Sixteen University of Massachusetts students marched from the Haigis Mall to Amherst Commons yesterday in protest of Exxon Mobile, Suncor Energy and Enbridge’s plan to pump oil sand from Canada through New England to Portland, Maine.
The protesters congregated in front of the Fine Arts Center at 2:30 p.m. with signs and fliers, and marched for thirty minutes in an effort to raise awareness about the plans to begin pumping the tar sand into the United States, which they believe oil companies are trying to keep quiet due to previous public backlash against similar efforts by oil companies across North America. Students wore black and walked in a line to create the image of a human pipeline.
Oil sands are deposits of very thick oil that look similar to tar mixed with sand and clay. Greenhouse gas emissions from oil sands are 12 percent higher than from regular crude oil.
A pipeline already runs from Portland to Alberta, Canada. However, the pipeline currently pumps oil from Maine into Canada. In 2008, Enbridge received a permit to reverse the flow of oil from Sarnia, Ontario towards Montreal as part of their larger plan to reverse the flow of the entire pipeline and pump oil sand to Portland, gaining them access to a major U.S. port. In 2009, they halted their plan for economic reasons. An increase in the price of oil, however, has made oil sand a more lucrative option for companies. In May 2012, Enbridge made the decision to move forward with the reversal of the pipeline between western Canada and Montreal, which is widely seen as an indication that they plan to reverse the entire pipeline. The plan has been nicknamed “Trailbreaker” by Enbridge.
The protest was organized through word of mouth, as well as through a Facebook event created by Sarai Zelada, a senior environmental conservation major. Zelada works with 350.org.
Zelada said that she opposed Trailbreaker and wanted to raise awareness about it because, “we need to invest our resources into renewable energy, and these pipelines are from World War II and were not built for oil sands.”
“The pipeline runs right by the Connecticut River, so it can affect our area,” she added.
Ariel Walcutt, a senior earth systems major, attended the protest because of her concerns that the pipeline could cause damage to the area if it leaked.
“Getting to this oil is already energy intensive, and when it leaks, it will be very harmful to the environment. It can make water toxic and has carcinogens. It is really dangerous for animals and humans,” she said.
In addition to the threat of a leak, if the proposal is approved, then a refinery will be built in Maine for the oil, which could have additional effects on the environment and people of New England, according to Walcutt.
The protesters’ slogan was, “all pipelines leak, all markets peak,” referencing the change in the oil market that has spurred the Trailbreaker project. They carried signs that read “spill=kill” and “human health over corporate wealth” and handed out fliers to people warning them that “tar sands are one of the dirtiest fossil fuels on earth.”
There is a larger protest of the pipeline in Portland this Saturday which some UMass students hope to attend, as well as other protests across the east coast on Sunday in an effort to raise public awareness on the issue.
Walcutt described Wednesday’s protest as, “an effort to try to get momentum from other students,” hoping that as word of the pipeline spreads, more people will take action.
After the march concluded, Zelada described the march as a success and said, “We got the word out to people today. It was cold but it was worth it.”
Brian Bevilacqua can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.