Environmental Permitting Affirmed for Potential Pipeline Use

Sep 26, 2013

Portland Pipeline terminal in Maine
Credit Rigby27/Wikimedia Commons

A Vermont Environmental official has upheld a ruling that Act 250 - the state land use permit - will be necessary if a pipeline company decides to change the flow of oil in a pipeline that cuts across a corner of the state.

The Portland-Montreal Pipeline carries conventional crude oil in 18- to 24-inch pipes from Portland, Maine through New England to Montreal.  Its route crosses about 60 miles in the northeast corner of Vermont. The pipeline company is considering reversing the flow in order to transport tar sands oil from Montreal to Portland.

In an April ruling, the District 7 Environmental Board noted that while there are no concrete plans by the company to reverse the pipeline flow, it is not “hypothetical.” It also noted that the company is actively and aggressively seeking the opportunity to “convey tar sands oil” through the existing pipeline. The jurisdictional opinion concluded that any flow reversal for transport of tar sands oil would require an Act 250 permit because it would be a substantial change to a pre-existing development. This week, a Vermont environmental regulator upheld the ruling.

The review by the District Environmental Commission was requested by a number of environmental groups concerned about potential tar sands transport through the pipeline.

Conservation Law Foundation Senior Attorney Sandra Levine says the ruling confirms the need for further environmental review if the flow is reversed.

350.org Vermont Spokesperson Andy Simon believes the ruling illustrates new awareness about tar sands.

The environmentalists realize that the company could obtain a permit through the Act 250 review process, but Andy Simon is doubtful that would occur.

Portland Pipeline spokesman Jim Merrill declined to be interviewed. He sent an email to WAMC that simply states: “Portland Montreal Pipe Line Corporation has learned of the permitting decision in this matter, and is considering its options at the present time.”

The company could request a review of the decision of the District Coordinator by the Natural Resources Board. If the ruling is upheld, the company could then appeal to the Vermont Environmental Court.