PORTLAND – The City Council listened to more than 90 minutes of testimony Monday night from residents who urged councilors to adopt a resolution opposing the transportation of tar sands oil through the Portland-Montreal Pipeline.
Councilors then spent another 30 minutes haggling over the language of the resolution before voting 7-2 to support the resolution with a change of one word in the measure.
Instead of opposing tar sands oil, the majority of councilors changed the resolution to say they are concerned about it.
“I have concerns (about tars sands) but I can’t say, that based on the data before me, that I oppose this,” said Councilor Nicholas Mavodones.
Mavodones said the data regarding the dangers of tar sands is too conflicting.
Mavodones and Councilor Edward Suslovic initiated the language revision, an amendment that drew an angry outburst from Mayor Michael Brennan.
Brennan noted that the council’s Transportation, Sustainability and Energy Committee had unanimously recommended that the council adopt the resolution.
Brennan accused the council of splitting hairs.
“I am very disappointed that this amendment has been brought forward. I am opposed to tar sands,” Brennan said. “If we’re not opposed to tar sands, we should be opposed to the process (of extracting tar sands).”
Since 1941, crude oil has been unloaded from ships in Portland Harbor and pumped to refineries in Montreal. But shifting overseas market prices and an abundance of oil in Alberta have heightened interest in reversing the flow of oil, from western Canada through Maine.
Concerns that the reversal would involve tar-sands oil have prompted more than three dozen forums or votes on resolutions in communities across northern New England that are bisected by the pipeline.
Opponents of tar sands say that burning more oil will release huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, speeding and worsening climate change.
Russell Pierce, a Portland resident, urged the council to set an example for the rest of the state by adopting the resolution.
“I think all eyes are on us now,” Pierce said.
Many of those who spoke said they are concerned about the impact a rupture in the pipeline would have on Sebago Lake, which supplies Greater Portland’s drinking water. Others said tar sands oil is so heavy that it is especially dangerous if it spills.
“Is it a radically different crude oil?” asked John Quinn, executive director for the New England Petroleum Council, one of a handful of people who opposed the resolution. “If that were true, this resolution would make sense.”
The final vote was 7-2 in support of the resolution with Brennan and Councilor Cheryl Leeman opposed.
Councilor David Marshall, the chief sponsor of the resolution, voted to support it despite the change in wording.
“I’m personally opposed to tar sands, but I’m concerned as well,” he said.
Voters in Casco, Bethel and Waterford have approved resolutions opposing the transportation of tar-sands crude through their communities.
Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: