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My Turn: White Mountain rivers and tar sands: not a good mix

New Hampshire is at risk from a new hazard for which no local controls exists. Recently the Canadian government approved the reversal of the last remaining pipeline linking Montreal to the Alberta tar sands fields. The only existing pipeline for tar sands oil to reach international markets from Montreal goes directly across New Hampshire.

During World War II, a series of pipelines were constructed to bring crude oil from the port of Portland, Maine, to Montreal to avoid exposing tankers to German submarines. These pipelines transverse northern New England beginning in Portland, passing Lake Sebago and the Androscoggin River, continuing across New Hampshire in the Route 2 corridor, and over the White Mountains and the Connecticut River before entering Vermont to complete the journey to Montreal. Three pipelines remain. One is decommissioned, one is mothballed and one remains in active service.

Tar sands crude, or more properly bitumen, shares many negative environmental characteristics with coal. It requires significant amounts of energy to extract. Refining processes have substantial negative environmental impacts and yield large quantities of waste products. When bitumen is finally consumed as a fuel, it releases copious amounts of carbon.

A big difference between coal and bitumen is that, after dilution with volatile hydrocarbons, bitumen can be pumped through pipelines. Pipelines, like all transport modalities, are subject to failure. In the United States, we spill on average about 3 million gallons annually from pipelines. Unlike lighter liquid hydrocarbons, when bitumen escapes pipeline containment, and after the toxic volatiles evaporate, it will sink to the bottom of water bodies making it impossible to fully recover.

After four years and $1 billion, the tar sands pipeline spill cleanup effort in the Kalamazoo River remains a work in progress.

New Hampshire has some 70 water bodies, much ecologically sensitive land, and tourist destinations adjacent to the Portland-to-Montreal pipeline. We have a special interest in ensuring that any future reversal of the pipeline to transport Alberta bitumen is done in the safest manner possible. However, interstate oil pipeline, or more formally hazardous liquid pipeline, safety is the sole province of the federal government.

There are several bills in the New Hampshire Legislature that will create study committees, seek to improve emergency response and have the state assume responsibility for the federal pipeline inspection process. However, New Hampshire under federal law does not have the ability to take direct action to halt the flow reversal or to improve upon the existing federal safety standards.

What can you do? The State Department must rule whether a presidential permit and a full environmental assessment will be required before permission for a Portland-to-Montreal pipeline reversal is given. Gov. Maggie Hassan, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, and U.S. Reps. Annie Kuster and Carol Shea-Porter have all written requesting the State Department do just that. We should, too.

Let your elected representatives, Secretary of State John Kerry and the president know of your concerns and don’t wait. Without federal intervention, this potential risk is only a valve turn away from reality.

(State Rep. Bill Baber of Dover is a member of the House Science, Technology and Energy Committee.)

Legacy Comments6

go and look at this map and then come back to comment.... http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=usa+pipeline+map&id=10CDD9F631BEFA3408E0DE3FA3EA9CA70BD0435C&FORM=IQFRBA#view=detail&id=10CDD9F631BEFA3408E0DE3FA3EA9CA70BD0435C&selectedIndex=0...

NH's white mountain streams are one of the last places in New England where wild native brook trout thrive. This pipeline puts in jeopardy the existence of one of only three remaining salmonid species native to the state.

Ok, let's take on the headline......tar sands are in a pipeline, unless some extraordinary thing happens, they won't spill into the streams. If we walk out the front door tomorrow, we might be hit by a meteor, probably not but should we just stay in the house?

Reading comprehension . . . obviously you missed THIS part of the story; "Pipelines, like all transport modalities, are subject to failure. In the United States, we spill on average about 3 million gallons annually from pipelines. Unlike lighter liquid hydrocarbons, when bitumen escapes pipeline containment, and after the toxic volatiles evaporate, it will sink to the bottom of water bodies making it impossible to fully recover."

Funny that Bill didn't mention Kelly Ayotte, who would make a reasoned decision. Well, he mentioned John Kerry and O'Bummer, the two most incompetent people on the planet. Having followed Canadian politics for many years, and spent lots of time there, they have it figured out; everywhere from healthcare to the environment, to the use of resources, to the economy, we've missed the boat.

So just to state the obvious, you agree with Ayotte’s tacit approval of this bitumin transmission through New Hampshire? That opinion is as well-informed as your deluded belief that Canada has it “all figured out” on the environment. You may not be the best source for current events -- or historical ones either. Canada has traditionally had an environmental blind-spot, devoted without care or caution to resource extraction no matter the toll on human or ecological health. Just one example was the Harper government’s decision in 2012 to cancel funding for and evict all researchers from the Experimental Lakes Area, a research site in northwestern Ontario that is a source of internationally unique and limnologically irreplaceable scientific data for use in setting environmental regulatory policy. Your position favors government corruption and environmental ruination. Like Ayotte's.

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