(MintPress) – The Burlington City Council voted resoundingly in favor of a resolution opposing expansion of the Alberta tar sands pipeline in Vermont calling the international project an unacceptable risk to “public health and safety, property values and our natural resources.” Tar sands drilling has expanded virtually unabated as major oil corporations eye major profits by using […]
(MintPress) – The Burlington City Council voted resoundingly in favor of a resolution opposing expansion of the Alberta tar sands pipeline in Vermont calling the international project an unacceptable risk to “public health and safety, property values and our natural resources.” Tar sands drilling has expanded virtually unabated as major oil corporations eye major profits by using hydraulic fracturing and conventional drilling methods to tap into vast North American oil and gas reserves.
After breaking 17,000 temperature records across North America this summer, the prospect of mass oil and gas drilling in Canada could become “game over” in the battle to curb carbon emissions and runaway global warming. The grassroots resistance to oil and gas drilling is growing on college campuses and in town hall meetings. However, the effort could be too little too late.
Parallel tar sands battles
Monday’s unprecedented resolution was forwarded to the governor of Vermont, the Vermont congressional delegation, the Canadian Prime Minister and the CEOs of companies associated with the pipeline — including Portland Pipe Line Corporation, Montreal Pipe Line Limited, Imperial Oil Limited, Exxon Mobil Corporation, Enbridge, Inc., BP and Royal Dutch Shell.
Exxon Mobil owns a 70 percent share of the project and stands to make hundreds of millions of dollars should the pipeline move forward.
The Burlington City Council called upon all other cities and towns in Vermont to pass similar resolutions condemning the international pipeline that, if completed, will stretch from Montreal, Canada to Portland, Maine.
A tweet posted by the international environmental organization 350.org on Monday night read, “BREAKING: Burlington is first city in New England to oppose the #tarsands. Next up, all of Vermont!”
The move is important, but not unprecedented given the Green Mountain state’s history as a strong force in the burgeoning environmental movement. Despite not having oil and gas reserves, Vermont banned hydraulic fracturing statewide in May, becoming the only state to enact a ban against the controversial method of gas drilling.
“This is a wonderful achievement, but more a symbolic victory,” said Daniel Kessler, spokesperson for 350.org, told MintPress News.
“We will need a whole line up of communities along the Northeast standing up and taking similar actions in order to have an impact,” Kessler added. “Going city by city seems to be the strategy right now. We have seen this strategy in other environmental battles. Action on the local and city level can create change.”
In Texas, the end point of the much larger Keystone XL pipeline, a similar clash between multinational corporations and activists has delayed construction on a proposed 1,179 mile pipeline stretching from Alberta, Canada to the state of Texas.
Proponents of the project tout job creation and energy security for North America. However, opponents from the environmentalist community have warned that tapping into one of the largest oil and gas reserves remaining in the world could be “game over” in the uphill battle to reverse the devastating effects of climate change.
The Keystone XL blockade, a small group of activists, has maintained an occupation near construction sites, successfully preventing construction on the southern leg of the pipeline for more than three months. However, activists decided to descend from their tree encampments this week after oil companies decided to reroute the pipeline around the encampment.
The battle continues in the courtroom, as Marine vet and retired chemist Michael Bishop of Douglas, Texas filed a lawsuit earlier this month claiming that oil companies defrauded him when offering compensation to extend part of the proposed pipeline through his land.
The legal action is unlikely to stop construction of the project, but could delay the project further going into 2013. Without broad legislative protection, the diffuse grassroots resistance by environmentalists and property owners may be thwarted, allowing for the construction of two major tar sands pipelines.
Potentially game over for climate change
“People don’t understand what the consequences would be. If we tapped into tar sand, this would be game over,” said Kessler.
Although the grassroots resistance to both pipelines has presented an incontrovertible set of data showing the potentially devastating effects of tapping into Canada’s vast oil and gas reserves, alleged to be larger than fields in Saudi Arabia, few in Washington are considering the environmental consequences of the projects.
In many cases, officials hold a stake in oil companies standing to profit from massive oil and gas profits. Ambassador Susan Rice, a former candidate for secretary of state, reportedly holds between $300,000 and $600,000 in TransCanada, the largest company investing in the Keystone XL project.
Washington subsidizes oil companies destruction of the environment to the tune of $10 billion a year in tax breaks, promoting fossil fuel use instead of a transition to more environmentally sustainable sources of energy.
Beyond job creation, corporate profits and “energy security,” climate scientists paint a much more dangerous picture of unchecked oil and gas drilling. “Our perspective comes from a climate lens. For the last 100 years the temperature has risen 1 degree Celsius,” notes Kessler.
This may not sound like a lot, but a degree increase has already had devastating consequences for millions across the U.S.
“We broke 17,000 temperature records across the U.S. this year, we flooded the greatest city in the world, half the country is in drought. This is all from a rise of 1 degree,” adds Kessler.
Virtually every climate scientist says that a 2 degree C increase in global temperature is the absolute tolerable limit before parts of the U.S. become unlivable. This could affect major coastal metropolitan areas — such as New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. among others — situated along the Atlantic Coast at or below sea level.
However, the prevailing argument remains one that centers on economic growth based upon a limited resource that could cause irreparable harm to the earth.
“There is as much oil in Canada as there is in Saudi Arabia, I fear what will happen if we tap into those reserves,” said Kessler.