A new NRDC report finds Massachusetts poised to import dirty tar sands gas

A flood of dirty fuel into the Bay State would undercut its efforts to reduce carbon pollution
“This report is an urgent wake-up call, one that we must heed in order avoid wiping out recent gains in reducing transportation sector carbon pollution.” - Sue Reid

Dirty tar sands fuel is headed for Massachusetts

By Sue Reid, Conservation Law Foundation

Massachusetts motorists will soon be filling their tanks with gas increasingly derived from dirty Canadian tar sands oil, says a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council.

A flood of dirty fuel into Massachusetts would also undercut its efforts to reduce carbon pollution. The NRDC report found that under current plans, tar sands-derived gasoline supplies in 11 Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states (including Massachusetts) would soar from less than one percent in 2012 to 11.5 percent of the total by 2020, due to increased imports from Canadian refineries, fresh supplies of refined tar sands fuels from Gulf Coast refineries, and quantities from East Coast refineries that would obtain tar sands crude via rail and barge.

An influx of carbon-intensive fuels into Massachusetts and the rest of the region, which in 2012 were virtually tar sands free, will hurt the efforts to combat climate change, which has already caused billions of dollars in damage, according to the report, “What’s in Your Tank? Northeast and Mid-Atlantic States Need to Reject Tar Sands and Support Clean Fuels.”

“This report is an urgent wake-up call, one that Massachusetts must heed in order avoid wiping out recent gains in reducing transportation sector carbon pollution,” noted Sue Reid, Massachusetts Director of the Conservation Law Foundation, which co-sponsored the report. “Tar sands-derived gas poses a direct threat to the Commonwealth’s transportation energy mix and our clean energy future.”

Massachusetts has a state action plan and legal requirements under the state’s Global Warming Solutions Act to cut dangerous carbon pollution, which is the major driver of climate change. By adopting federal “clean cars” standards and investing in public transportation, Massachusetts has begun reducing carbon pollution in the transportation sector. But these important carbon savings would be squandered by using gasoline from tar sands, which emits 17 percent more carbon pollution than conventional gasoline measured on a life-cycle basis.

Dirty gasoline supplies in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic are set to rise significantly, unless states take steps to keep out high-carbon fuel,” said Danielle Droitsch, NRDC Canada Project Director. “By 2015 the volume of tar sands-derived fuel in the Northeast could grow sixfold, compared to 2012. This shows how important it is to move as quickly as possible to clean energy of all types.”

The new Gulf Coast Pipeline, which will bring tar sands crude from Cushing, Oklahoma, to refineries on the Gulf Coast, makes it even more urgent for communities and policy-makers to take action to keep tar sands out of the region, she said.

If the controversial Keystone XL pipeline for tar sands oil from Canada to the United States is approved by President Obama, the region’s share of gasoline from tar-sands crude could rise even further, according to the report.

The report said that state leaders, with the support of citizens and local communities, need to take steps to clean up transportation.

"Bay Staters deserve to know what's in their fuel tanks. The first step is to track where the fuel is coming from and how damaging it is to our health and the climate,” said Craig Altemose, Executive Director of Better Future Project. “The second step is to make sure we as a state are discouraging the dirtiest fuels like tar sands from entering our marketplace to begin with."

The extraction and refining of oil from Alberta’s vast tar sands region, an area the size of Florida, is an energy-intensive process that destroys carbon-trapping forest lands and emits 81 percent more carbon pollution than conventional oil extraction and refining. NRDC and others oppose Keystone XL, which would carry Alberta’s tar sands oil through the heartland of America to Gulf Coast refineries, in part because it would enable a vast expansion in tar sands production.

As NRDC has explained, Keystone XL is primarily an oil export pipeline, but some portion of its refined products would flow to the East Coast.

If dirty tar sands gasoline becomes a major share of supplies in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, that would add millions more tons of carbon pollution to the atmosphere each year—just as the region is aiming to cut such pollution under the landmark Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a nine-state pact, including Massachusetts, to combat climate change by reducing carbon pollution from power plants, according to the report.

Hurricanes Sandy and Irene—the type of extreme weather that will become more frequent with climate change—have already wreaked billions of dollars of damage in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states.

The report also underscores the importance of promoting a wide variety of low-carbon and no-carbon transportation alternatives, from cleaner fuels to buses and rail, bike lanes and pedestrian-friendly planning.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 1.4 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org, and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.

Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) protects New England’s environment for the benefit of all people. Using the law, science and the market, CLF creates solutions that conserve our natural resources, build healthy communities, and sustain a vibrant economy region-wide. Founded in 1966, CLF is a nonprofit, member-supported organization with offices in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont. See a list of all the recent CLF stories here.

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