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Tar-sands oil concern prompts letter from Congressional delegation

Union Leader Correspondent

April 21. 2014 10:28PM

SHELBURNE — The possibility of the Portland Pipe Line Corp. reversing flow on its pipeline across the North Country to bring tar-sands oil from Canada to Maine has prompted a call from New Hampshire’s entire Congressional delegation to require the company to seek a new presidential permit.

In a letter last Friday to Secretary of State John Kerry, the delegation — U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte and Reps. Carol Shea-Porter and Ann McLane Kuster — told Kerry they wrote him in response to constituents’ concerns. PPLC currently sends light- and medium-crude oil from South Portland, Maine. to a refinery in Montreal.

The lawmakers noted that PPLC’s corporate parent recently received permission from the National Energy Board of Canada to bring oil sands products, also known as diluted bitumen, through the Canadian portion of the pipeline, with the expectation that the material would be ultimately transported to Maine.

The Portland-Montreal pipeline, the delegation said, was approved under a 1999 presidential permit and passes through Shelburne, Gorham, Randolph, Jefferson and Lancaster.

Under executive order, they said, “the Secretary of State has the authority to issue presidential permits for the construction, connection, operation, or maintenance of certain facilities, including pipelines, at the borders of the United States.”

Last month, Jim Merrill, a PPLC spokesman, told the Union Leader that “there is no plan proposed, pending or imminent, to reverse the flow of the Portland pipeline.”

But should PPLC make such a request, the delegation told Kerry that “... it is important for the State Department to conduct a transparent and thorough environmental and safety review of the proposal as part of a new presidential permit process.”

Reversing the direction of flow, the delegation summed up, “... would be a substantial shift from the pipeline’s current use. Such changes also pose risks to our constituents’ health, the environment and wildlife, which is why we believe the proposal should warrant a comprehensive review as required by the presidential permit process.”

Sheridan Brown, a Grantham attorney who serves as New Hampshire Audubon’s legislative coordinator, said that two bills that might help prevent or mitigate the effects of a spill from the Portland-Montreal pipeline continue to advance in the Legislature.

Senate Bill 325, which would give the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services rule-making authority to impose state-level spill preparedness requirements on oil pipeline operators, and whose primary sponsor is State Sen. Jeff Woodburn, D-Dalton, passed the House Recreation and Development Committee last week. It will be considered by the full House Wednesday.

A separate bill — House Bill 1224 relative to state inspection of oil pipelines — has already passed the Senate and is now on its way to Gov. Maggie Hassan, Brown said.

The two bills, he added, “will complement each other nicely, with HB 1224 working to keep oil in the pipeline and SB 325 making sure we’re prepared in the event oil is released from the pipeline.”

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