Published Date Written by Barbara TetreaultRANDOLPH – The state's two U.S. Representatives, Ann Kuster and Carol Shea-Potter, along with 16 other representatives and senators, have sent a letter to the Obama administration requesting that a full environmental review and a new Presidential Permit be required for any plan to transport Canadian tar sands oil on the Portland Pipeline.
"To safeguard the health of New Hampshire's people and environment, we must conduct a thorough environmental review before pumping tar sands across the Granite State," said Kuster. "This is just common sense. The families I represent deserve to have their voices heard through a public comment process, as well as the reassurance that our health and economy would not be adversely affected by this proposal."
There is widespread speculation that Portland Pipeline will propose to reverse the flow in its 236-mile pipeline from Portland to Montreal to transport so-called tar sands or diluted bitumen from Alberta, Canada. The pipeline runs through the towns of Coos County communities of Shelburne, Gorham, Randolph, Jefferson, and Lancaster.
Portland Pipeline President and CEO Larry Wilson told a gathering in Randolph last November that his company has no current plans to do so. But Wilson said he would not rule out the possibility as a way to maximize use of his company's two active pipelines. One of the pipelines currently carries light crude oil off-loaded from ships in Portland to refineries in Montreal. The other pipeline has not been in use for over two years - since Shell Canada closed its Montreal refinery.
In 2008, a Canadian pipeline transport company sought permission to reverse the flow on the line and the U.S. Department of State indicated no further authorization or environmental review would be required. The company did not proceed at that time.
In a press release, NH Audubon Director of Conservation Carol Foss said a 2010 spill in Kalamazoo, Michigan that leaked over 800,000 gallons of diluted bitumen revealed that clean-up technologies could not deal with the large quantity of submerged oil.
"Until 2010, there was no understanding of how this material behaved in a spill," Foss said, arguing there is a need for a new Presidential Permit and a full Environmental Impact Statement if Portland Pipeline decides to move tar sands oil over the line.
NH Audubon President Michael J. Bartlett said diluted bitumen may be similar to conventional heavy crude oil moving through a pipe, but it behaves differently when spilled. He said more than two years after the Kalamazoo spill, water bodies in Michigan remain contaminated and closed to public use.
"The swath of mowed grass cutting through the forests of Lancaster, Jefferson, Randolph, Gorham, and Shelburne looks innocuous enough. It is at the river crossings, where erosion has exposed the pipe, that even a casual observer would have concerns," he said.
Bruce Kimmse, who chairs the Randolph Conservation Commission, said there is a lot of local concern about the possibility of transporting tar sands oil on the pipeline. He said reversing the flow would "exposure us to risks without any benefits". He noted no new jobs would be created along the pipeline nor would there be any additional tax revenue.
Kimmse noted the informational hearing sponsored by the commission last fall attracted a full house to the Randolph town hall.
"This is not the radical environmental crowd we're talking about here. These are people who like to hunt and fish," he said.