In order for the Albertan Oil Sands to fulfill a plan to expand to five times their current size, increased capacity for exporting Tar Sands oil must be secured. The primary way export capacity is to be increased is through the construction of pipelines. Pipelines, however, are (comparatively) easy to stop through community mobilizations because they harm communities immediately through leaks and produce few jobs, in addition to their role in the overall climate crisis.
The most important pipeline for Tar Sands expansion and its role in the perpetuation of an oil based economy is the Trailbreaker. This pipeline, which is actually a project to convert sections of existing pipeline and build additional pumping stations to allow for transportation of the oil sands product, will run from Alberta to Chicago, back into Canada through the Great Lakes region, over the island of Montreal, and finally down into Maine terminating at the port of Portland. From Portland, Maine, the product will be loaded onto ships bound for the Gulf of Mexico, specifically the coast of Texas. The reason for this is to exploit the excess capacity of refineries built near US offshore oil in the Gulf of Mexico – capacity which is no longer in use due to decreased production from rigs in the Gulf.
The Trailbreaker project is currently shelved, however, due to the world economic downturn and difficulties with the construction of a pumping station in Dunham, Quebec. In 2009, Dunham elected a mayor who ran on a campaign opposing the pipeline. It is surprisingly easy for communities to band together and oppose the construction of oil pipelines – all pipelines leak (the question is when and how often), and when they leak they cause local environmental catastrophes. Unlike home grown opposition to windfarms, this is a NIMBY-ism which conforms with the interests of the species. Folks from Vancouver might remember the 2007 spill in Burnaby, B.C. – that was from a pipeline shipping 350 barrels per day. Burnaby, B.C. is therefore a good region in which to mobilize support against the proposed Northern Gateway Expansion which would increase that flow to 700,000 barrels per day.