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Bill passes, pipeline worries remain

Union Leader Correspondent

March 31. 2014 8:37PM
Located along Route 2 in Shelburne, this Portland Pipe Line Corporation pump station helps move crude oil from South Portland, Maine to Montreal, Canada. (JOHN KOZIOL)

RANDOLPH — Sen. Jeff Woodburn called the passage of Senate Bill 325 "a great first step" toward New Hampshire having more say in formulating a spill-preparedness plan for the Portland-Montreal pipeline (PMPL).

A warning sign on Meadow Road in Shelburne shows the underground location of the Portland Pine Line Corp.’s pipeline that carries crude oil from South Portland, across northern New Hampshire and Vermont to refineries in Montreal, Canada. JOHN KOZIOL

The bill passed the state Senate 13-11 Thursday and now goes to the House.

PMPL has not been a bad neighbor, said Woodburn, D-Dalton, "but we need to have our own plan when it comes to having them run something through the environment. It's not something we can gamble with."

Bob and Harriet Kruszyna, whose property is crossed by the pipeline, said they're happy about the bill's passage, but "it only says we're watching you" to PMPL and doesn't actually control how the company uses the pipeline.

SB 325 might be largely just a symbolic gesture, Bob Kruszyna said, "but at least it alerts politicians to what's happening."

Beginning in South Portland, Maine, the pipeline extends 236 miles, entering the Granite State in Shelburne, and proceeding underground mostly along the Route 2 corridor through Gorham, Randolph, Jefferson and Lancaster before it crosses into Vermont. The oldest part of the pipeline was built in 1941.

The pipeline is actually three lines. A 24-inch wide pipe continues to carry more than 100,000 barrels worth of crude oil daily, while a 12-inch wide pipe has been decommissioned. Woodburn, the Kruszynas, some of their neighbors and organizations including New Hampshire Audubon Society, are most concerned about the third, 18-inch wide pipe, which they believe PMPL wants to reactivate and use to "reverse flow" so-called "tar-sands oil" from Canada to Portland.

Jim Merrill, a spokesman for PMPL, told the Union Leader on March 20 that there was "no plan proposed, pending or imminent, to reverse the flow of the Portland pipeline." Merrill stressed that the PMPL is "an excellent pipeline with the highest degree of integrity" that has "safely transported over 5.8 billion barrels of crude oil" over its lifetime.

Woodburn and others point out that PMPL's corporate parents were responsible for a 2010 spill in Michigan of tar-sands oil into the Kalamazoo River. Critics of tar-sands oil note that it is extremely difficult to clean up because it sinks in water, rather than floating on the surface.

A spill from the PMPL would be "devastating," Woodburn said, potentially affecting "every aspect of life in the North Country."

Woodburn and SB325 supporters have noted that the PMPL crosses more than 70 streams and wetlands, including the Connecticut and Androscoggin rivers, as well as the Moose River, in front of the Kruszynas' modest home on Durand Road.

Bob Kruszyna is a retired research physicist; Harriet is a retired chemist. Both of them taught at Dartmouth College and also at Dartmouth Medical School. Both have watched what PMPL is doing in the right-of-way the company has across the three acres of their property along the Moose River.

When the Kruszynas bought their home in 1972, they were aware there was a pipeline in their front yard — the 18" wide pipe is on the northern bank of the Moose River, the 12" on the south.

But it wasn't until further review that Bob Kruszyna said he realized his easement is open-ended and doesn't actually specify how wide the right-of-way is. He also came to the conclusion that only the federal government, which has regulatory authority over oil pipelines, could prevent the PMPL from being used to transport tar-sands oil.

Woodburn said SB325 has a good chance of passing in the House. It would give the Department of Environmental Services more of a voice in a spill-preparedness plan for the PMPL.

Woodbury said that PMPL opposed SB325, claiming that federal law pre-empted any state action. He said that philosophically, some SB325 supporters found it "offensive that we can't be involved and regulate what's happening within our own borders. This is oil that doesn't benefit anyone in New Hampshire, it just passes through."

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