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Explore our latest coverage of environmental issues, climate change and more.

New Hampshire Town Shows Support For Potential Tar Sands Pipeline

National Wildlife Federation
A map shows the potential route for oil from Canada to Maine.

At several town meetings held this past week in New Hampshire, voters weighed in on non-binding resolutions opposing the flow of tar sands oil through their communities.

But the town of Lancaster, on the Vermont border, sent a resounding message of support for a pipeline company some worry will carry tar sands oil from Canada to Maine.

The two companies that own the pipelines that now carry crude oil west from Portland to Quebec insist they have no immediate plans to reverse that flow and change the fuel to the more corrosive tar sands oil.  

Environmentalists are skeptical. But they were outnumbered at town meeting this week in Lancaster, N.H., where the Portland Pipe Line Corp. pays taxes on property valued at $7 million. Town Manager Ed Sampson says the company is a good neighbor.

“And they bring a tremendous amount of revenue to each municipality they pass through. They’ve pumped oil for well over 50 years, or pumped some petroleum product or gas without incident,” Sampson said.

So Sampson thinks Lancaster voters were right to stand up for the pipeline company, which had circulated a written statement asking for their support. Even if, in the future, the Portland Pipe Line Corp. ships tar sands oil through New England, Sampson is confident it will do so safely.

But this week opponents are citing court documents showing that the pipeline has already passed or is nearing the end of its lifetime. They say that a spill of the corrosive oil would be an environmental disaster. Dave Stember is a spokesman for an anti-tar sands group called Tar Sands Free Northeast.  He says the Lancaster meeting was not typical of others across the region.

“It’s one town; it doesn’t mean that it can’t be returned in the future and I think we will give it more attention in the years to come,” Stember said.

In the past two years 41 Vermont towns have passed anti-tar sands resolutions. In New Hampshire so far, similar resolutions have passed in the towns of Exeter, Randolph, Bath, and Whitefield, Stember says.   

Charlotte Albright lives in Lyndonville and currently works in the Office of Communication at Dartmouth College. She was a VPR reporter from 2012 - 2015, covering the Upper Valley and the Northeast Kingdom. Prior to that she freelanced for VPR for several years.
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