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Portland Pipe Line Corp Surrenders Maine DEP Permit
10/17/2013   Reported By: Susan Sharon

The Portland Pipe Line Corporation has officially surrendered its final active permit with the Department of Environmental Protection for a tar sands project that had been planned in 2008. The South Portland-based company is hoping that the move will convince local residents that it has no plan to move tar sands to Maine, and that there is no need for a "Waterfront Protection Ordinance" that will be considered by voters next month. Susan Sharon has more.

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For months, proponents of the Waterfront Protection Ordinance have referenced the company's expressed interest in someday reversing the flow of its pipeline to Montreal so that it could bring so-called tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada to Maine.

And they've pointed to an active air emissions permit authorized by the DEP in 2009 as evidence that the company intends to build an export facility, complete with 70-foot-tall vapor combustion units on the South Portland waterfront. But on Thursday the company revealed that it had surrendered a crucial amendment to its operating license.

"The amendment would have allowed for the installation of two vapor control units, and would have permitted the reversal of the flow in their 18-inch pipeline," says Lynn Cornfield, a licensing engineer in the DEP's Bureau of Air Quality.

Cornfield points out that oil in the pipeline currently flows from Maine to Montreal. Without a permit to reverse the flow, Cornfield says there's no need for smokestacks or anything else related to tar sands. "If they don't reverse the flow there will be nothing to burn off, so they don't need the vapor combustion units," she says.

Even as the Portland Pipe Line Corporation was preparing a news release about the surrender of its permit, supporters of the Watefront Protection Ordinance were holding a news conference to warn of the health effects that could be created by burning toxic tar sands chemicals on the city's waterfront. They say tar sands is heavier and more of an environmental hazard than conventional crude.

The company has always maintained that it has no current plans to construct a tar sands export facility or to reverse the flow of its pipeline. And company spokesman Jim Merrill says now that position is irrefutable.

"Based on concerns that proponents of the WPO have made, Portland Pipe Line decided that this was the appropriate step to take to assure the community there is no project proposed, there is no project pending, there is no project imminent," he says.

The WPO does not mention tar sands by name. But it does say that there can be "no enlargement or expansion of existing petroleum storage tank farms and accessory piers, pumping and distribution facilities or facilities for the storing and handling of petroleum and/or petroleum products."

Many petroleum-related businesses along the waterfront say that's overly restrictive and could have implications for the way oil is handled in Portland Harbor, and even delivered to southern Maine homes.

But Cathy Chapman, a spokespeson for the group Protect South Portland, says the ordinance is needed because Portland Pipe Line Corporation's CEO Larry Wilson has given conflicting statements about his interest in tar sands oil.

"We have a history of him changing his mind. I guess you would call it flip-flopping on this issue," she says. "It seems that whenever it's convenient or it's going to serve him in some way he changes his response regarding tar sands project."

Chapman says just a few days ago Wilson was quoted in the Falmouth Forecaster newspaper saying that he would not take tar sands off the table. And she points out that the company's latest move doesn't guarantee that it won't apply for similar tar sands permits in the future.


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