March 24, 2013

Trains carry millions of gallons of oil across Maine

No oil spilled in a recent derailment, but there are still concerns about the growing volume being carried across the state to a New Brunswick refinery.

By CLARKE CANFIELD / The Associated Press

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This March 7 photo, provided by WABI-TV5 in Bangor, shows derailed tank cars in Mattawamkeag. Fifteen cars of a 96-car train carrying crude oil went off the tracks at about 5 a.m., about 60 miles north of Bangor.

The Associated Press/WABI-TV5

The pipeline now carries oil from Portland to refineries in Montreal, but environmental groups say plans are in the works to reverse the flow of the pipeline so thick sands oil can be pumped from Montreal to Portland, where it could be loaded onto ships and taken elsewhere.

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection has concerns about the increasing amount of oil being transported across the state and has begun developing protection plans for the areas where the trains travel, said spokeswoman Samantha Warren.

The department is mapping sensitive natural resources, water bodies, drinking water sources and access points in remote areas, Warren said, as well as developing strategies on how best to respond to spills.

Because each tank car holds some 30,000 gallons of oil, a derailment and spill could be devastating to the environment, she said. But the reality is that the 400,000 home heating oil tanks in Maine pose a bigger threat than the oil trains, she said.

Over the past 15 years, such tanks have spilled oil about 500 times a year adding up to more than 17,000 gallons annually, she said.

Pan Am Railways has spent several million dollars upgrading its tracks in Maine, in large part because of increased traffic generated by oil, said Cynthia Scarano, executive vice president of the Massachusetts-based railroad.

Railroads are simply filling a need, she said.

“The capacity isn’t there among pipelines for what we need,” she said. “Rather than building new pipelines, we’re using something we already have.”

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