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Enbridge makes low-profile bid to expand tar sands processing in the Gulf

Image has not been found. URL: http://images.americanindependent.com/2010/08/MahurinEnviro_Thumb5.jpgEnbridge, the Canadian oil pipeline company responsible for the largest oil spill in Midwest history, has announced plans to expand its U.S. pipeline network to move more oil across the country to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

Canada is the biggest supplier of oil to the U.S. Enbridge has the largest chunk of business moving that Canadian oil to the U.S., where most of it is refined in the Midwest.

During a conference call this month, Enbridge CEO Pat Daniels said that the company plans to fashion existing and new pipelines into the “Monarch” line. The northern tier of the project would move tar sands crude and oil from the Bakken fields in North Dakota between the Chicago area and the oil storage hub in Cushing, Okla. The southern portion of the project involves a new line to move oil from Cushing to refineries around Houston.

The project is expected to relieve a glut of oil in Cushing and raise the value of North American oil by reducing the time it takes to get it to market.

Unlike the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project proposed by competitor TransCanada, the Enbridge project will not involve a new border crossing, so it does not require review by the State Department and could be completed by the end of 2013, company officials say.

The production of Canadian tar sands oil is energy intensive because this crude must be streamed or distilled from asphalt-like deposits in Northern Alberta. The resulting crude is as thick as peanut butter and must be heavily diluted with lightweight chemicals before it can be moved through pipelines. Watchdog groups warn recent spills from pipelines that carry tar sands crude in the Midwest reflect the special risks for transporting the more acidic and corrosive crude. This summer, the director of the U.S. Dept. of Transportation’s Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration acknowledged that U.S. pipeline regulations were not created with tar sands in mind.

Enbridge is expected to face fines and criminal charges for the rupture that leaked more than 800,000 gallons of tar sands crude into the Kalamazoo River system last summer. Oil from that spill still covers sections of the river bottom, and local residents claim that exposure to chemicals from the oil has damaged their health.

Critics of the TransCanada plan to move tar sands oil to Gulf Coast refineries have pointed to the Enbridge spill as evidence that such pipelines could compromise critical water resources and public safety.

By emphasizing that the northern tier of its Monarch project could carry U.S. oil, Enbridge may be able to refocus pipeline discussions on the purported security benefits of Canadian oil.

“Despite the US’ shrinking thirst for oil, Canadian producers are hoping to expand market share by displacing imports from Venezuela, Mexico and even Saudi Arabia under the guise of strengthening US energy security,” Shaun Polczer writes for industry magazine, Petroleum Economist. “… Monarch, although it’s only a third the size of Keystone, would represent an incremental step forward, albeit a small one. By including the US Bakken producers Enbridge is using some of the nationalist jingoism that has hobbled Keystone XL to its favour, while keeping a typically Canadian low profile.”

People who live in the already heavily polluted neighborhoods near the Houston-area refineries where the oil would be processed have concerns about the proposed Enbridge expansion.

Juan Parras is an environmental advocate for the Manchester community, which is surrounded by refineries and other industry and is a known hot spot for carcinogens.

Parras said that his group, Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, has been unable to get local, state or federal officials to enforce clean air rules in the community despite research indicating high rates of asthma, cancers, leukemia and brain tumors.

The health risk of environmental pollution is especially severe here, he said. “This community is within Congressional District 29, which has the highest rates of uninsured families in the nation.

“We do not need more toxins being released into our air or community, which is what will happen if the tar sands oil and other similar dirty oil comes to Houston to be refined.”

National Wildlife Federation spokesman Tony Iallonardo said that it would be a bad idea for the U.S. to allow expansion of tar sands pipelines.

“Enbridge’s moves make clear that oil giants in Alberta want access to export markets,” he said. “Approving extensions of TransCanada and Enbridge’s networks are almost certain to raise oil prices in the U.S. as supply bleeds overseas. There is no benefit to consumers or the economy in approving these pipeline extensions. They are not in our security interest, not environmentally safe, and not smart for Americans.”

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