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Enbridge: Tar Sands Opponents Distorting Pipeline Change Plans
11/30/2012   Reported By: Susan Sharon

Environmental groups in Canada and Maine are raising more red flags today about signs that heavy, corrosive tar sands oil mined in Alberta could be destined for Portland, Maine. In a formal application to Canada's National Energy Board today, the Enbridge pipeline company asked permission to reverse the flow of a Quebec-to-Ontario pipeline. But as Susan Sharon reports, pipeline companies say environmental groups are distorting their plans.

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The case environmental groups make for their concerns about Enbridge's plans for transporting tar sands oil.

Environmental groups, including Greenpeace and the Natural Resources Defense Council, say the Enbridge application is clear evidence that oil companies are planning to transport tar sands oil from western Canada through Quebec - and eventually all the way through New England to Portland Harbor.

Enbridge has repeatedly denied that getting to East Coast ports is its goal. Graham White is a spokesman for the company. "We haven't had discussions in that area and there are no plans to do that," he says.

The Portland-to-Montreal Pipe Line Corporation, based in South Portland, takes a similar position. Oil in its pipeline currently flows from Portland to Montreal. But Dylan Voorhees, of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, says, despite the Maine company's denials, signs have been evident for the past year that it is also moving to change direction.

"And some of those include the permits that they've been able to get over the last couple of years from the Maine DEP for changes to their pipeline and terminal in South Portland," he says. "They have an application pending for a pumping station outside of Montreal, the sole purpose of which would be to send oil from Montreal down to the U.S., and there's a lot of other bits and pieces that indicate the company's really been going forward in a piecemeal fashion."

"We have said consistently that there is no project, and, in fact, there is no project," says Ted O'Meara, a spokesman for the Portland-to-Montreal Pipe Line Corporation. "You know, there is no project to reverse the flow of oil in either of Portland-Montreal pipelines that go from South Portland to Montreal."

Voorhees says that doesn't mean the company isn't looking down the road. He points to a meeting held late last year that included representatives from the pipeline company, lobbyists for tar sands oil and Gov. Paul LePage as a possible precursor to reverse the Portland-to-Montreal Pipeline's flow of oil.

He also says the company has been distributing information touting tar sands oil to Maine towns along its route. O'Meara says it's just part of the company's messaging, nothing more.

"You know, they consistently maintain good communications with communities along the pipeline route and with state officials," he says. "There's nothing new here. This is the way they do business."

Environmentalists worry about the risks of a pipeline accident or spill involving tar sands, which is an acidic, thick form of crude that cannot flow unless it's heated or diluted with chemicals. Voorhees describes it as having a consistency between coal and oil.

"When tar sands does spill, like it did two years ago in Michigan into the Kalamazoo River, it causes much more damage to peoples' health and to the environment," he says. "And it's really nearly impossible to clean up."

Because the Portland-to-Montreal pipeline runs along the Androscoggin River, the Crooked River and Sebago Lake - which provides drinking water to the greater Portland area - Voorhees says any transmission of tar sands oil would be a grave concern.

But Graham White of Enbridge says environmentalists either misunderstand, or mischaracterize, the type of crude that will be carried in the Canadian pipeline.

"These are not, as they describe, highly corrosive crude," he says. "Before you can put this product into a transmission line, you have to process it. So you have to take out the sediment, the sand, other impurities, before it can go in the line."

But the process is of little consolation to environmental groups, who say even in its more refined form, tar sands has a massive environmental and climate footprint. They're calling on the U.S. State Department to ensure a full review of any attempt to bring the oil into Maine.


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