Michigan Student Sustainability Coalition

Unifying the voice of a generation in environmental solidarity

MSSC Signs on to Rulemaking Petition for Tar Sands

on April 1, 2013

It seems like more and more we’ve been getting distinct, and terrifying, signs that the production and export of diluted bitumen (tar sands, dilbit) is NOT a good idea, but also comes at the expense of human and ecological health. Lets take a look back at tarsands in the news the past few weeks…

– Earlier in March piles of petcoke were found growing rapidly along the banks of the Detroit river. Petcoke is a byproduct of processing very dense crude oil, or tar sands, which the Detroit refinery does on a daily basis. Although the health/environmental affects of this substance are debated, they can undoubtedly leach heavy metals and/or sulphur into the Detroit River if it rains, which never happens in the spring….

– On March 28th a train carrying Canadian oil spilled 15,000-30,000 gallons of crude oil in Western Minnesota

– On March 29th a tar sands pipeline in Arkansas ruptured, spilling at least 80,000 gallons of diluted bitumen, which proceeded to make a river/flood of tar sands and water that caused 22 homes to be evacuated. Not only is this tar sands oil incredibly difficult to clean up, it also needs to be treated with Benzene (a known carcinogen) to make it flow through the pipeline)

– MEANWHILE, the EPA has ordered Enbridge to do additional dredging in the Kalamazoo River, where they’ve already recovered over one million gallons of the tar sands oil they spilled in to the river in 2010. Yes, even though they’ve already cleaned up one million gallons of this, TAR SANDS OIL IS STILL SUBMERGED IN THE RIVER AND WILL REMAIN THERE BECAUSE IT SINKS AND GETS EMBEDDED IN THE SEDIMENT AND IS INCREDIBLY DIFFICULT TO CLEAN UP. (But don’t worry, according to an industry study, this oil floats, it doesn’t sink, so can be dealt with like regular oil)

The good news at the end of this rage fueled rant?

The Michigan Student Sustainability Coalition recently signed on to an effort to get our government to do something about it! In Michigan Enbridge has already showed us that it is extremely unprepared to deal with a tar sands spill, but they still don’t have to follow any regulations or processes that acknowledge the unique properties of this oil, nor does any company. In order to address this large oversight that inevitably will cause major environmental destruction and threats to human health, the National Wildlife Federation is leading an effort to regulate this substance and halt any construction on pipelines  until further research has been done on tar sands that can inform better and more appropriate safety regulations and emergency response plans.

The MSSC has signed on to this rulemaking petition in partnership with 29 national, state and local organizations as well as 36 landowners from states across the country impacted by existing and proposed tar sands pipelines. We have filed our petition with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the  Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to ask for stronger safety standards for tar sands pipelines.

You can read the full petition, and get more context for it, at NWF’s post here. However, if these are accepted, the next step will be lots of public comment in support of the petition! Stay tuned for next steps on how you can do that.

Overall, the outcome of this position does not attack the root cause of this problem– the Canadian government allowing corporations to produce this oil at the expense of ecosystem health and First Nation lands and health. However, this is a politically feasible solution to some of the disastrous effects that tar sands can induce when spilled into the environment. If we can prevent any person from having to see their land, drinking water sources, livelihoods, favorite natural areas, etc be destroyed by this substance that will be a good first step.

And don’t think that we’re not going to keep fighting for tar sands to stop being produced and transported completely. What has happened in Michigan, and in many other places across the country, is 100% unacceptable.  I can say that we’ve got some exciting plans in the works to help unite many voices in MI who are ready to take more serious action around our pipeline issues and make sure that the nation recognizes the threats that Enbridge, and all those who seek to profit from tar sands oil, pose to ourselves and our planet.


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