Martin Oil chairman touts benefits of Laurel Pipeline

Project could increase supply of low-cost gas to region

Increasing the flow of domestic oil products from the Midwest to Altoona through the Laurel Pipeline is a project with immense public interest, according to Laurel Pipeline officials.

A local oil company chairman in Bellwood agrees.

Thomas Martin of Martin Oil called into Harrisburg on Tuesday during a hearing before Administrative Law Judge Eranda Vero who heard public comments regarding a proposal affecting a pipeline that runs from refineries in Philadelphia, through Altoona, to Pittsburgh.

Laurel Pipeline officials and oil transportation company Buckeye Partners are asking for the Public Utility Commission’s permission to stop eastern product flow west along the pipeline at Altoona and bring Midwestern gasoline and diesel fuel through the pipeline east to Pittsburgh up through Altoona.

“I wanted to say how important it is for the pipeline to reverse itself and send oil from the Midwest to Altoona,” Martin said. “It would give great benefit to my company and benefit the United States of America because Midwest refineries are providing American crude oil or Canadian crude, and that’s better than relying on Middle Eastern crude oil,” he said. “We are at a distinct price disadvantage much of the time in central Pennsylvania because we are forced to buy from the East and don’t have access to Midwest supply.”

The result would be an increased supply of low-cost Midwestern gasoline. That would reduce the supply coming from the market in Eastern Pennsylvania; it comes mostly from imported foreign oil to refineries there.

The proposed project also has stirred opposition from eastern and western Pennsylvania legislators, refineries and gasoline retailers because of the impact they say the project will have in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

Altoona-based Sheetz Inc. is among the protesters because the company does business in Pittsburgh.

Arguments against the project deal with “market competition” in Pittsburgh and an uncertain future for jobs at Philadelphia refineries if the reversal occurs.

No hard figures were provided Tuesday by opponents of the pipeline reversal to support arguments that gasoline costs could rise if the reversal occurs.

Buckeye Partners provided the Mirror with figures backing its statements that Midwestern oil is cheaper, and it is in ample supply.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, while Midwest gasoline was 5 cents more expensive than the supply from New York Harbor (NYH) 10 years ago, it is now 2 cents cheaper per gallon on an annual average basis. And that trend is supposed to continue.

According to the United States Energy Information Administration, production in the Midwestern region has been increasing while production on the East Coast has been declining.

In 2005, the East Coast produced 1.7 million barrels per day; the Midwest produced 3.5 million barrels. That trend continued through this year — the Midwest produced 3.9 million barrels per calendar year to the East Coast’s 1.2 million.

On Tuesday, Vero said hearings will be scheduled in October to hear technical evidence.

The purpose of the hearing Tuesday was for the public to air complaints or support.