WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, sent a letter Wednesday to the Obama administration asking that any plan to reverse the flow of the Portland Montreal Pipeline to carry oil sands from Canada to Portland Harbor require a new permitting process and a thorough environmental review.
Pingree’s letter to Secretary of State John Kerry includes the signatures of 17 other members of Congress, including Democratic Rep. Mike Michaud, who represents Maine’s 2nd Congressional District. Neither Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, nor Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, signed the letter.
“Many of our constituents have significant concerns about the environmental and economic impacts a tar sands pipeline could pose to the region,” Pingree, who represents Maine’s 1st District, wrote in her letter to Kerry. “They question whether the transportation of Canadian tar sands through our communities for export would be in the United States’ national interest. Oil tankers carrying tar sands could pose a real risk to wildlife and fisheries in Casco Bay, and throughout the Gulf of Maine and Atlantic.”
At issue is the future of the Portland-Montreal pipeline, which Portland Pipe Line Corp. has operated for 70 years. Traditionally the pipeline has carried crude oil from Portland Harbor, where it arrives on oil tankers from all over the world, to refineries in Montreal. But as demand for foreign oil has fallen, the pipeline company has searched for new revenue sources.
Larry Wilson, the company’s CEO, recently told the Bangor Daily News the company is “aggressively” looking for every opportunity to diversify its revenue, including reversing the flow of the pipeline to bring oil sand crude from Montreal to Portland, where it would be shipped to refineries on the East Coast.
The idea of pumping oil sands, often referred to as tar sands, through Maine has mobilized several environmental groups, led by the Natural Resources Council of Maine, to oppose the idea.
Pingree’s letter is a follow-through on comments she made at a rally in Portland on Jan. 26, where more than 1,000 people protested the potential of pumping oil sands through the pipeline. In her speech that day to protesters, she said she would lobby the president on requiring a new permitting process and environmental review.
While Pingree wants a new permitting process to take place if the company pursues such a reversal, Wilson maintains no additional permits would be required and that the U.S. Department of State confirmed that fact in 2008 when the company first entertained the idea of pursuing a reversal project. The State Department said reversing the pipeline’s flow to carry oil sands crude was not a change of use significant enough to warrant a new review and permitting process, Wilson said.
Pingree and others disagree.
“We believe that a changeover to carrying tar sands is a significant alteration in function and environmental risk for existing pipelines,” Pingree wrote in her letter to Obama. “Tar sands is a greater hazard to the communities through which it is shipped than conventional oil, as illustrated by the 2010 Kalamazoo River tar sands oil spill in Michigan -– the most expensive pipeline spill in U.S. history.
“The State Department has the responsibility to ensure transnational pipeline projects serve the national interest and prevent projects that will put our communities and the environment at risk of destructive spills. A project that places American communities at risk without any tangible benefits is certainly not in the interest of our constituents,” she wrote.
In a separate statement, Pingree said her efforts to require a new environmental review for a reversal project are not a criticism of the Portland Pipe Line Corp.
“The company has a good safety record, but this would be a new use for the pipeline and needs proper environmental review,” Pingree said Wednesday in the statement.