by Kevin Joseph Ryan
One election barely ends as the next one begins, it seems. Even as the lights of Christmas, Hanukkah and other holiday observances are with us, within a short time, Vermont Town Meeting Day will be upon us, on March 5, 2013. Even now, activists are preparing to bring their pet agenda to that Town Meeting, and in Burlington, in this case, opposition to so-called “tar sands oil”.
To that end, the Burlington City Council was asked last Monday night, December 17, to vote on two resolutions with interesting implications. The first was a council resolution which calls upon the city itself to take a position against not only “tar sands”, or oil extracted through hydraulic fracturing, commonly known “fracking”; but also stating an intent to stop using all fossil fuels as quickly as possible.
This included an resolve to “…shift city operations and consumption away from fossil fuel transportation…” and to “…direct the City’s purchases as much as possible toward vendors whose refinery resources do not use any material derived from tar sands…” This resolution passed with a vote of 10-4, with Republicans Paul Decelles and Vince Dober, and Democrats David Hartnett and Norman Blais voting no. All other Council Democrats, Progressive and Independents voted yes.
It is not uncommon in media today to see reports that the process of fracking is dangerous, and that the process requires the oil be transported with other “dangerous, cancer causing chemicals.” Shelly Kath, a lobbyist for the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council, testified to the Burlington City Council. “”Most importantly, I think it is so heavy…it is essentially a solid. Oil as we all know floats. The is dug out of the ground and it doesn’t float…and it is very heavy…and to get it through the pipeline, you have to mix it with very hazardous natural gas liquids or other petroleum products that contain such hazards like benzene and zylene.”, Kath said. It must be asked as to whether Kath realizes that oil itself is a hazardous chemical, or that benzene is a natural component of gasoline. Or, if she is aware that common household anti-freeze, also a hazardous chemical, is often used. If so, the argument against tar sands rings somewhat hollow as these products, while hazardous, are common and part and parcel of all fossil fuels.
The Burlington resolutions were aimed by the anti-growth activists of the Sierra Club, NRDC and 350.org directly toward, according to their claim, to the prevention of a “tar sands pipeline” being established through the Vermont Northeast Kingdom by a company called Enbridge. While the pipeline infrastructure has existed since the 1950’s between Montreal and Maine, the accusation from 350.org is that pipeline direction will be reversed and used to carry tar sands from Alberta to Maine for export. According to Enbridge spokesman Graham White, “We have been saying for months and months, even years now, that this project is dead we are not pursuing it.”
It has been public knowledge that this is the case, which means the activists should be aware of it. In short, they appear to be bringing up a plan they know to be abandoned in order to pass restrictions on oil usage. Even Danielle Droitsch of NDRC has said, “Absolutely it would not be accurate to say that tar sands is coming to New England. However, this week, NDRC has also claimed this pipeline is the impetus for the resolution.
The second resolution, which is even more unusual, is a ballot item to be placed before the voters in March, in Burlington, in conjunction with 40 other efforts in towns across Vermont. This resolution calls for the state to stop using fracked oil products and the vendors who use them as well. So essentially, the City Council has already decided to ban fracked oil products, and plans to go to the voters three months from now to ask the voters if they agree. The mind boggles as to how this makes sense. From the comments from the Democrats on Burlington’s City Council, they do not appear to have a tremendous respect for the desires of the voters. Democrat Bryan Aubin of Burlington’s Ward 4 said, “”What we have currently as an energy policy is a balloon payment that comes from afar. People aren’t good at long term planning.” Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger was quoted as commenting, “I want our community to take action on this.”, which begs the question, why pass the issue now, then ask the public later?
Which brings us to our headline. In a nutshell, here’s the content of the resolution passed by the City Council: With foreign North Atlantic oil selling at roughly $115 dollars a barrel and “tar sands” oil selling at roughly $85 dollars a barrel, the Council has essentially issued the direction, “Buy foreign oil instead of American, and pay more for it.” An interview conducted by TNR with Vermont based R.L. Vallee Petroleum owner, Skip Vallee this week, revealed that tar sands fracked oil is a baseline fuel mix product which is blended with more oil of more standard extraction and shipped here from refineries in Laval, Halifax, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. There is no such thing as petroleum products which contain no fracked oil.
Therefore, by refusing to conduct business with vendors using fracked oil products, Burlington and any other Vermont cities considering such a move, should they implement such a policy, have voted to eliminate police cars, firetrucks and salt vehicles which run on gasoline and move to the more traditional fuel sources such as horseback and candlelight. Skip Vallee, when asked if Burlington would be successful in their quest to divest from fracked petroleum products, simply wished them, “Good luck.”