PORTLAND — Brooke Hidell of Casco has lived near the Crooked River for much of his life. He has fished and taught others to fish there. He understands the river’s role as a feeder into Sebago Lake, the main source of drinking water for residents of Greater Portland.

Hidell has counted the number of times the Portland-Montreal Pipe Line crosses the Crooked River – six. For him, that means at least six chances for an oil spill that would threaten the waterway.

As speculation grows about the possibility of tar sands oil flowing from Canada through Maine, environmental advocates are banding together to oppose what they see as a risky proposition.

On Tuesday at Portland City Hall, Hidell joined representatives from the Natural Resources Council of Maine, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the local chapter of the Sierra Club to protest what they say is a growing threat to Maine’s quality of life.

Enbridge Corp., a major petroleum company in Canada, has applied for a permit to reverse the flow of oil between Ontario and Montreal. Dylan Voorhees of the Natural Resources Council of Maine and others predict a similar reversal of the Portland-Montreal Pipe Line, so Canadian oil could be loaded onto tankers in Casco Bay and then shipped to refineries.

Voorhees said that would provide no real benefits to Maine, but would threaten the environment.

“The health of Maine people and our economy and our way of life depend on clean water for drinking, for tourism, for our fishing industry and for recreation,” he said Tuesday. “The risk of pushing tar sands through this pipeline is just too great.”

For years, light crude oil has flowed from Portland to Montreal. The difference in moving oil the other way lies in the type of oil, said Shelley Kath with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Tar sands oil is dirty and corrosive, opponents say. Just to get it moving through pipelines, the thick oil must be diluted with chemicals. Kath said tar sands oil is much more likely to spill than traditional oil.

Canadian companies are committed to getting the most out of tar sands oil, even with the challenges. A Montreal-to-Portland route would be just a small part of what industry watchers expect to happen over the next decade.

How that could play out is unclear, Voorhees said, and the decision would involve multiple jurisdictions. In Maine, the pipeline is operated by Portland Pipe Line Corp. of South Portland. The company recently declined a request for comment about future plans, but its website says there are no active plans to move crude oil from western Canada through Maine.

Environmentalists don’t buy it.

Four years ago, Enbridge introduced a project called Trailbreaker, which would have moved tar sands oil from Alberta to Montreal and eventually to Portland. That project was shelved because of the recession, but now it appears to be moving forward in smaller pieces.

“Everything is pointing toward a revival of this project,” Kath said.

Elsewhere, TransCanada Corp. has faced stiff opposition from environmentalists in the U.S. to its Keystone Pipeline, which would transport oil down the country’s midsection to the Gulf Coast.

 

Staff Writer Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at: [email protected]