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Pingree: Support Growing for More Tar Sands Regulation on Pipeline
02/27/2013   Reported By: Susan Sharon

Maine 1st District Congresswoman Chellie Pingree is gaining regional support for her position that the Portland-Montreal Pipe Line Company undergo further environmental review before it's allowed to pump tar sands oil from Canada through Maine.  Pingree, along with 2nd District Congressman Mike Michaud and 16 House and Senate colleagues, have written a letter to the U.S. State Department expressing their concern that the company's exisiting permit is not sufficient.  Susan Sharon has more.

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Pingree: Support Growing for More Tar Sands Regul
Originally Aired: 2/27/2013 5:30 PM
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The Portland-Montreal pipeline passes through Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, which is why Democrats from those states have signed onto  Pingree's letter.  But there are also half a dozen supporters from Massachusetts.  That could be because the pipeline passes along the Connecticut River, which flows into that state.  And Pingree says it also doesn't hurt that Massachusetts is the home of Secretary of State John Kerry, to whom the letter is addressed. 

Currently, the pipeline carries traditional crude.   But its owners have signaled their interest in possibly using it to transport tar sands oil.

"You know, the company has a good safety record, but this would be a very different kind of use," Pingree says. "So we just want to let the president know and the administration know that if there's going to be a change of use here we think there should be a thorough environmental study."

Pingree says she's hearing from many people who have concerns about the environmental and economic implications of bringing tar sands to the region.  Critics maintain that it is heavier and more corrosive than traditional crude; that it requires dilution with other chemicals to be transported; and that it is potentially more difficult to clean up in the event of a spill. 

The National Academy of Sciences is undertaking a study to determine whether or not this is the case. Meanwhile, this week the Canadian Energy Pipelines Association released a report that finds tar sands oil is no more corrosive than traditional crude.  Ziad Saad is the group's vice president for safety and sustainability.

Pingree says she's hearing from many people who have concerns about the environmental and economic implications of bringing tar sands to the region.  Critics maintain that it is heavier and more corrosive than traditional crude; that it requires dilution with other chemicals to be transported;  and that it is potentially more difficult to clean up in the event of a spill. 

But this week, the Canadian Energy Pipelines Association released a report that finds tar sands oil is no more corrosive than traditional crude.  Ziad Saad is the group's vice president for safety and sustainability. "As operators we always knew that this was a myth," he says.  "Now we have the scientific proof documented to demonstrate that to everybody else."

Saad says the report is based on the review of 40 mostly peer-reviewed studies examining diluted bitumen, or tar sands  oil, and conventional crude. "We have years and years of experience operating pipelines safely, and we're not in any way compromising that by shipping diluted bitumen," he says.

In Maine, the president of the Portland-Montreal Pipe Line Company says there is currently no plan in place to ship tar sands oil from Canada through New England.  But in an interview with MPBN last month, Larry Wilson said the company must always consider the best use of its assets.

"Down the road there could be an industry and a North American energy demand, and we're happy to consider that so it's out there as a possible project, but it's not one that's on our project slate today," he said, "certainly not one that's been approved by our board of directors to implement."

Five years ago, the company received a Presidential Permit needed to reverse the flow of its pipeline so that oil could flow from Canada to South Portland in order to be shipped to refineries or exported overseas.  The Permit was approved without public comment or federal review and, according to Congresswoman Pingree,  without any mention of tar sands. 

Now, she and other members of Congrees say they think a changeover to carrying tar sands is a signficant alteration in function,  a potential environmental risk for existing pipelines and that the State Department should require a new permit.

Sen. Angus King appears in agreement.  Although he didn't sign Pingree's letter, he did release a statement through his office saying,  "I would support an effort to require oil companies to undergo a full and appropriate level of review if they wish to reverse the flow."

A request for comment from the Portland-Montreal Pipe Line Company was not returned by airtime.

 

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