Oil flowed from South Portland again this summer. But it probably won’t last

Good evening from the BDN Portland office on Congress Street. Let’s get into it.

What we’re talking about

The Portland-Montreal Pipe Line broke a five-month dry spell this summer, carrying nearly 3 million barrels of crude oil from storage tanks in South Portland to refineries in Montreal. But oil analysts still say that the pipeline has no future running north.

June and July have been the only months in which oil flowed along the line in 2016 — 1.3 million barrels moved across northern New England into Canada in June and 1.4 million in July, according to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. The shipments mark a more than 80 percent decrease from the amount of oil piped north during the same period last year — part of a long-term decline that hurts the many Maine industries that support the pipeline and the tanker ships that supply it.

Over the last decade, use of the Portland-Montreal Pipe Line has fallen from a flow of roughly 150 million barrels annually to a relative trickle of 22 million in 2015, as some Montreal refineries have closed and others have been increasingly fed by crude extracted from the oil sands in western Canada. And trackers of the global oil markets suggest that the summer activity is only a momentary exception to the trend of less oil being imported and sent along the pipeline as North America ups domestic production.

A temporary dip in North American crude oil production, partially due to the massive wildfire that ravaged Canadian oil country in the spring, has created a market where it’s more attractive to bring foreign oil in through Portland, said John Auers, the executive vice president of energy consultancy Turner, Mason & Company.

“But I don’t think this is long-term,” said Auers, who is based in Dallas. “Long-term Canadian sources will primarily satisfy the eastern Canadian refinery diets and it won’t make sense to move crude up that line to Montreal.”

The pipeline has been a significant part of the economy in greater Portland since its construction during World War II, and as recently as last year, it brought scores of large tankers into Portland.  These ships have fed a constellation of attendant industries, including ship suppliers, fuel sellers, tug boats and pilots, and the pipeline is South Portland’s fifth largest taxpayer, with a total tax valuation of $44 million last year.

Portland-Montreal Pipe Line has brought suit against South Portland over a clean air ordinance that effectively blocks an effort to reverse the flow of the pipeline, allowing Canadian crude to be pumped down to the U.S. Auers said that such a reversal is likely the only way for the pipeline to remain viable, but environmental groups are fiercely opposed to importing crude from the Canadian oil sands, which they argue produce more greenhouse gases than other forms of extraction.

The company did not respond to request for comment. But in a written June statement, Jim Merrill, a lawyer representing Portland-Montreal Pipe Line, said it “remains open for business, which includes off-loading vessels, supporting its customers, the community, employees and annuitants.”

In July two foreign tankers docked in South Portland, which is a boon for the local economy according to Chris Hall, CEO of Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce. But Hall also said that the lack of ships earlier in the year and the declining demand for oil sent north will have an impact on the economy in the Portland area.

“To the extent that it goes dark, those are local jobs that are gone,” he said. — Jake Bleiberg

ICYMI

We can improve our schools by drawing on the knowledge of immigrant families — BDN Portland contributor Doris Santoro writes:

Some members of our community may not be persuaded that it is worthwhile to reach out to families who are learning English and who may be unfamiliar with U.S. schools. Here’s what the peer-reviewed research says: Parental involvement in schools increases student academic achievement; higher student achievement usually leads to better school climates, and community outcomes and family engagement in schools can improve the lives of the entire family and community.

But better outreach and service to immigrant families is only one component to school engagement. Portland schools’ faculty and staff also need to tap the knowledge and experience immigrant families can share. Our immigrant families bring language skills, geopolitical insight and cultural knowledge that we miss out on if we reduce their involvement to multicultural potlucks.

Context: The Press Herald this week reported on a push for schools to do a better job of reaching out to immigrant families.

Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson will be in the Old Port tomorrow — He and his running mate, Bill Weld, will speak at a scheduled 11:30 a.m. brunch at the Regency Hotel on Milk Street. Plan your travel accordingly — though there were two seats still open at the time of this writing, and he’s not expected to draw protesters like Trump did.

New controversy erupts over LePage comments about Muslim, blacks, Hispanics — He said he has a three-ring binder containing a list of alleged drug dealers arrested in Maine that are more than 90 percent “black and Hispanic people from Waterbury, Connecticut, the Bronx and Brooklyn.”

The Big Idea

Here’s why music actually makes you feel — Kate Beever, a music therapist here in Portland, explains why we have emotional reactions to music:

Today, we know that the amygdala (involved in emotion and memory) and the cerebellum (which gives us the experience of intense emotion) work together to create responses to music. The cerebellum adjusts itself to synchronize with the music to which we listen, and it does that immediately — this is what makes us tap along in time to a favorite song. And circuits in the brain called mirror neurons provide us with the empathy to connect our own meaning to that of the music — even if we don’t know what the composer actually meant. Experiencing empathy leads to feeling compassion, and this feels good. Listening to music, therefor, is good for all of humanity.


Got any interesting story ideas, suggestions or links to share? Email Dan MacLeod at dmacleod@bangordailynews.com, or tweet @dsmacleod.

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Dan MacLeod

About Dan MacLeod

Dan MacLeod is the editor of BDN Portland. He's an Orland native who first moved to Portland in 2002. He's been a journalist since 2008, and previously worked for the New York Post and the Brooklyn Paper.