NEW HAMPSHIRE and Maine have recently been dragged into a fight over a controversial pipeline project half a continent away. Environmental paranoia could mean fewer jobs, higher energy prices, and the end of one of New England's most responsible businesses.
The Portland-Montreal Pipeline runs 236 miles from Portland, Maine, through Northern New Hampshire and up to Montreal. Since 1941, it has carried more than 168 billion gallons of various grades of crude oil from tankers docked in Portland to the refineries in Montreal. Portland Pipe Line Corp. has won many national awards for worker safety, environmental safety, and maritime protection. But after 72 years of delivering energy, jobs and taxes, the Portland-Montreal Pipeline has been targeted by national environmental groups.
What these groups really oppose is Phase 4 of the Keystone Pipeline, known as Keystone XL. The first two phases of Keystone are up and running, and the third will come online later this year. But the final stage, 1,179 miles of pipeline connecting oil fields in Alberta, Montana and North Dakota to the Gulf Coast refineries, has drawn fierce opposition from environmentalists.
Only recently has it become commercially viable to extract crude oil and natural gas from the oil sand formations in Alberta and from shale deposits in Montana and North Dakota. Bringing that oil to market created the North Dakota economic boom, one of the few states to see rapid growth through the recession.
It may soon be cheaper for Montreal to get its crude oil from the West than from tankers docked in Portland. If the Portland-Montreal Pipeline loses its customers, the only two options would be going out of business or reversing the flow of oil.
The Portland Pipe Line Corp. is looking into whether it would viable to ship oil south for export out of Portland. This could ultimately provide access for Alberta crude to a year-round, deep water port on the Atlantic, making that oil competitive for export. Trans-Canada is considering similar options through Vancouver to serve Asia.
Environmental groups haven't been able to stop drilling from oil sands, so now they're trying to shut down the pipelines that carry that oil to market. They've collected enough signatures to put a question on the November ballot in Portland that would block any expansion or change in oil operations along the waterfront.
The Obama administration admits that there are no environmental or safety problems with piping oil from oil sands in the same pipelines that have carried traditional crude. The President says he won't approve Keystone XL if it would substantially increase the greenhouse gas emissions, but a draft State Department report already has concluded that blocking the project would have no effect on the amount of oil coming out of the ground, or on overall carbon emissions.
We need a much broader mix of energy sources to fuel the American economy. Wind, solar and other alternatives are going to be part of that mix. But they are not going to completely replace fossil fuels any time soon, particularly for our transportation needs. The massive domestic reserves in the western U.S. and Canada are going to get to market, one way or another.
Portland Pipe Line Corp. should be allowed to study whether reversing the flow of one of the safest and most dependable pipelines in the nation makes economic and environmental sense. Instead of tankers coming into Portland from Venezuela and the Middle East, we could be filling up tankers with North American oil to complete in the global market. Wouldn't that be a good thing, both for our energy security and our national security?
We can protect our shores, create new jobs and provide the energy a growing economy needs. And we can do it without building a single new mile of pipeline, through a company with a stellar environmental record over the past seven decades. We should not let pipeline paranoia from radical groups keep us from even considering the idea.
Grant Bosse is a blogger and a member of the New Hampshire Energy Forum.