The Portland-Montreal pipeline was opened in 1941 to carry mostly Venezuelan crude offloaded from freighters in South Portland, Maine, to refineries in Montreal. Portland was chosen because it is a year-round port. In 2015, about thirty tankers were unloaded and about 60 thousand barrels per day transported to Montreal. However, Montreal refineries are now sourcing their crude from Alberta via pipeline - Line 9 - and since January 1, 2016, no freighters have been unloaded and the pipeline has been unused.
Not for lack of trying, however. The pipeline operators planned to reverse the pipeline and use it to export Alberta crude from South Portland via the pipeline. The good folk of Portland had other ideas, however, and banned crude exports from their port – so the pipeline sits empty and unused.
So what? This is all good, right?
Well, consider this: The refineries at Cherry Point and Anacortes are designed to offload Alaska crude from freighters. But recently, they have been receiving a significant portion of their crude from North Dakota via rail. Take a look at all the new rail infrastructure BNSF has installed in Whatcom and Skagit counties. New roadbeds, miles of double-tracking and sidings, all designed to increase the amount of rail freight. Some of it was planned for the Cherry Point coal dump, but it can also be used for hauling crude oil. And while you’re seeing a lot fewer bomb-car crude trains as low oil prices have made rail transport of crude generally expensive, most industry watchers expect oil prices to rise out of this temporary glut.
And “our” representatives in “our” government have recently overturned the ban on crude oil exports.
See where I’m going with this? It’s a very simple thing to load crude onto freighters at Cherry Point or Anacortes using existing infrastructure. And as a purely business matter, if the refineries could add to their profitability by trans-shipping crude and exporting it via freighter through Puget Sound – they will do it! If we let them…
Coal is not the only issue. Frankly, I think the Cherry Point coal dump is not economically feasible given current world coal prices. But do we want to allow oil exports through our counties? Dollars to donuts this is exactly what the oil companies are planning to do.
Below are links to sources.