suncor is the largest operator in Alberta’s tar sands and their largest refinery is in Montreal.  Through a series of pipelines including Enbridge’s Line 9, tar sands from Alberta can make its way to the PMPL.  In Canada Enbridge has already won approval to reverse part of Line 9 and has announced plans for reversing the rest of it.  With the Northern Gateway project as good as dead thanks to Indigenous organizing, and Keystone XL stalled, the Portland-Montreal Pipeline is one of the only ways the tar sands could get to the eastern coast.


A case study.  Exxon-Mobil owns the Pegasus pipeline that was built in 1947, three years before the Portland-Montreal Pipeline was put in.  In 2006 Exxon converted and reversed the Pegasus pipeline to transport tar sands.  It ruptured in Mayflower, Arkansas this past March spilling about 5,000 barrels of toxic tar sands.  The PMPL, a pipeline of similar age and ownership, has 79 river crossings in the 35 miles of pipeline in New Hampshire alone.  In Vermont the pipeline crosses 15 different bodies of water including the Connecticut River.


Tar sands companies will tell you that diluted bitumen, what they plan to pump through the pipelines, is no different than conventional oil.  Surprise!  They’re lying.  Take the Kalamazoo River tar sands spill in 2010 when the Enbridge 6B pipeline ruptured sending over a million gallons into the ecosystem.  During the cleanup, which is still incomplete, Mark Durno, the EPA deputy incident commander, told Michigan Public Radio « I truly believe the characteristics of this material is the reason we still have such a heavy operation out here, » Mark Durno, the EPA deputy incident commander, told Michigan Public Radio. « Because it was a very heavy crude, we ended up with a lot more submerged oil than we anticipated having to deal with…If you’d shovel down into the islands you’d see oil pool into the holes we’d dig. »  Diluted bitumen is diluted with toxic chemicals such as benzene, a carcinogen.  When the diluted bitumen spills from the pipe the chemicals evaporate, a danger to residents and first responders, (and?) then the tar sands sinks to the bottom of the river.


Do not forget that the tar sands is a new industry and that diluted bitumen is a new product, not at all what the PMPL was designed for back in 1950.  A year after the cleanup began the EPA’s Susan Hedman told reporters, « Capturing and cleaning up this heavy oil is a unique challenge.  No one at the EPA can remember dealing with this much submerged oil in a river. »  Now think of the 79 opportunities for the PMPL to burst into the pristine water of northern New Hampshire.  Or the Connecticut River which runs the entire length between Vermont and New Hampshire.  Not to mention Sebago Lake in Maine, which supplies 20% of Maine’s citizens with drinking water.  We will have very serious problems if tar sands gets into the water and land.


What has been done about it?  350Vermont organized the Second Annual Tar Sands Free Kingdom Walk.  We have been organizing in the affected communities and are proud to say that after this summer the issue is well known and citizens are allied against the tar sands pipeline in Vermont.  My wonderful friend Chloe Maxmin helped organize 350Maine’s summer heat event, bringing awareness to the pipeline issue in Sebago Lake.

I would like to personally ask you to stay vigilant about the threat of a tar sands pipeline through the northeast and be ready to make phone calls, write letters, participate in and support blockades, do whatever it takes with us to stop this project when the time comes.  For people in New England, let’s organize in our states to show complete opposition while working with the rest of North America to shut down the tar sands quickly.