Montreal’s fossil foolery

Campaigners plan an East End bike excursion
to protest local refining of Albertan tar sands


tailings pond in Fort McMurray (by Robin Jones)

Quebecers may be about to lose bragging rights when it comes to having Kyoto-friendly energy. If it goes ahead, the Enbridge Trailbreaker Pipeline could make Montreal an accomplice to the environmental catastrophe that is the Athabasca tar sands.

“It’s part of a general expansion of the Alberta tar sands,” says Cam Fenton of Climate Justice Montreal. “They’re sending pipelines coast-to-coast across Canada and down into the United States because they don’t have the refining capacity there.”

Piggybacking on existing crude oil pipelines, the plan would send bitumen extracted in Fort McMurray to Edmonton, into Chicago, back to Sarnia and then into Montreal. Refineries in the east end of the city would be refining 40,000 of the estimated 200,000 barrels produced per day, says Fenton. To do that, the refinery would have to invest in a coker: a machine used to transform bitumen into crude, a process that requires massive amounts of water. In Alberta, waste water has created lakes of chemical-infused tailings ponds, something Montreal would have to deal with on a smaller scale. “You’d either have to store it on the island of Montreal or pipe it underneath the St-Lawrence,” Fenton speculates.

The refined oil would be sent on to Portland, Maine then put on tankers and shipped to the gulf coast of Texas where refineries now have extra capacity as offshore drilling sources dry up. The project is teeming with irony: to get the oil out of sand, cleaner forms of energy such as natural gas are channelled into Fort Mac. Then the dirtier, more profitable energy can be shipped out, only to make its may to one of the most oil-rich states on the continent.

Enbridge was applauded by environmentalists last year when it shelved plans for the Trailbreaker after funds evaporated at the peak of the recession. But many are skeptical that the project has really been suspended. “What they’ve done is compartmentalized the project, which is what a lot of companies will do when they’re facing resistance,” says Fenton.

Since the project will make use of an existing pipeline, the company only needs to secure approval for the individual pumping stations and changing stations it needs to add to the network. “In the community of Dunham they’re already building a pumping station in order to pump this over top of a mountain to get it to Montreal. In Texas, the plants are getting ready. Everything is being done, but instead of publicly calling it the Trailbreaker pipeline, they’re doing it in a more secretive way,” he says.

If the project is approved, Fenton thinks it could be up and running within a year. And with the negative exposure tar sands have been getting since Copenhagen, the industry is under pressure to get as much out of it as they can before it’s too late.

“They know it’s one of the most unsustainable projects on the planet, that oil is fading out, that people want to see an alternative to it. They want to get in, get everything out of the ground and turn this into money as quickly as possible.”

This April 1, Fenton will be celebrating Fossil Fools Day by taking a motley gang of bicycle-wielding activists on a scenic ride out to Petro-Canada’s east-end refinery to protest the project.

“Petro-Canada is one of the major companies involved in the tar sands. The first step to stopping the tar sands in Alberta is stopping it from expanding here.”

To find out about Climate Justice Montreal’s ongoing tar sands campaign visit

Montreal Mirror 1 April 2010 (this is the unedited text)


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