PORTLAND – City officials and environmental advocates held a news conference at City Hall on Wednesday to support a proposal to prohibit the purchase of tar sands oil for city operations.

The City Council took public testimony Wednesday night and debated the resolution before voting unanimously to send the proposal back to its Transportation, Sustainability and Energy Committee for more review.

The proposal is modeled after pledges made by 18 major corporations that are concerned about tar sands oil. If it is ultimately approved, the city will not buy refined tar sands oil for heating fuel and other operations.

“This fuel deposit, if burned, it’s game over for the planet,” Councilor David Marshall told the audience at Wednesday night’s council meeting.

The issue has drawn attention in Maine because oil companies want to use a 62-year-old pipeline that passes next to Sebago Lake to carry tar sands oil from Canada to Casco Bay, where it would be loaded onto tankers for export, said Emily Figdor, executive director of Environment Maine.

Pipelines carrying tar sands oil, which is more corrosive, heavier and thicker than conventional crude, are believed by critics to be more prone to spills, which are especially difficult to clean up because the heavy oil tends to sink in water.

“The oil industry was out in force,” Figdor said after the council meeting. Despite the opposition, Figdor said she is optimistic that the resolution will eventually be passed by the council.

John Quinn, executive director of the New England Petroleum Council in Boston, called criticism of tar sands inaccurate and misleading in a column this week in the Portland Press Herald.

Quinn wrote that there is no evidence that tar sands oil is more corrosive than other crude oils.

Figdor and Portland Mayor Michael Brennan were among those who spoke at City Hall on Wednedsay morning.

Environmental advocates predict that hundreds of people from across New England will gather for a march and rally Saturday in downtown Portland to oppose the proposal to send tar sands oil through the Exxon/Enbridge pipeline across Canada, Maine and the Northeast.

The protestors are scheduled to gather at 11:30 a.m. in Monument Square before marching to a rally at the Maine State Pier.

“Maine and the region have everything to lose and nothing to gain from sending toxic tar sands across our state,” said Emmie Theberge of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, who is helping to organize the rally, along with other groups including 350 Maine and Environment Maine.

“Hundreds of people will descend on Portland Saturday to make a point: We cannot afford the risk of tar sands oil surging across the Northeast in Exxon’s pipeline and will be calling on the State Department to demand an environmental review of this risky proposal. There is too much at stake.”

 

Staff Writer North Cairn can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

ncairn@pressherald.com