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Editorial: Will tar sands oil flow through New Hampshire?

Largely missed in the furor over the proposed Northern Pass hydroelectric transmission line, and the tilting for and against windmills on New Hampshire’s ridge lines, is another potential energy project that could have enormous environmental repercussions. It’s the possibility that heavy tar sands oil from Canada could flow not through America’s Midwest but through the Portland-Montreal “Trailbreaker” pipeline that cuts across Coos County.

The possibility has environmental and citizen groups up in arms in Maine and Vermont, both of which have laws that give it some say over what is primarily a project regulated at the federal level. New Hampshire, however, could be left swinging what amounts to a Nerf sword in its attempt to protect the Connecticut River and scores of New Hampshire rivers, streams, ponds and watersheds at risk. Lawmakers who are already debating whether changes should be made to the state Site Evaluation Committee, which approves or rejects large-scale energy projects, should consider whether regulators have the tools they need to protect the North Country if the pipeline reversal plan goes forward.

The CEO of the Portland Pipe Line Corp., owned by Exxon Mobil, has acknowledged that while the company has no immediate plans, it’s open to the possibility of reversing the flow in its 236-mile line to move the tar sands oil to Portland and into tanker ships. The line, which actually has three pipes of different ages, has carried oil inland since the 1940s. Two of the pipelines are currently idled. Because the newest and largest line has been in service for nearly half a century, critics of the proposal fear that, even with updating, it won’t be able to withstand the higher pressures needed to carry what’s called “dilbit,” a mix of tarry oil and thinning chemicals that evaporate when a spill occurs.

When a spill does occur, tar sands oil is much harder to clean up than ordinary crude. A massive 2010 spill created by a rupture in a pipeline near Michigan’s Kalamazoo River is still under way, and remediation could cost $1 billion. A rupture in a pipeline carrying dilbit two weeks ago in an Exxon-owned line in Arkansas has increased concerns over the future of the New England line, which for the most part has a good environmental track record. In both cases, sensors to warn pump operators of a leak in the line are believed to have failed, and a recent report by the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration argues against placing too much faith in such safety systems. Between 2002 and July 2012, the agency said, remote sensors detected only 5 percent of all spills.

In New Hampshire, the pipeline runs from Lancaster through Jefferson, Randolph, Gorham and Shelburne en route to Portland. The land is beautiful, remote, rich in wildlife and important to the state’s tourist economy. It must not be subjected to undue risk. To that end, Reps. Annie Kuster and Carol Shea-Porter are among the members of Congress who have asked Secretary of State John Kerry to ensure that no tar sands oil is pumped through New England until after a full environmental impact study is performed. We join them in that request, but would add that, given its enormous potential to worsen global warming, the best place for Canada’s tar sands is right where they are, in the ground.

Legacy Comments9

You're on the right track, Concord Monitor Editor(s), but too little, too late, for this legislative season. Let this be a lesson. For months and months, citizens of NH have begged legislators to recognize that we are swinging what you call a "Nerf sword" at those energy developers who would pillage and plunder our state, whether it's Northern Pass, wind turbine corporations, Trailbreaker. Neighboring states make sure to balance the interests of residents against those of developers. Maine and Connecticut, for example, develop new optional transmission projects in "win-win" fashion. NH, however, allows big energy developers to do as they wish. But the effective legislative season in which changes could be made to end this situation in NH this year has ended - with no action. For you, Editor(s), it's only come a-cropper with the threat of Trailbreaker. Where were you months ago when editorializing on the need for review of elective energy projects in NH would have done some good this legislative year? It's to be hoped that the Planning Board and Conservation Commission of your town, which have come out against Northern Pass as proposed, have opened your eyes and that you will be a stronger advocate for overall state energy planning from here on. It's not just about Trailbreaker, it's a systemic problem that can only be remedied with an overhaul of how NH interacts with all private, for-profit, elective (unneeded) energy projects.

If you think the NH Office of Energy and Planning can produce such a document then you dont know the seriously sad shape that dept is in.....there was a massive brain drain there over the last year+ and only the smart are now in private industry - nobody would take the rest

All I ask is for every reader to go and look at the following 2 maps ....after you do think about posting a response to the draconian image the article wants you to perceive.......... .......

Cheap abundant reliable energy is the sole FUTURE for a prosperous America....the democrat PARTY of NO is fighting every single item that secures that is simply unpatriotic for them to fight America's chance to grow out of the OBAMA ECONOMIC DOLDRUMS

Sail..I would ALMOST agree, IF you were to be touting 'renewable', NON-fossil energy. However, as we can all see, any fuel which increases the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is clearly a detriment to our planet. My push would be for modular nuclear power plants; small but efficient and far less hazardous.

I'm IN! I want a modular nuclear power plant. Lets see...where do we put them?

Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are creating one the size of a refrigerator that is buried and will power a village

The modular nuclear plants would be embedded in the ground. Probably encasing it in concrete would be enough to both control unauthorized access and safeguard potential exposure. Since the output would be, most probably, about 1/5 what Seabrook puts out, a city like Concord would need two. Once fueled, it would produce clean power for around 30 years.

Hmmm. Maybe we should require anyone who want to visit the north country hike in. Undue risk and all.

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