July 10 meeting offers views on possible tar sands oil pipeline route through here
The potential for tar sands oil from Canada to flow through pipelines that cross the Androscoggin and Crooked rivers in the Bethel area has prompted environmentalists to hold an informational meeting July 10 at the Bethel Inn.
Among them is local conservation biologist Ken Hotopp, who last year joined protesters in Washington, D.C., objecting to the proposed construction of the Keystone pipeline from Alberta, Canada, to the U.S. Gulf Coast. That pipeline would carry tar sands oil, which environmentalists describe as acidic, abrasive and carried under higher pressure than regular crude oil. These characteristics, they say, make it more likely to cause pipeline damage and spills.
Now Hotopp and others view activities by the Portland Pipeline Corp., its parent company, and the Canadian pipeline company Enbridge as precursors to bringing tar sands to the U.S. East Coast, by reversing the current direction of flow of the Portland pipeline. The line runs through this area as it carries oil to Montreal from Portland.
That concern led Hotopp and others to author a recent report for the Natural Resources Defense Council entitled, “”Going in Reverse: The Tar Sands Threat to Central Canada and New England.”
The report describes tar sands as “like high-pressure liquid sandpaper that can grind and burn its way through the pipe, increasing the chance that weakened pipelines will rupture.”
It notes that over a recent three-year period, Midwest American pipelines that carry tar sands oil spilled almost three times more crude oil per mile of pipeline than the U.S. average.
In 2010 an Enbridge line spill in Michigan fouled the Kalamazoo River and Talmadge Creek with 840,000 gallons of tar sands oil.
Two pipelines, one of them 62 years old, currently carry crude oil 236 miles between Portland Harbor and Montreal. The lines pass through Albany, West Bethel and Gilead.
In 2008 Enbridge announced a plan to move tar sands from Alberta to the Texas Gulf Coast by pumping it east to Portland through the PPL line and loading it onto supertankers, according to the NRDC report. But the project was put aside a year later, after the economic recession hit.
This past winter, a Quebec court denied the Portland line’s parent company, Montreal Pipe Line Ltd., a plan to build a pumping station on the Quebec-Vermont border. MPLL did not appeal the decision.
According to a March press release from MPLL, “the pumping station was originally conceived in 2008 to facilitate reversing the flow of an 18-inch pipeline to allow oil to be transported from Montreal to South Portland, Maine. MPLL will communicate with the [Administrative Tribunal of Quebec] to discuss the time frame to move forward when circumstances warrant.”
The company said there is no active project at this time, “due to economic and market conditions.” A similar statement appears on the Portland Pipeline Corp. website.
Still, recent proposals by Enbridge to reverse the oil flow of some of its own pipelines from east-west to west-east through Ontario (a move the company says will supply refineries in Montreal) have fueled speculation that the Maine line could again be brought into the picture.
The NRDC opposes reversing the PPL flow, favoring instead the development of clean energy sources.
But if tar sands pipeline plans do go forward, the report said, the Canadian and U.S. governments should thoroughly review applications and consider new safety regulations for tar sands pipelines.
Hotopp said Monday that solvents are added to the tar sands oil to help it move through the pipeline, but that because the solvent components are a “trade secret,” the public does not know what they are.
He said that as a result of the Kalamazoo spill, “there have been health impacts. People were sickened.”
He said that with other potential pipeline routes out of Alberta currently blocked, “they are looking to us to take the risk of environmental damage.”
The July 10 meeting starts at 7 p.m. in the Bethel Inn’s Gibson Room.
Portland Pipeline receives award
In April of this year, the Portland Pipeline Corp. received the American Petroleum Institute’s Distinguished Safety and Environmental Award in the small pipeline operator category. According to an API press release, the recognition is the organization’s “ highest safety and environmental performance award,” presented to companies “with a track record of stellar environmental performance.” API represents more than 500 oil and natural gas companies, according to the release.