The wide path of green that passes through Raymond and Casco is the right of way for the Portland Pipe Line. It was built more than 60 years ago during World War II. Its purpose was to safely transport vital oil when enemy warships interrupted tanker traffic bound for the refineries in Canada. The pipeline runs from the Portland Harbor to Montreal, Canada.
Since opening in the autumn of 1941 Portland Pipeline has delivered more than 4 billion barrels of crude oil to Canada. The 100 acre tank farm and marine terminal in So. Portland receives about 22 tankers a month and the tank farm has a capacity of about 3.2 million barrels of oil. The tank arm in Montreal has a capacity of approximately 1.5 million barrels. PMPL’s two pipelines, 18 inch and 24 inch in diameter, are monitored and controlled by a computerized supervisory control and data acquisition computer system (SCADA) operated from a control center located in So. Portland. SCADA provides operating intelligence and controls to the pipeline operator and enables the operator to remotely control pump intelligence and controls to the pipeline operator and enables the operator to remotely control pump units at the eight pump stations and to direct and follow the crude oil into and out of PMPL’s storage tanks. In 2002, deliveries to Montreal averaged 418,000 barrels per day from a total of 235 tankers.
Originally the right of way held three pipelines an 18 inch line that carried natural gas from Canada to the US, a 24 inch line that transported oil to Montreal, and a third 12 inch line that was cleaned and retired in 1984. Currently the 18 inch line has been returned to oil service as is the 24 inch line. It now takes 43 and 36 hours, respectively, to pump a barrel of oil through the 18 inch and 24 inch lines to Montreal. The 12 inch line has been abandoned.
The three lines are about three feet beneath the ground surface, pass through approximately 236 miles of countryside in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and the Province of Quebec.
Originally “line-walkers” literally walked the 236 mile pipeline every thirty days to check for problems, leaks, encroachments and to touch base with the landowners and community members along the way. This chore has been replaced by computerization which meters and detects even small changes in pipeline pressure. Noisy “scraper pigs” still rumble through cleaning the line as they go, and “smart pigs” speed along taking minute electronic measurements of the pipe and search for any suspicious anomalies in the pipe walls.
Survey crew for the pipe line from both the North and South met in Casco in the summer of 1941 and construction soon began. The low point of the line is in So. Portland with a 32 foot elevation and the high point in Lunenburg, Vermont at 1960 foot elevation. The varied terrain and mountains of New Hampshire and Vermont coupled with the crossing of the St. Lawrence River and other waterways put the crews to the acid test.
Simultaneously, work was begun on reciprocating pumping stations that would speed the crude along the lines in So. Portland, Raymond and North Waterford, Me., Gorham and Lancaster, N.H., West Burke, Vt. and Highwater and St Cesaire, Quebec. The West Burke and Highwater stations were powered by diesel engines that ran on crude oil from the line while all others were electrically powered.
Financing for the project was organized by Standard Oil of New Jersey (now Exxon-Mobil), at which time two companies were formed; Portland Pipeline Company in Portland, Me., and Montreal Pipe Line Company Limited in Montreal East.
The objective was to accept oil year around in Portland and delivering it to four refineries in Montreal East operated by Imperial Oil Limited, Shell Oil Company of Canada, McCall Fontana Oil Company (later known as Texaco) and the British-American Oil Company (later named Gulf). Previously these Canadian refineries shut down in the winter when the St. Lawrence River was frozen and only operated six months a year. In 1946 Standard Oil of New Jersey sold the Montreal and Portland companies to the four companies operating the Montreal refineries.
In December 1950, the system changed to a three-station operation resulting from ever changing and more efficient equipment. In 1951 Raymond, Gorham, West Burke, and St. Cesaire were taken off line with new stations in 1954 being built in Raymond, Shelburne, Sutton and St. Cesaire.
In 1961, the Shelburn, N.H. pumping station was the first to convert from manual to remote control operation. A year later, the three remaining intermediate stations at Raymond, Sutton, and St. Cesaire changed to remote control.
Activity peaked in the late 60’s and early 70’s when a new pipeline from Sarnia, Ontario, to Montreal was completed, coupled with the higher cost of foreign crude. This was the first time the Portland-Montreal faced great challenges and competition. The economic downturn in countries, higher energy prices, slower manufacturing activity, and major conservation efforts in Canada resulted in reduced demand and the closing of four of the six refineries in Montreal East. This fall-off of business was felt in the Port of Portland as well. In 1985 tanker traffic dropped to about three ships a month.
In 1991 as the Pipeline celebrated its 50th birthday it faced more challenges than ever. The once rural right of way through Western Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Quebec grew more populated by the day. The land occupied by the pipeline had become even more valuable than the line itself.
Increased ecological restrictions since the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill, new safety regulations adopted by the system, environmental scrutiny, and decreased use will be a sincere challenge for the future.
Significant upgrades and changes were made to the system in the late 1990’s. First the 18 inch line was reconverted to oil use. The pumps and valves at the eight pumping stations along the right of way were upgraded to increase the pumping capacity of the system. Lastly, in 2002, improvements at PPL’s Marine Terminal, specifically Pier 2, were completed that has made it a premiere marine terminal, with the most technological, safe, and efficient operation on the Eastern Seaboard, winning it the U.S. Coast Guard William M. Benkert Award for excellence in Marine environmental protection.
RAYMOND-CASCO HISTORICAL SOCIETY
P.O. BOX 1055
RAYMOND, ME 04071