The National Wildlife Federation has filed a federal lawsuit in an attempt to force the U.S. Department of State to release documents pertaining to the potential reversal of an oil pipeline to carry so-called tar sands crude oil from Montreal to South Portland’s waterfront.

The federation filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Vermont on Wednesday, according to a news release from the federation.

Jim Murphy, the federation’s senior counsel, claims the State Department has failed to comply with a Freedom of Information Act request made nearly two years ago for documents that would shed light on plans that the pipeline’s owner, Portland Pipe Line Corp., may have to reverse its pipeline.

“State Department has had two years to follow the law and help ensure the public is educated about the oil industry’s plans to run risky, climate-disrupting tar sands through New England,” Murphy said in a prepared statement. “Our patience is exhausted. This information is critical and it must be provided.”

The 236-mile pipeline has carried crude oil from South Portland to Montreal, and its nearby refineries, since World War II. Because of shifts in the global petroleum market, including the increased yield of oil sands production in western Canada, Portland Pipe Line Corp. has expressed interest in reversing the flow of its pipeline to carry oil sands from Canada to South Portland, where it would be loaded onto ships and carried to refineries around the world.

Portland Pipe Line Corp., a fully owned subsidiary of Montreal Pipeline Ltd., has no current plan to reverse the pipeline, although it did explore the potential for such a project in 2008 before the recession made it economically untenable.

The National Wildlife Federation is seeking documents from that exploratory process from the State Department. Specifically, it is seeking a letter from the company’s attorney that detailed the reversal plan at the time. That letter got a response from the State Department, which is in the public record, informing the company that such a reversal would not be a significant enough change of use to require a new federal permit.

Oil sands, commonly referred to as tar sands, is a petroleum product that consists of bitumen mixed with sand, water and clay.

Carrying tar sands from Canada through Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine to get to the ocean has caused controversy. Opponents claim that a spill would cause irreversible environmental damage because it is harder to clean up than traditional crude oil. Opponents in South Portland are also concerned about the health effects from the burn-off of chemicals used to dilute tar sands to allow it to flow through the pipeline.

Whit Richardson can be reached at 791-6463 or at:

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