Published Date Written by Barbara Tetreault, Berlin Daily Sun, Berlin, N.H.CONCORD, N.H. — New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan has asked U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to require a thorough environmental review and permitting process before allowing the Portland Pipeline to transport any tar sands oil though affected towns.
Hassan noted the Portland Pipe Line Corporation has indicated it is considering reversing the flow on its 236-mile pipeline from Portland to Montreal to carry diluted bitumen oil, or "tar sands oil" from Alberta.
The governor said the state has limited authority over such pipelines but under federal law, the Secretary of State has the authority to issue a presidential permit for the construction, connection, operation, or maintenance of certain facilities, including pipelines, at the borders of the United States with Canada. That authority applies to substantial modifications of existing crossings at the international border as well as new border crossings.
"I am writing to ask you to act to protect New Hampshire's economy and environment. The State of New Hampshire has limited authority over pipelines that cross state borders and therefore relies heavily on federal review and regulation. It also receives little or no benefit from their presence in the state. However, should anything go wrong with such a pipeline — a leak or worse — New Hampshire's taxpayers bear the responsibility and cost of cleanup," Hassan wrote.
"Moreover, the residents of the five towns through which the decades-old pipeline crosses — Lancaster, Jefferson, Randolph, Gorham and Shelburne — are likely to suffer the most direct impact of any spill or leak. It is also likely that our rivers and streams would bear the brunt of the environmental impact of a release, threatening the vital tourism industry and natural resources on which the entire state relies," Hassan continued.
Portland Pipe Line actually has two pipelines, although one has not been in use since 2010. At an informational meeting in Randolph this winter, Portland Pipe Line CEO Larry Wilson said there was no current plan to transport tar sands on the pipeline. But he said the company was looking at various alternatives to maximize use of the two pipelines.
Hassan noted in 2008 the Trailbreaker project proposed to move diluted bitumen from Alberta to Portland using the Montreal to Portland Pipe Line. That project was shelved because of economic reasons but Hassan said she is concerned it will be resurrected.
The governor noted there is a lack of consensus surrounding best practices for tar sands oil pipelines. She said there is a study underway to determine whether diluted bitumen is more likely than other crude oils to cause leaks and spills. Hassan referenced the 2010 spill in Michigan that leaked over 800,000 gallons of diluted bitumen, contaminating a 30-mile stretch of the Kalamazoo River. She noted 150 families have been relocated and clean-up costs have exceeded $765 million.
The possibility of reversing the flow on the Portland Pipe Line has drawn widespread concern in the three northern states.
Earlier this year, 18 members of Congress including U.S. Representatives Ann Kuster and Carol Shea-Porter, both of New Hampshire, sent a letter to the Obama administration requesting a full environmental review and a new presidential permit be required for any plan to transport Canadian tar sands oil on the Portland Pipe Line.
Vermont officials have ruled reversing the flow would require the company to go through an Act 250 review process, which is the state's environmental law. The Maine communities of Casco, Bethel, and Waterford have passed resolutions opposing any plan to pump tar sands through the pipeline network.