* Maine pipeline plan hinges on flows to Montreal
* Recent spills inflame Canadian oil debate
* Towns oppose oil sands, line passes through tourist zone
By Dave Sherwood
SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine, May 22 The little-known
operator of a pipeline linking Montreal and Maine is studying
how to make the line the first route to get Canadian oil sands
crude to an Atlantic deepwater port, but the plan relies on
supplies that may not be available for years.
The Portland-Montreal pipeline - principally owned by top
Canadian oil refiners Suncor Energy Inc, Imperial Oil
Ltd, and Royal Dutch Shell Plc - has already
spent about $6.5 million to prepare for a reversal of the line
so it can carry heavy oil sands crude from Quebec to Maine's
biggest city, according to regulatory filings from 2011. The
pipeline now mainly carries imported crude to Canadian
The plan to reverse the 236-mile (378-kilometer) duct has
already made New England green groups and some lawmakers
bristle, opening up an eastern front in the national energy and
climate change debate. But its fate may hang more heavily on the
availability of oil sands crude from points west than it does on
"This is not something that's going to happen overnight,"
said Larry Wilson, chief executive of the Maine-based Portland
Pipe Line Corp, citing the need for enough supply reaching
Montreal and demand along the Eastern Seaboard.
"But we are currently operating under capacity, and looking
for every opportunity to maximize use of our assets, including
reversal," he said of the pipe, which was designed to move as
much as 240,000 barrels per day.
Canadian pipeline company Enbridge Inc - operator
of the world's largest pipeline system - has proposed reversing
its so-called 'Line 9' pipeline between Sarnia, Ontario, and
Montreal, to get Alberta oil sands crude into Quebec.
That would eventually allow it to supply Quebec with just
300,000 bpd, too little to sate Quebec's oil refineries and fill
the line to Portland at the same time.
"Our intention is to feed those two refineries but I guess
they'll still be a little bit short," Al Monaco, Enbridge's
chief executive, told reporters earlier this month when asked if
the company had mulled supplying crude to the Portland line.
Canada's oil sands are seen as a secure source of oil for
the United States, but they are located in landlocked northern
Canadian oil sands producers and Canadian authorities are
keen to move more oil to U.S. and overseas markets, but plans,
including TransCanada Corp's Keystone XL pipeline to
the Gulf of Mexico and Enbridge's Northern Gateway to the
Pacific, have been delayed by controversy and political rancor.
Some oil sands crude does move to Vancouver on Canada's
Pacific Coast, however, on Kinder Morgan Energy Partners LP's
Trans Mountain pipeline.
Opposition to pipeline projects has stiffened after recent
spills of oil sands crude on lines in the middle of the United
States, including one outside Little Rock, Arkansas, in March,
and another in 2010 that poured 20,500 barrels into a waterway
near Kalamazoo, Michigan.
In Maine, several communities have passed nonbinding
resolutions expressing opposition to transporting oil sands
crude through the Portland pipeline, which passes through the
Sebago Lake watershed, a regional tourism hub and the source of
water supply for Portland, Maine's largest city.
"There's so much to lose that Maine people aren't willing to
sit on their hands and wait until the company decides they are
ready to propose something," said Dylan Voorhees of the Natural
Resources Council of Maine.
U.S. Senator Angus King, an independent who caucuses with
the Democrats, has called the company a "sound environmental
steward" for its good record on spills. But he wrote in a recent
constituent letter that he would request that any proposal to
transport heavier-grade diluted bitumen on the line face full
federal permitting and environmental scrutiny.
In 2008, the pipeline company submitted a proposal to
reverse the flow and transport Canadian crude - though the plan
was later ditched for economic reasons.
At the time, the U.S. State Department determined the
project "did not constitute a substantial change in scope..."
from the original permit, according to documents obtained by