Canadian Pipeline Ruling Worries New Englanders

Mar 7, 2014

Portland Montreal Pipeline
Credit Wikimedia Commons

A ruling by the National Energy Board of Canada that will allow a pipeline to carry tar sands oil from Ontario to Montreal is raising concerns from New England environmental groups.

The Canadian board on Thursday approved a plan to reverse the flow of an Enbridge pipeline known as Line 9B that will allow western Canadian oil to be transported to refineries in Montreal.
Environmental groups opposed to the pipeline transport of tar sands oil are concerned it could eventually lead to the use of the Portland-Montreal Pipeline to carry the material. That pipeline runs from Montreal across New England to Portland, Maine. Vermont Natural Resources Council Spokesman Jake Brown calls the Canadian regulatory decision an alarming development.  “It really proves what we in New England have suspected for several years.  That New England will land in the cross-hairs of big oil companies’ big plans for expansion of the tar sands region. And it’s scary, frankly, to see that the National Energy Board and the oil companies are indeed working very hard to shift tar sands oil east, right on the doorstep of New England.”

National Wildlife Federation Senior Counsel Jim Murphy believes the Canadian decision will eventually lead to an attempt to convey the heavier crude oil through New England.  “The company that owns the Portland-Montréal pipeline, the Exxon owned  Portland Pipeline Corporation, their CEO has made clear that they have essentially a stranded asset on their hands and they’re looking for a partner to do business with and that they would certainly consider bringing tar sands crude on that pipeline. With the decision yesterday, we now have approval for tar sands to flow to Montréal. We have an underutilized pipeline and an industry and  companies that are eager to get tar sands to further markets, so all the conditions are ripe for some sort of proposal for tar sands to be carried through the Portland-Montréal Pipeline.”

But officials at Enbridge, the owner of the Canadian pipeline, insist it has no interest in continuing shipments to the Portland Montreal pipeline. Spokesman Graham White says the intent is to bring the oil to refineries in Montreal.  “We’ve have been saying that for years now, nothing has changed. We have absolutely no plans whatsoever to move the product past Montréal, no plans, no proposals. No affiliation or discussions with PMPL. This is a Canadian project. It is for Canadian refineries. It is to provide Canadian crude to those refineries.”

Sierra Club Organizing Representative Greg MacDonald does not believe Enbridge’s reassurances.  “They seem to be talking out of both sides of their mouth. On the one hand they won’t publicly say that. But in numerous press conferences in Canada they’ve made strong indications that they have intentions of doing that.  They also invested over $800,000 in a campaign to develop a refinery down in the South Portland area in order to refine the tar sands for shipment overseas. And why wouldn’t they do they that?  It seems to be the easiest solution to get this tar sands to port. So, there are concerns about what they're saying.”
The Portland-Montreal Pipeline runs across a portion of Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom.
41 towns in Vermont have voted against shipping tar sands through the pipeline.