Could this Maine pipeline become the next Keystone XL?

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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Environmentalists and lawmakers are gearing up to battle another potential pipeline proposal that would bring Canadian oil sands into the United States.

There are concerns that the Portland Pipe Line Corp. (PPLC) will reverse the flow of its pipeline so it will bring Canadian oil sands into the U.S. through North County, Maine.

Last Friday, all of Maine’s federal lawmakers wrote to the State Department asking them to require PPLC to get a presidential permit, which would require the the Obama administration to conduct an environmental review of a flow reversal in the pipeline — and allow environmentalists to stall the project.

“This is going to be the case with everything dealing with oil from now on,” Dan Kish, senior vice president of policy at the fee-market Institute for Energy Research, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.  “This pipeline started up in 1941, since then it’s moved 4 billion barrels of oil northward into Canada. Now it becomes an issue when they think of moving oil southward when it was previously importing oil from who knows where.”

“This is making a mountain out of molehill,” Kish added. “We’re watching a huge national and international campaign unroll before our very eyes.”

The New Hampshire Union Leader reports that “U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte and Reps. Carol Shea-Porter and Ann McLane Kuster” wrote that reversing the pipeline’s flow “would be a substantial shift from the pipeline’s current use.”

“Such changes also pose risks to our constituents’ health, the environment and wildlife, which is why we believe the proposal should warrant a comprehensive review as required by the presidential permit process,” the Republican and Democratic lawmakers added.

The lawmakers’ letter also noted that “the Secretary of State has the authority to issue presidential permits for the construction, connection, operation, or maintenance of certain facilities, including pipelines, at the borders of the United States.”

Early last month, Canadian regulators approved a flow reversal of for PPLC’s parent company Enbridge to bring oil sands from Alberta to Montreal. While Canada’s flow reversal approval, was only for portions of the pipeline within Canada, Maine lawmakers noted the flow reversal was approved “with the expectation that the material would be ultimately transported to Maine”, notes the Union Leader.

But Enbridge and PPLC have both contended that oil sands will go no farther than Montreal, despite the fact that the Enbridge pipeline is connected to PPLC’s pipeline into Maine.

“And this has not changed, we have no plans, no proposals to move that crude by pipe further east than Montreal and that is what this plan is designed to do and that is what the NEB is making their decision on this afternoon,” said an Enbridge spokesman.

Environmentalists, however, remain unconvinced. They argue that oil sands, which they call tar sands to make it sound dirty, contributes to global warming.

“We’re disappointed that [Canadian regulators] did not do the right thing on this but we’re very confident that Vermonters and New Englanders are going to do everything they can to keep tar sands out of the region and I think ultimately that there isn’t going to be a tar sands pipeline in Vermont or New England,” Jim Murphy, senior counsel for the National Wildlife Federation, told VPR News.

Activists have already thrown up a Facebook page called “Occupy The Portland Montreal Pipe Line Route” which only has 137 likes, but this could increase as plans to reverse the pipeline’s flow become official.

Activists have been protesting the Keystone XL pipeline for years based on the argument that it will harm the planet and have helped stall the project’s approval process. Keystone has been awaiting approval since 2008.

“They say oil sands is the dirtiest oil,” Kish said, adding that oil sands is bitumen — also known as asphalt. “It’s exactly what we make to use our roads. The highway bill, which Democrats supports, would drop huge amounts of this material onto the ground across the country. If it’s toxic, then we better stop building roads, and driveways, and parking lots.”

“If it isn’t this pipeline in Maine, it’ll be a pipeline somewhere else,” Kish added.

While PPLC told the New Hampshire Union Leader that it has no plans to reverse the pipeline’s flow to carry oil sands into the U.S., the company’s CEO told Vermont lawmakers last year that he wanted to “revitalize our pipeline company and the pipeline system.”

“And that includes the possibility of reversing our pipeline and it includes the possibility of moving oil from the western Canadian oil sands,” said PPLC CEO Larry Wilson.

New Hampshire environmentalists are already preempting the pipeline by advancing state legislation aimed at mitigating the effects of oil spills from any flow reversal in the pipeline. State lawmakers have already passed one bill — HB 1224 — that would empower state oil pipeline inspectors.

Another bill — SB 325 — would give “the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services rule-making authority to impose state-level spill preparedness requirements on oil pipeline operators,” reports the Union Leader.

Sheridan Brown, legislative coordinator with the New Hampshire Audubon society told the Union Leader that the bills “will complement each other nicely, with HB 1224 working to keep oil in the pipeline and SB 325 making sure we’re prepared in the event oil is released from the pipeline.”

“I hope people in Maine liked their heating bills this winter,” IER’s Kish said.

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