March 17, 2013

Keystone fears resonate along New England pipeline

By WILSON RING, Associated Press

SUTTON, Vt. — The Canadian energy industry insists it has no plans to reverse the flow of a pipeline that carries crude oil from Maine to Montreal, but that has done little to reassure New England towns that oppose the idea and the 18 members of Congress asking for a full environmental review.

click image to enlarge

In this March 11 photo, a sign indicates a section of a buried crude oil pipeline in Burke, Vt. Canadian energy officials insist they have no plans to reverse the flow of the pipeline that now carries crude oil from Maine to Montreal, but that has done little to reassure New England towns that are against the idea and the 18 members of Congress asking for a full environmental review.

AP photo

Environmentalists in the U.S. and Canada started raising the alarm about oil they call "tar sands" or "oil sands" being moved through northern New England several months ago.

"It's a climate-destructive fuel, and Vermont is committed to clean energy," said Jim Murphy, of the National Wildlife Federation. "We don't want to be the pass-through for climate-destructive fuel."

The Portland Montreal Pipe Line carries foreign crude oil from tankers docked in Portland, Maine, inland to eastern Canada, which imports most of its oil and has refineries there. But as the Canadian energy industry tries to figure out how to profit from new technology allowing them to exploit vast oil reserves in Alberta, it's already looking at ways to ship it east — and, opponents fear, abroad through the Portland conduit.

Opponents claim moving the Alberta oil through the aging Portland-Montreal pipeline would a threat because it is thicker and more corrosive than the regular crude it now carries, making it more likely to spill and cause an environmental disaster. The oil in question is the same kind that would flow through a controversial extension of the major Keystone pipeline in the central and western U.S.

"If they find any way at all to get oil sands oil to the eastern Canadian refineries, then I think somebody will argue, 'Let's reverse the Portland-Montreal pipeline because we don't need (that) crude anymore," said David Runnalls, an energy expert with the Centre for International Governance Innovation, a Canadian think tank. "This is all basically just being talked about. How much of this is serious, in the sense that anyone has invested 25 cents in it, is dubious."

The CEO of the Maine company that owns the pipeline would welcome the opportunity to find new business uses for the 24-inch, 72-year-old pipeline, which runs through towns in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. He has made that pitch in media interviews in the United States and Canada, as well as last month to the Vermont Legislature, but hasn't specifically proposed reversing the flow.

"We just do not have a project at this time," said CEO Larry Wilson. "We'd consider any number of opportunities, we continue to do so and I want people to comprehend one of the opportunities that we have considered and we'd be happy to consider going forward, is reversal from Montreal into South Portland."

Raising suspicions of the plans — or lack thereof — is that Calgary-based Enbridge Pipelines Inc. is seeking regulatory working to reverse the flow of another pipeline from Ontario and Montreal, known as Line 9, to carry oil from western Canada to Quebec refineries.

Still, the company flatly denies having any designs on the Portland-Montreal line.

"We have no involvement with that company or that line, so it's not really for me to speak on their behalf or to speculate in any way to what their plans are," said Graham White, a spokesman for Enbridge. "The fact that we are reversing Line 9 to the Quebec refineries has no connection whatsoever to the PMPL line or moving any kind of product toward the U.S. coast or Portland."

The kerfuffle in New England is a less visible component over a larger discussion about how to ship western Canadian crude. The issue is also at play in the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would run through several Central and Western states and take the oil to U.S. refineries along the Gulf of Mexico.

(Continued on page 2)

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