Oil sands through Maine? The battle is on despite no plan

LEWISTON — Somewhere in western Maine, in a steel pipe below the earth, crude oil is making its way north from Portland to refineries in Montreal.

Gilead Historical Society photo

A sign announces the construction of the Portland-Montreal Pipe Line as a project for national defense in this historical photo. Construction on the pipeline was completed in 1941. It was capable of delivering 50,000 barrels of crude oil per day to Montreal refineries.

Portland-Montreal Pipeline

  • Employees: 36
  • Year opened: 1941
  • Miles of pipe: 236. The pipeline consists of two pipes; one is 18 inches in diameter, the other is 24 inches in diameter.
  • Products carried: Light, medium and heavy crude oil.
  • Ownership: Two companies share ownership of the pipeline: The Portland Pipeline Corp., a Maine corporation, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Montreal Pipe Line LLC, a privately held company that is incorporated in Canada. Montreal Pipe Line is owned by a collection of companies including Imperial Oil, which is owned, in part by ExxonMobil. Enbridge, the Canadian pipeline company, does not hold any ownership stakes in Montreal Pipe Line or the Portland Pipeline Corp.
Gilead Historical Society photo

Crews work to install the Portland-Montreal Pipe Line between the Androscoggin River and North Road in Gilead. The pipeline was completed in October 1941 and was built by the Standard Oil Co. of New Jersey, according to the Bethel Journals.

Maddie McGarvey/Burlington Free Press

A warning sign marks the location of a pipeline between Montreal and Portland, Maine, as it runs through Barton, Vt. The line takes crude oil from tankers in Portland to refineries in Montreal. 

photo courtesy Syncrude

Raw bitumen in its unrefined state looks like thick molasses.

Oil sands or tar sands?

While environmentalists prefer the term "tar-sands oil," industry officials prefer the term "oil sands."

In its unrefined state, the material looks a little like asphalt that would be used to pave a road. It is a mixture of sand, water, clay and a type of heavy oil known as “bitumen."

The bitumen is the petroleum product refiners are looking for. It is removed from the sand and water, "screened and cleaned," and diluted, either with lighter-weight crude oil, liquefied natural gas or other liquids.

Unrefined bitumen looks like thick, black syrup.

"Bitumen will not flow unless heated or diluted — at room temperature, it acts much like cold molasses," according to the Canadian province of Alberta's website on the resource and its development. "The oil sands are also referred to by some as 'tar sands,' as bitumen can have a similar consistency to tar, a human-made product."

The industry term for oil sands, once it is processed and flowing through a pipeline, is "dilbit" for diluted bitumen.

Key resources
National Transportation Safety Board illustration

To read the National Transportation Safety Board report on the Enbridge Energy oil spill on the Kalamazoo River in Michigan, click here

To read the executive summary of the draft supplemental environmental impact statement on the Keystone XL pipeline issued by the U.S. State Department in March 2013, click here.  

More than 5 billion barrels of oil (210 billion gallons) have moved through the pipeline — the only one of its kind connecting interior Canada to a port in the eastern U.S. — since it opened in 1941.

The 236-mile-long pipeline was constructed to move and refine petroleum needed to fuel the Allies' World War II efforts against Nazi Germany, and the company that owns it has quietly continued moving crude oil to Montreal for more than 70 years.

So quietly, in fact, that few Mainers knew it was there, including residents of the towns through which the pipeline passes, including Raymond and Harrison, said Joe Bruno, a selectman in Raymond.

"We have a pumping station right at one of our major intersections — well, major for Raymond — and a lot of people don't know what it is," said Bruno, a resident of the town for 33 years.

But two statewide environmental organizations have been on a months-long campaign warning residents that the Canadian oil industry wants to reverse the flow of the pipeline. It would then pump so-called "tar sands" crude from oil fields in the province of Alberta to tanker ships in Portland, Maine, headed for the global market, environmentalists say.

A spill, they say, would be an environmental disaster that could damage western Maine's lakes and rivers, and crush a tourism economy built on pristine water.

"ExxonMobil and Canadian oil giant Enbridge plan to use an antiquated oil pipeline that passes right next to Sebago Lake to transport highly corrosive tar-sands oil from Canada to Casco Bay for export," warns Environment Maine's website. "We're working to stop this reckless plan and protect Sebago from the threat of a toxic tar-sands oil spill."

To that end, Environment Maine and the Natural Resources Council of Maine have been asking voters or their elected officials in towns that host the pipeline to pass strongly worded resolutions urging the state and federal governments to require full environmental impact studies on any proposal to reverse the flow of oil or to change the type of oil being transported in the pipeline.

"There is significant evidence of additional risks from tar-sands pipelines and tar-sands spills, compared to conventional oil," said Dylan Voorhees, the NRCM's clean energy director.

"When it spills, it's more damaging, more toxic and more difficult to clean up," he said. "Sebago Lake is a $1 billion tourism economy, and that's what's at risk."

Voorhees said the push to get resolutions passed by boards of selectmen and town meeting voters is important in sending a signal to state and federal policymakers.

"It's really important that people articulate their concerns now if they want to see an environmental review of this project happen before it is too late," Voorhees said.

But oil industry and pipeline officials are quick to dispute Voorhees and others, including taking umbrage with the use of the term "tar sands." The industry prefers the less messy-sounding "oil sands" to describe the products produced in Alberta. (Federal government reports use "oil sands" or just "oil.")

They also dispute the claim that oil-sands crude is more toxic or corrosive, and that it poses a greater risk than the heavy crude oil now flowing through the pipe. And they deny there is a plan to reverse the flow and bring oil-sands crude through Maine to Portland — although the pipeline's CEO says he would gladly entertain the idea.  

The Michigan spill: Fed says company, not oil, was the problem

The NRCM and Environment Maine point to a spill of oil-sands crude near Marshall, Mich., in 2010. An estimated 20,000 barrels of oil-sands crude spilled into a tributary of the Kalamazoo River, eventually spreading to a 40-mile stretch of the river and nearby wetlands.

The cleanup of that spill from a pipeline operated by the oil giant Enbridge is ongoing. Just this month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ordered Enbridge to do additional dredging to remove oil deposits left on the riverbed.

The Michigan spill has been used by environmentalists in Maine as an example of what could happen here.

But John Quinn, executive director of the New England Petroleum Council, said environmentalists are contorting the story to scare residents about the pipeline's owner, a Maine company that has no connection to that spill and has an outstanding environmental record.

Environmentalists also have suggested the spill occurred because the pipeline was carrying oil-sands crude, but an official report from the National Transportation Safety Board, the federal agency that investigates pipeline spills, determined the spill was not caused by what the pipeline was carrying, but rather by "pervasive organizational failures."

The report notes that "multiple small corrosion fatigue cracks" in the pipeline that were detected five years before the spill, but not repaired, resulted in an 80-inch crack in the pipeline.

Worsening the situation, for 17 hours after the spill began, pipeline operators failed to acknowledge alarms alerting them to the spill. The NTSB also faulted the U.S. Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration's "weak regulations regarding pipeline assessment and repair criteria."

NTSB Chairwoman Deborah A.P. Hersman said Enbridge's employees performed like "Keystone Kops."

"Likewise," she said, "for the regulator to delegate too much authority to the regulated to assess their own system risks and correct them is tantamount to the fox guarding the henhouse."

Bruno, Quinn and others also point to a draft environmental impact study recently released by the U.S. State Department on another proposed oil-sands pipeline: the controversial Keystone XL project.

That project would expand a pipeline running through Nebraska, mainly for the purpose of bringing oil-sands crude out of Canada and into the U.S. for processing.

That study, Quinn said, refutes claims by environmentalists that oil-sands crude is more corrosive and more prone to cause pipeline leaks and spills than typical, heavy crude oil.

Back in Maine, Quinn said the Michigan spill is being used to demonize the Portland Pipe Line Corp. "(Environmentalists) are misleading people about the basic facts," he said.

A check with state or provincial environmental agencies in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Quebec showed the Portland Pipeline Corp.'s record going back at least 25 years is nearly spotless.

In Maine, a leak in Harrison in 2003 spilled an estimated 1,000 gallons, but was quickly contained and cleaned up by the company, Maine Department of Environmental Protection records show. The spill never reached any open water and did not leach into groundwater.

Meanwhile, Vermont environmental regulators said a look back at enforcement records there produced only one file on the company and it involved a benign leak of testing dye the company was using to do a pressure check on part of its pipeline in early 2000.

Still that hasn't stopped lawmakers in the Vermont Legislature from working on a bill that would require a state environmental review for reversing the flow of oil in the pipeline.

Environmentalists take it to the towns, with mixed results

In Raymond, Selectman Bruno said he couldn't vote for a resolution that wasn't even written by the town's officials. He joined a 3-2 majority last month voting down the resolution, noting the information coming from environmentalists had lots of holes in it.

"My whole thing is, I'm not out to punish the Portland Pipeline Corporation," Bruno said. "They've been a reliable and trustworthy neighbor for years, and here we have this resolution that makes them out to be this evil company."

Voting with Bruno was Raymond Selectman Mike Reynolds. Both Bruno and Reynolds said they aren't opposed to passing a resolution saying the town cares about the environment and wants the government to carefully consider and review any proposed changes to pipeline operations here.

"We had been given a version of the resolution that I felt was unfair," Reynolds said. "It was very one-sided, and I have what I think is a neutral resolution that did call for review but was not so negative in terms of its portrayal of the local company."

Reynolds said the board will likely take another resolution up in April. Meanwhile, the neighboring town of Windham heard both sides of the issue and simply decided to not vote on any resolutions, Town Manager Tony Plante said.

Todd Sawyer, a Waterford-based contractor who works for the pipeline company doing vegetation management along the corridor in Maine, said he was disappointed his town voted against tabling a resolution on the issue. The town passed a resolution earlier this month.

Sawyer mows brush and trims overhanging trees along 40 miles of the pipeline corridor each year, completing the work in Maine every four years. His work is done so the company can more easily do aerial inspections of the pipeline with a helicopter or plane.

Having worked closely with the Portland Pipeline Corp., Sawyer said he believes there's "a lot of misinformation" about the company going around. 

"No one wants to see a spill, nobody does," Sawyer said. "I don't want to see a spill in my town or any other town along the corridor."

He said he wishes townspeople were more understanding of a long-time Maine company that's "trying to maneuver itself through a difficult economy, just like many of us are."

He said pipeline officials were never given the opportunity to present their side at a recent Waterford town meeting, and that resulted in a poor decision.

"I think they deserve an opportunity to present their facts that could be substantiated or disproved," Sawyer said. "But they were never given that opportunity. I think sound-minded citizens, when they are given good information, can make good decisions." 

About 20 percent of the oil the Portland Pipeline Corp. currently moves from Portland to Montreal is heavy crude. The rest is light or medium crude and almost all of it is being imported from countries like Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Nigeria.

Climate change a factor in the mix

Beyond the possible environmental risks to Maine, environmental groups are concerned about potential degradation of the environment and the landscape caused by the oil sands crude extraction process in Canada.

And underlining all of the other issues for environmentalists is worry that oil sands crude allows people to simply continue burning carbon-based fuels, contributing to greenhouse gases and global climate change.

The NRCM's Voorhees notes that Canada was the only country that signed the United Nations treaty on global climate change —  known as the Kyoto Protocol — and then backed out of it.

"Of course, the United States never signed it, but Canada signed it and they've dropped out of it and this is why," Voorhees said. "Absolutely, 100 percent that's why, because (producing oil sands crude) is very carbon intensive."

That said, Quinn acknowledges the supply of oil sands crude is so vast —  it's estimated to be more than 10 percent of the entire global oil reserve —  that moving it east to refine it is very probable.

He also said Canada, regardless of U.S. pipeline decisions, will find a way to get the oil to market.

"Does it make more sense to ship this crude oil to China, (which) does not have our limitations and restrictions and is free to burn that crude any way they want?" Quinn asked. "Why shouldn't it, instead, be (shipped) someplace where people are focused on protecting the environment?"

Higher oil production, including from oil sands, in Alberta and new shale oil supplies in North Dakota have led to a decrease in the demand for foreign crude on the continent, like the kind the Portland Pipeline Corp. now moves north to Montreal.

Without a pipeline reversal project and with decreasing demand for foreign crude, the Maine pipeline could be left without a viable purpose. But moving oil sands crude east from central Canada so it can be processed in refineries in New Brunswick and New Jersey could be a new opportunity for the pipeline, Quinn said.

The pipeline's CEO, Larry Wilson, said it's been difficult for him and his employees to be embroiled in a controversy about reversing the flow when, so far, the company hasn't proposed doing that.

"These are good people and we take very seriously our responsibility to the environment in Maine," Wilson told the Sun Journal.

He said people who are passionate about stopping the use of oil sands crude often overlook that and overlook other key issues surrounding the topic.

"They have determined the most effective way to oppose oil sands crude is to attack our closest, safest and most reliable neighbor, (thereby) preventing Canada's energy supplies from reaching free and open markets while being delivered by one of the safest, most efficient and reliable modes we have, in pipelines," Wilson said.

Wilson has said repeatedly he would welcome the opportunity to find new business uses for the 24-inch pipeline.

He has made that pitch in media interviews in the United States and Canada, as well as last month to the Vermont Legislature, but hasn't specifically proposed reversing the flow.

"We just do not have a project at this time," Wilson said. "We'd consider any number of opportunities. We continue to do so. And I want people to comprehend one of the opportunities that we have considered, and we'd be happy to consider going forward, is reversal from Montreal into South Portland."

Raising suspicions such a plan is in the future is that Calgary-based Enbridge Pipelines Inc. is seeking regulatory wording to reverse the flow of a pipeline from Ontario to Montreal, known as Line 9, to carry oil from western Canada to Quebec refineries.

Still, the company flatly denies having any designs on the Portland-Montreal line.

"We have no involvement with that company or that line, so it's not really for me to speak on their behalf or to speculate in any way to what their plans are," said Graham White, a spokesman for Enbridge. "The fact that we are reversing Line 9 to the Quebec refineries has no connection whatsoever to the PMPL line or moving any kind of product toward the U.S. coast or Portland."

sthistle@sunjournal.com

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Comments

Chris Blake's picture

Enough said

I think this article and these images from Arkansas are enough of a commentary on the hazards of this idea:

http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/03/31/us-exxon-pipeline-spill-idUSBR...

As I said in my original comment on this article. I don't care how good your environmental record and practices are, accidents happen. Things can go badly very quickly. This is a spill that started on a Friday afternoon and was stopped by 3am Saturday. Yet there were still thousands of barrels worth of oil loosed, dozens of homes evacuated, thousands if not millions in property damage, and they're looking forward to months of clean up.

Seabury Lyon's picture

Exactly. Next question: "Can we get insurance coverage?"

We're located on the Androscoggin River and the TSO pipeline runs close by for miles, so I've been shopping for insurance to cover our small tourism business if a Kalamazoo -type spill happened. We haven't got a quote yet and the question is why not? One agent said "property values could drop 90%". A realtor agreed, " -and values could be depressed for a very long time."

The 2010 Kalamazoo River spill is instructive in this regard and the federal "Pipeline Serious Incident" statistics, (PHMSA) are scary, so we sent links to them for our insurance guy to ponder. Note in PHMSA the TOTALS for INCIDENTS, FATALITIES, and PROPERTY DAMAGE for 3 Year Average. Those two items provide a grim picture that should be reflected in the cost of insurance. That, in turn will help to make our points about unacceptable risk with no benefit, while shining a bright light on other industry b.s.
Here are the links:

and:

Pipeline abutters, homeowners and businesses should ask their insurers for a quote to cover all short and long-term losses for a Kalamazoo type spill. (health, property value, business loss, etc.) This is especially important for folks who live on waterways and wetlands. Provide the above links for underwriters to consider, and let us know the results.

Robert McQueeney's picture

How did they get there?

All these people who oppose this oil from passing thru the pipeline (It's not tar, folks; and it's not sand). exactly how did you get there to protest this? I'm almost certain you didn't all drive Prius's, and even if you did, most of the energy for that car didn't come from windmills, it likely came from oil fired plants.

Right now, we are dependent upon oil, for better or worse. Stopping us from refining our own oil won't change that, it'll only drive the prices up. Any one going to cheer about higher prices?

It will also force production and refining to other countries. Who here believes Argentina has as stringent environmental laws and enforcement as the US? If they get an oil spill, how do we know they actually do anything about it, short of dumping some sand over it? A true environmentalist wants it done in America, where we actually watch over things and clean up spills when they happen, and they'd make it happen under our watchful eyes.

Chris Blake's picture

You're misinformed.

Tar sand oil is in fact different than normal crude. This is what it looks like:

http://images2.dailykos.com/i/user/6/Bitumen.png

They heat the pipeline so that it liquefies, and thus is able to be pumped. It is processed into usable oil at the refinery (where it's going) not at the site it's dug up (where it comes from).

When it gets out, it doesn't float around on top of water like regular crude. It congeals and sinks, polluting all depths of whatever water it gets into. If it doesn't get into water, it still soaks into soil, contaminating it.

Seabury Lyon's picture

Tar Sand Oil (TSO) from Montreal to Portland Maine? Don't do it.

A trite myth holds that it's hypocritical to burn fossil fuel while working to wean ourselves off it. A bit of critical thinking shows the spurious logic in that myth. All movements to advance our well being require investment of various kinds to succeed and the R.O.I. is really worthwhile in this particular cause. Despite their protestations to the contrary, oil interests are trying to wring every penny out of their investments including tar sands oil, without due consideration of the negative impacts on the well being of humanity . Actions speak louder than words and their actions are screaming "profit above people" in every quarterly report.

Recent U.S. and Australian economic analysis reveals that the "levelized costs" of burning fossil are now greater than switching to renewable energy sources. That means we can start right now to reduce the awful (currently ignored) consequences of fossil fuel combustion in health, safety, economic and environmental sectors. There is absolutely no rational reason to perpetuate fossil fuel exploitation -unless you're a myopic business fossil, focused on "profit above people". Even the least developed nations will realize that and join our global community on the path to a healthier, more prosperous future.

A well-engineered transition to renewables is now possible and will create millions of 21st century jobs around the world while dramatically reducing the awful health and economic costs of fossil fuel combustion. We'll require fossil resources well into the future to make specific products such as plastics, polymers, etc. but those don't usually create the menace that fossil combustion does. The game has changed, good people, and we must awaken to the good news and make the most of new opportunities made possible by scientific advances coupled with human ingenuity. It will take significant effort just to break the grip of legacy industries on our political processes, but break it we must and the sooner the better.

Seabury Lyon's picture

Tar Sand Oil (TSO) from Montreal to Portland Maine? Don't do it.

There were some errors and omissions in the article I'd like to point out, including:
* We who oppose reversing the line to pump TSO to Portland have NO problem with PMPL, except when they don't give us complete information to evaluate.
* PMPL says TSO is no different than "normal crude" but that was proven false in the 1+million gallon TSO spill into the Kalamazoo River in 2010. It still isn't cleaned up because no effective technology is yet developed that can do that.
* A similar TSO spill into our Androscoggin, Crooked or Pleasant Rivers, could devastate our economy for many months, perhaps many years. Over 100 homes and businesses on the Kalamazoo are uninhabitable and being bought up by oil companies. How long would it take our communities to recover from that impact?
* Speaking of impacts, ask your local realtors and insurance people what your asset value losses would be if that spill happened to your home or business -and if those losses would be fully covered. When you get an answer, let us know.
* We're very concerned with recent news that the people reviewing the pipeline projects for our gov't. are doing a bad job of protecting OUR interests, and are not impartial or truly independent. Apparently we're on our own to protect ourselves.

Many of us in western Maine have invested heavily in the Brookings Inst. recommendation to market our "Quality Of Place" as our best bet for economic recovery. With all that to consider, forgive us if we seem a tad cautious, even skeptical, when evaluating potential threats to our current and future well-being.

Penny Gray's picture

Maine's quality of place and

Maine's quality of place and scenic viewsheds are critical assets in our tourism based economy. Any threat to them must be taken seriously. Environmental impact studies must be done before committing to any course of action. The economic value of our rivers and lakes and yes, our mountains, must be taken into consideration. How much is a clean river worth? How much is a pristine lake worth? How much is a gorgeous mountain worth? Only if we protect these assets will we be able to market them 100, 500 years from now. Where are all the environmentalists when it comes to protecting Maine's mountains from the industrialization that's destroying them now? Where is the outrage? Why the hypocricy?

Seabury Lyon's picture

Maine's Quality Of Place...

Not sure I understand, Penny. "Environmentalists" are very much in the action of protecting mountains, watersheds, wetlands, lakes, rivers, ... where is the hypocricy? The aren't mentioned in a necessarily brief comment only in the interest of space, and maintaining focus on the tar sands oil pipeline issue. A quick search on Alberta tar sands mining will churn your gut if you really want some outrage. Then there is the outrage of the continuing abuse of First Nation People attempting to defend their lands... the list goes on, but the TSO thing is front and center right here for the moment.

Penny Gray's picture

I agree with you, Seabury.

I agree with you, Seabury. Just the clear cutting of the boreal forest to dredge up the tar sands is a terrible environmental travesty. I just wish the same passion that I see being galvanized against the tar sands would spread to the outrage over removing the protections we had in place for Maine's mountains, which are now all open for industrialization by wind developers and by open pit mining companies. There seem to be few environmentalists concerned about that, yet it is right on our doorstep. Maine is a beautiful, beautiful place, worthy of our protection.

Seabury Lyon's picture

Environmental Activism Depends on Public Awareness

Thanks for your thoughtful reply -and I agree with you. One major problem is lack of broad public awareness of the threats to mountains and the terrible impacts of bad mining practices. MPBN is the only radio/TV news/info source that gives more than puny 30 second spots to these kinds of problems. Another is "message control" on the part of the industries who really don't want to keep the threats in the spotlight, and have nearly limitless resources to "shape" the info we're getting. An ugly example of that is the coal industry in our Appalachian mountains where every trick in the book is employed to deceive and intimidate citizens, sometimes to act against their better interests.

There is a common, or ROOT CAUSE for most of these problems and it's the degree of influence that corporations are allowed to exert in our electoral and legislative processes. As Americans we can solve that problem but not until we can motivate sufficient numbers to force our elected officials to implement Publicly Funded Elections. Until we can do that, We The People are being controlled by deep pocket corporatist interests at the root of virtually every painful issue we suffer. Free and Fair Elections are the antidote for that pathology and the result would be nothing less than the resurrection of our American democracy.

Penny Gray's picture

I want to believe there is

I want to believe there is hope, but even if the elections are "clean", what prevents outright bribery or "tangible benefits" from influencing our legislators once they're elected? The press is all powerful, yet it is completely manipulated; everything we read is controlled and carefully meted out by those very same corporate interests. Subjective is the word. Objective reporting died years ago. It's just very discouraging. I want to believe that honesty and integrity will prevail, but in the end, it's all about money.

Seabury Lyon's picture

"It's all about money"...

Let me re-state your reply to lend encouragement to your efforts. Your statement is true, when you consider corporations that want to corrupt our system use their money in amounts far beyond what We The People can muster, thus they have taken OUR place at the helm of OUR democracy. So... what's the answer?

The answer is that We The People to unite to removes corporate and special interest money from our electoral and legislative processes. Our history proves that it's possible -just look at Women's Sufferage, Civil Rights, Equal Rights movements --and take heart! The "Arab Spring and global Environmental / Energy movements are good examples of united civil action quickly achieving remarkable advances in the global arena. It's all solid evidence that basic democratic principles really work -BUT- only when people get away from pop media b.s., get smart on the Root Cause and most urgent issues then unite to create the desired positive change.

As an elderly and rather new activist, I can tell you that it's extremely rewarding to work with other motivated folks to solve a problem, especially when we're having successes -even small ones. We keep learning, make adjustments and grow more effective. That's what's happening now with the anti-fossil fuel, pro renewable effort going on around the globe. We choose to base our action on the best facts and science we can muster and keep updating our "database" so that our b.s. detectors can respond effectively to false or misleading propaganda in the pop (corporate controlled) media. Some effective orgs working on that include: Common Cause, Clean Elections, PDA, PFAW, NRDC, NRCM, Coffee Party, etc. -and they often collaborate.

It's tragic that Americans got confused and seduced by rampant corporatism and lost control of important parts of our democracy, but it isn't fatal. Like many cancers, if we detect them in time and get the right kind of help, we can save ourselves from a very bad outcome indeed. So don't get discouraged, get involved in OUR democracy and help put us back on track for a healthy, prosperous future.

FRANK EARLEY's picture

I think I know why it's kept a secret......

Years ago while delivering a load of our fine local bread to Burlington VT. I was somewhere in the area of Berlin New Hampshire, heading to Littleton. It was just getting dark, it was late summer, and I ran smack into it, totally unaware that it was even there. I got stuck in an "Environmental Picket Line". Or should I say the results of one. They had traffic backed up on Rt. 16 for about a mile or so, In that neck of the woods, a mile back up is totally unheard of. I didn't know what the problem was for a half hour or so.
When I finally got passed the mess, I found out that they were protesting some pipeline, I think it was being repaired at a cross road or something, but they had everything, the people, all twelve of them. With signs, walking in orderly circles just close enough to the road to slow down the already slowed traffic at the construction site. They must have had a permit, because the entire police department was there, They both directed traffic on either side of the construction site. They even had the, obligatory sixty three year old hippie, beating an old drum and wearing feathers.
I got held up for a half hour, but hey who cares. Anyone who has ever traveled that road from Berlin to Littlton NH will tell you, anything that breaks the monotony on that stretch of road is well worth the delay, I say keep the pipeline....

Chris Blake's picture

Great Article, but...

This story is deep and well written, and I learned a lot but I'd like to point something out;

"Environmentalists also have suggested the spill occurred because the pipeline was carrying oil-sands crude, but an official report from the National Transportation Safety Board, the federal agency that investigates pipeline spills, determined the spill was not caused by what the pipeline was carrying, but rather by "pervasive organizational failures.""

Most of what I've read elsewhere wasn't that people were blaming the spill on the tar sands, just saying the oil industry methods for cleaning up a spill of that nature are no different than for regular crude, and thus almost completely ineffective. That allegation is crucial, because clean up tech is pretty standard industry wide, regardless of what company we're talking about and what their record is like.

The companies involved here in Maine/Canada could be the best in the world, yet accidents are inevitable.

I want a reason to trust that when an accident happens, they can effectively deal with it. They haven't given me one yet, because right now, from the article it sounds like their plan is they will be on top of it right away if it happens. I can't accept that.

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