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September 1, 2017

Federal judge rules oil company suit against South Portland can continue

A federal judge has ruled that Portland Pipe Line suit challenging South Portland's ban on bulk crude oil imports into the city can proceed.

The city's 2014 Clear Skies Ordinance bans unloading crude oil in the city. The city is concerned about the environmental impact of Portland Pipe Line's plan to reverse the flow of its U.S.-to-Canada oil pipeline. The company currently imports oil from South Portland's waterfront tanks to Montreal, but Portland Pipe Line has plans to reverse the flow, discharging oil into the tanks rather than removing it.

American Waterways Operators, a trade association representing tug, towboat and barge operators is party to the suit, which alleges the ordinance interferes with interstate trade, discriminates against Canadian interests, devalues the pipeline and infringes on areas best left to the federal government.

Judge John Woodcock on Aug. 24 ruled against that the city's request that Portland Pipe Line's suit be dismissed, The Forecaster reported.

"The premise of the lawsuit is that (the company) has concrete plans to reverse the flow of oil in its pipeline and that the current South Portland Clear Skies ordinance prohibits (those plans) … thereby effectively barring the pipeline reversal," Woodcock found, according to the Forecaster.

Woodcock cited testimony on Aug. 9, in which Thomas Hardison, president of Portland Pipe Line, "presented the reversal as a matter of corporate life or death."

"He described (the company) as being on life support and he said that (the pipeline) needed the reversal project for its very survival as a business," Woodcock said.

The Portland Press Herald reported that Hardison also submitted written testimony that more than 100,000 barrels of crude oil from western Canada would be available to be shipped daily from Montreal to South Portland.

South Portland City Manager Scott Morelli said in a written statement after the ruling that the merits of the case, including whether South Portland's local ordinance is legal, are still to be decided. He noted there are still motions for summary judgment pending before Woodcock, which, he said, would likely be decided in the next few weeks.

Portland Pipe Line said the company is pleased with the court's decision and its challenge of the ordinance will continue.

Read more

Portland Pipe Line Corp. weighs appeal of ‘Clear Skies’ ruling

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