The Oil Man returns, his charm leavened by contempt

One week after his inauspicious Statehouse debut, professional oilman Larry Wilson was back under the golden dome today, trying to convince the House Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources Committee that his company doesn’t need any more regulation, thank you very much. Photo: Wilson explains his position to an apparently skeptical Rep. Kathryn Webb (D-Shelburne).

Wilson is President and CEO of the Portland-Montreal Pipeline Corporation; his pipeline carries imported oil from Portland to Montreal for sale in Canadian markets. On the way, it traverses the Northeast Kingdom. Last Tuesday, he told the committee that his company has no current plans to reverse the flow of the pipeline in order to carry tar-sands oil from western Canada to Portland for export — but, he quickly added, his company fervently hopes to develop such a plan.

(A development I reported the day it happened, one week ago. Congratulations to VPR’s John Dillon for reporting on it yesterday — a mere six days after my posting. Dillon’s report apparently prompted Channel 5’s Stewart Ledbetter and the Associated Press’ Dave Gram to attend today’s hearing. Because, y’know, it’s not really news until someone in the “real media” covers it.)

The subject of the hearing was, again, House Bill 27, which would explicitly require Act 250 review for any substantial alteration in an existing oil pipeline. If the bill passes, Wilson’s company would have to go through the permitting process as if from scratch.

Wilson arrived at the hearing with a full posse at his back, a Southern drawl oozing from his mouth, and a satchel of patent medicines at his side. Well, not really, but he sure had plenty of bromides on offer. Wall-to-wall assurances that the pipeline industry is safe as houses, that transporting thick, sludgy, toxic tar-sands oil is a walk in the park, and that if there’s ever a problem, well, Ma’am, you can count on your friends in the oil industry to clean it up right quick.

And he repeated last week’s message: he has every hope of reversing his pipeline and carrying western oil to Portland by way of the NEK.  

“We do not have an active project to reverse the pipeline. We hope to have a project to use the pipeline.  Moving western Canadian heavy crude* is one possibility. We are confident we can transport heavy crude very safely and efficiently. …We are aggressively pursuing projects to use our resources.”

*WIlson never once uttered the words “tar sands.” To him, tar sands oil is simply heavy crude, nothing more, no worries, move right along, folks.

His tone was consistently polite and measured. At least it was until after his testimony was put on hold so the committee could hear from Jim Murphy of the National Wildlife Federation. (The hearing got started late, and Murphy was on a tight schedule.)

Murphy spoke in favor of the bill. He noted that although the pipeline industry has a good safety record, “Pipelines do fail, and when they fail, they fail catastrophically.” He pointed to the 2010 disaster in southwest Michigan, in which a pipeline carrying tar-sands oil failed and “it took 17 hours before the operator realized there was a spill.” More than a million gallons of heavy, gucky oil spilled into the Kalamazoo River. The river and surrounding waters are still tainted by the oil.

Murphy then spoke about the broader implications of tar-sands oil, which he called “dirtier and more carbon-intensive than any other fossil fuel.” He gave his opinion that Act 250 already applies to a pipeline reversal, but he endorsed H.27 as adding clarity to the issue.

After Murphy’s departure, Wilson returned to the stand and allowed his contempt for environmentalism to show through his veneer of Southern charm. Wilson asserted that Murphy “had several things wrong,” and accused “the environmental movement” of deliberately stretching the truth and “throwing anything at business to delay” new projects.

The rest of his testimony featured some thinly veiled threats. He said H.27 “would impede our ability to access open markets” by imposing “undue regulation.” He then added:

“This bill sends a strong signal to the Canadian government that ‘We (Vermonters) don’t want their oil,’ and it sends a message to companies like ours that ‘We (Vermonters) don’t want your business.’

“If this opportunity does not present itself to us, we will have to determine the best use of our pipeline. It’s been a wonderful run since 1941, and we’d like it to continue.”

In other words, be nice to us or we’ll take our pipeline away.

Gee, Larry, if that’s how you feel, I think we’re more than prepared to tell you exactly where you can stick your pipeline and then reverse the flow.  

2 thoughts on “The Oil Man returns, his charm leavened by contempt

  1. I guess if you follow the tangled corporate web you can find that Wilson’s Portland-Montreal Pipeline company is owned by some layered combination of Exxon-Mobil,Suncor Energy and Imperial Oil ,all with Tar Sands interests.

    Funny every time anyone from PMPL opens their mouth this recording pops out: “The company currently has no plans to reverse the flow of oil between Montreal and South Portland. There may be a demand at one point, but not at present.”

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