Tar sands interests lobby tar sands plan behind closed doors while seeking to avoid public accountability

A new analysis released today by environmental groups finds that ExxonMobil is the majority owner of the pipeline that cuts across Vermont and New England—which is the subject of an emerging proposal to transport tar sands. ExxonMobil’s Canadian subsidiary Imperial Oil Limited owns 76 percent of the pipeline, while Canadian oil giant Suncor Energy owns the remaining 24 percent. These companies are among the biggest developers of Canadian tar sands. The report is being released in connection with an event in Portland, Maine, highlighting safety concerns that tar sands bring to New England. Tar sands is a carbon intensive, especially dirty source of oil that is mined in the sensitive and ecologically important boreal forest of Alberta. Its development has resulted in serious pollution in Alberta and threatens to sully an area the size of Florida.

In addition, the groups today also released information obtained through a Freedom of Access Act request, submitted by the National Wildlife Federation, showing that Maine Governor Paul LePage met with the Portland Pipe Line Corporation, the American Petroleum Institute, and the Canadian consulate in October 2011 to talk about tar sands oil development, though the company has been publicly denying that the project is moving forward.

“The pipeline company’s name—Portland Pipe Line Corporation—implies regional ownership,” said Johanna Miller, Energy Program Director for the Vermont Natural Resources Council. “But following the corporate chain reveals that an ExxonMobil subsidiary has a vast majority of the ownership. ExxonMobil is concerned about its profits, not about Vermont. We cannot trust them to put the interests of Vermont’s people, environment, or natural resource economy first.”

The research released today finds that the pipeline between Portland, Maine, and Montreal has two direct corporate owners: Montreal Pipe Line Limited (MPLL), which owns the stretch in Canada from the U.S. border to Montreal, and the Portland Pipe Line Corporation, which owns the U.S. section and is a wholly-owned subsidiary of MPLL. In turn, Montreal Pipe Line Limited’s ultimate parent is ExxonMobil: Exxon subsidiary Imperial Oil Limited holds a majority interest (76 percent) in the pipeline. A smaller portion (24 percent) is owned by the Canadian giant Suncor Energy. Imperial and Suncor are among the biggest developers of Alberta’s tar sands and stand to benefit greatly from this project to transport tar sands oil across the region for export.

“Exxon’s pipeline company has already been granted some of the permits it needs in New England that would allow them to move the same blend of toxic tar sands crude that Enbridge spilled into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River,” said Anthony Swift, a pipeline and tar sands expert with NRDC, “Tar sands spills are so difficult to clean that spill responders plan to leave over 30 miles of that river contaminated. While it may be too late to save the Kalamazoo River, it’s not too late to protect New England’s rivers and waterways from tar sands spills.”

For months ExxonMobil’s local subsidiary, the Portland Pipe Line Corporation, has sought to deflect rising concerns in Vermont and New England about tar sands transport by denying that there is an “active” proposal to reverse the existing pipeline to transport tar sands. However, the coalition of environmental groups looking into the matter has obtained information revealing that the company met at least once with Maine Governor LePage last year specifically to discuss Canadian tar sands development. That October, 2011, meeting took place just a few short months after Enbridge applied to a Canadian regulatory agency to reverse the Canadian portion of the project to carry tar sands further east.

“This pattern of misleading statements and trying to hide what is really going on is troubling,” said David Ellenbogen of the Sierra Club. “Clearly these pipeline companies are worried that if Vermonters and others really see the full picture of what is going on to bring tar sands through the region, they will face even greater public opposition. Exxon and Enbridge both have horrible track records with oil and tar sands, so it is understandable why they prefer to deal behind closed doors.”

“This pipeline presents a double whammy.  ExxonMobil’s apparent partner in this tar sands pipeline scheme is Enbridge, which has a disastrous safety record and is responsible for the devastating Kalamazoo River tar sands spill in 2010,” said Jim Murphy, Senior Counsel with the National Wildlife Federation. “Enbridge spilled a million gallons of tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River, the most expensive domestic pipeline spill in history that will mar the river for years, maybe decades. Independent review found that extreme negligence led to the spill. Vermont doesn’t need this type of disaster.”

ExxonMobil is infamous for the infamous Valdez oil spill that rocked the world in 1989, but as recently as July of 2011 the company’s Silvertip Pipeline spilled some 42,000 gallons of oil into the Yellowstone River in Montana. While the oil spilled happened to be conventional crude oil, the pipeline is also used to move corrosive tar sands diluted bitumen. It is also suspected that debris carried by high rivers and fast waters— like Vermont experienced during Irene—may have led to the Yellowstone rupture. ExxonMobil has also funded climate deniers, and even though earlier this year its CEO acknowledged climate change, he mocked concern over it, implying that it’s really not a problem and—if need be—we can just adapt to it. “This thinking only shows how out of touch big oil is with Vermont’s economy. These changes spell the end of maple sugaring, winter sports, and fall foliage in Vermont,” said David Stember of 350.org.

“Rather than putting our state and our world at risk,” said Ben Walsh, Clean Energy Advocate with VPIRG. “Vermont should say no to this project and continue our move toward clean, sustainable sources of energy.”

A link to the new report can be found here.

Portland Pipe Line Corp. Board of Directors

Facts about ExxonMobil

Tar sands FOAA document

Contacts:  Jim Murphy, 802-552-4325        David Stember, 802-310-4880