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Plans for Massive TransCanada Pipeline Closely Watched in Maine
08/02/2013   Reported By: Susan Sharon

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper told reporters today that he thinks pipelines are the safest way to transport crude oil, and that the Energy East pipeline proposed by TransCanada will be important for creating long-term energy security in North America. Yesterday TransCanada announced it will be moving ahead with a $12 billion pipeline project to bring Alberta tar sands oil east to refineries in Quebec and New Brunswick. As Susan Sharon reports, it remains unclear what bearing the massive pipeline could have in Maine.

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Plans for Massive TransCanada Pipeline Closely Wat
Originally Aired: 8/2/2013 5:30 PM

Pipeline route

TransCanada's map of its proposed pipeline route from Alberta to Saint John, New Brunswick.

Prime Minister Harper says he has no doubt that the pipeline will create jobs on both sides of the border. But first it has to undergo regulatory approval. The project involves converting an existing 1,800-mile-long pipeline from natural gas to oil, constructing more than 800 miles of new pipeline, and building a large deepwater port in partnership with Irving Oil in Saint John, New Brunswick.

It has the early approval of the energy minister and some provincial governments, but environmental groups are already vowing a fierce fight.

"Well, first of all with the pipeline, it's not if it will spill, it's a matter of when and where," says Andrea Harden-Donahue. Speaking on the CBC radio show "As It Happens," Harden-Donahue, of the Council of Canadians, says her group and others think the government should be transitioning away from fossil fuels.

And they have safety concerns about the proposed pipeline, which she says goes through urban and small communities and crosses important rivers and waterways. "When it comes to tar sands this is not just conventional oil," Harden-Donahue says. "When it spills it's particularly hard to clean up. It's particularly expensive."

Environmental groups in Maine have raised similar arguments against the Portland-Montreal Pipe Line Corporation's interest in bringing tar sands oil through its pipeline that crosses Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. The company has no firm plan to do so, but has said it must consider all its options in a competitive marketplace.

Pipelines are in hot demand as oil producers look for ways to ship oil from the western oil fields to world markets. "Canadians across the country should share in the benefits of developing our nation's resources. Building critical infrastructure ties our country together, making us stronger and more in control of our own destiny," said Russ Girling, TransCanada's president and CEO, at a news conference Thursday.

But exactly how TransCanada's Energy East pipeline, which is even larger than its proposed Keystone XL project, could affect the Maine-based Portland-Montreal Pipe Line Corporation and its plans remains unclear. The company released a written statement this week saying, "It is uncertain to us what the entire impact of this proposed project might be on crude movements and crude supplies for the East Coast. We are continuing to evaluate this recent development."

TransCanada hopes to have the Energy East project completed in five years. And that could also have implications for Maine's freight lines, says Chop Hardenbergh, editor of the Atlantic Northeast Rails and Ports newsletter.

"We're going to see oil continue to move through Maine for the next five years," Hardenbergh says. "But at the end of that the gusher is going to be turned off, and we're going to see no more crude through Maine by rail."

However, Hardenbergh also points out that the price of oil is volatile. It could change at anytime, making more costly transport by rail less desirable well within five years time.

Hardenbergh says there are other related, more significant worries, such as the survival of Maine's paper mills, which are among the customers of Maine's freight lines, and the survival of the Maine Montreal & Atlantic Railway, which has been sidelined by the recent disaster in Lac Megantic that killed nearly 50 people and has put rail safety, and the safe transport of crude oil, in the spotlight.


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