SOUTH PORTLAND (AP) – Portland Pipe Line Corp. is exploring whether to dredge 75 acres of ocean bottom so tankers can deliver more oil to its terminal.

If the project goes forward as planned, it would make the shipping channel into Portland Harbor 5 feet deeper, allowing tankers to carry full loads to the terminal.

The company says it does not plan to increase the amount of crude oil it receives annually. Rather, the dredging would simply reduce the number of tankers needed to deliver the same amount of oil.

Portland Pipe Line’s depot each year takes in 150 million to 160 million barrels of crude oil, which is pumped to refineries in Canada. Portland Harbor is one of the largest oil ports on the Eastern Seaboard.

Tankers now typically deliver an average of 750,000 barrels of crude oil to the terminal. A channel that is 50 feet deep, rather than the current 45 feet, would allow them carry about 10 percent more, said Ralph Wink, director of engineering at Portland Pipe Line.

But before committing to the project, the company is still deciding whether it should take the rare step of investing private dollars to improve a federally maintained channel.

The company in recent weeks has applied for state and federal permits to remove 300,000 cubic yards of sediment – enough to fill 25,000 12-yard dump trucks – from the ocean floor.

The company also is working with state and federal agencies to ensure the dredging does not disturb scallop and lobster populations in and around the shipping channel.

Portland Pipe Line would do the dredging between January and April, which should limit the impact on the fisheries.

The four-month window comes after scalloping season and when lobsters are in deeper water away from the channel, said Brian Swan, of the state Department of Marine Resources.

If the project goes forward, Portland Pipe Line would also bring up a 60-foot fishing boat from the bottom that sank decades ago.

Although the deeper channel would stop at the Portland Pipe Line pier, Jeffrey Monroe, Portland’s director of ports and transportation, said other companies could benefit from the increased depth.

AP-ES-08-07-03 0216EDT

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