By Jason Magder, THE GAZETTE July 20, 2014
SOUTH PORTLAND, ME. — If this city succeeds in passing a law against the bulk loading oilsands oil Monday, it will be seen as a huge victory for the anti-pipeline movement everywhere, environmentalists say.
The city council is expected to vote Monday on a land-use ordinance that would prohibit loading crude oil in bulk onto marine tank vessels and building or expanding facilities for that purpose.
The ordinance would prevent the Portland-Montreal Pipe Line company from reversing its flow and sending oil from Alberta’s oilsands to Portland, the second-largest oil port on the east coast.
That would be good news for the small town of St-Césaire, which is along the pipeline’s route, said Marie-Hélène Plante, the president of Le Comité environnement St-Césaire.
Plante said the pipeline’s pumping station in her town is just a few hundred metres away from a large public well. In 1999, an accident at the pumping station spilled 45,000 litres of oil, but because of sandbags used by cleanup workers, it just avoided polluting a local stream.
Plante fears a spill of oilsands oil would be much more difficult to clean up. Environmentalists claim that oil from the oilsands region sinks to the bottom of waterways, as opposed to other crudes, which float to the top. The oil industry has denied these claims.
Environmentalists also fear the chemicals added to oilsands oil to dilute it enough to pass through pipelines are highly toxic.
“We think this project would put us much more at risk,” she said, adding that the region around would also be in danger. The pipeline crosses the Yamaska River, and passes close to Lake Memphremagog, she said.
“These are very old installations, and there are not enough security valves, or inspections. The team is in Montreal, so it would take a long time for them to get here if there are any problems,” she said.
If the pipeline can’t be reversed, this would be good news for anyone in Canada living between Alberta and Montreal because it would mean less oil from the oilsands would be sent east, said Adam Scott, climate and energy program manager at the lobby group Environmental Defence Canada.
Earlier this year, Enbridge received permission from the National Energy Board to reverse line 9B, which would allow oil from Alberta to be sent along pipelines to Montreal.
While there are no firm proposals yet on the table, the second step of the pipeline project would logically be to send oilsands crude further east to a shipping port in order for it to be sent to a refinery, Scott explained.
He said Montreal’s refineries don’t have a large capacity to treat oilsands oil. And Suncor, which owns part of the Portland Montreal Pipeline with Imperial Oil, might want to send its oil to refineries that can handle large bulk in Texas.
“Montreal is a major port, but it’s not a major tanker terminal, and it’s not able to handle large oil tankers,” he said. “As a result, it’s never been a likely option to export from there. (Suncor would need) a large deepwater port, like Portland.”
He speculates that crude sent to Portland would then be shipped to refineries in Texas. If the reversal is approved, it would allow oil companies to have another route to the Texas refineries as a way to bypass the increasingly unpopular Keystone XL pipeline project, completion of which is under review by the U.S. government.
Scott said if the South Portland ordinance passes, it will likely mean that very little oilsands oil will ever be sent through the Enbridge pipeline network.
Representatives from Portland-Montreal Pipe Line declined requests for an interview, but the company’s former CEO, Larry Wilson, told the media last year he would welcome a project to reverse the flow of the pipeline if he gets such a proposal from an oil company.
A reversal of the pipeline was actually proposed in 2008, but the proposal was shelved because of the financial market meltdown.