by Tom Porter
MPBN news story
Environmental advocates today released a report which they say highlights the determination of big oil companies to transport “toxic” tar sands oil through Maine from Canada. The study examines the ownership of a pipeline that cuts across Maine from Montreal. Tom Porter has more.
Dylan Voorhees is with the Natural Resources Council of Maine – one of the groups behind the report. “The company that owns the pipeline that goes through Maine is commonly known as the Portland Pipe Line Corporation, but that really doesn’t tell you about who’s behind this. You have to follow several layers of corporate ownership backwards,” he says.
And those layers, Voorhees says, lead to a Canadian oil and tar sands company named Imperial Oil, which is mostly owned by ExxonMobil. A call to ExxonMobil was returned by a spokesman from Imperial Oil, who denied that Imperial controls any interests outside Canada.
The bottom line though, says Voorhees, is that a Texas oil giant controls the Maine pipeline. “So the majority of the ownership of the Maine pipeline is by ExxonMobil, the biggest of the big oil companies out there,” he says.
The 62-year-old pipeline is currently used to transport crude oil westward from tankers arriving in Portland. The concern among environmental groups is that the flow will be reversed to transport tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, eastwards to Portland, from where it can reach global oil markets.
Referencing information obtained through a Freedom of Access request, the report claims that even though Portland Pipe Line Corporation publicly denied it was moving ahead with the tar sands project, quite another thing was happening behind closed doors.
In October last year, Voorhees says, members of the Portland Pipe Line Corporation met with members of the LePage administration and state environmental officials to talk about “Canadian Oil Sands Development.”
“We have the literature they handed out, we know who was in those meetings and they were there clearly to talk about Canadian tar sands,” he says. “And it doesn’t fit with the public story that the Portland Pipeline company has been telling, which is we have no active proposal to bring tar sands through this pipeline.”
Portland Pipe Line Corporation did not respond to a request for comment for this story, but state officials characterize last October’s meeting as more of an informational session, designed to introduce company officials to the new governor.
Adrienne Bennett is director of communications for Gov. Paul LePage. “What I can tell you is that it was a meet-and-greet type of meeting and there have not been subsequent meetings since then,” Bennett says.
The email exchange obtained through the environmentalists’ Freedom of Access request indicate that the director of Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection attended the meeting. However, a spokesperson for the Department told MPBN that no one from the DEP actually attended the meeting, even though the report stated otherwise.
As for Portland Pipe Line’s plans to transport tar sands east from Canada, state officials say there hasn’t been much movement. In 2009 the company applied for an air emissions license – part of the permitting process to enable the pipeline to reverse its flow. But in April of last year that application was withdrawn, and as of now, says Bennett, it has not been re-applied for.
“What we have in place is an objective and fair reviewing process if at such time Portland Pipe Line would like to come forward and request an air emissions license,” she says.
Nevertheless, environmental groups say they do expect such an application to be forthcoming. They point to the fact that requests to reverse the pipeline flow have already been submitted on the Canadian side of the border as indication that things are moving in this direction.
Tar sands oil, they say, is more toxic than regular crude and harder to clean up in the event of a spill. Proponents of tar sands, meanwhile, claim that the industry – as well as being good for the economy – maintains comparatively low greenhouse emissions.