BRUNSWICK — Maine has endured a great deal of winter this winter. No one is more familiar with the challenges of winter weather than the 350 members of the Maine Energy Marketers Association, who work every day to ensure we all have dependable access to the energy we need to heat our homes and power our economy.

Despite inclement weather, market fluctuations and the unforeseen, consumers have come to expect uninterrupted access to supplies of gasoline, diesel fuel, propane and heating oil. Our ability to continually match supply with demand is a testament to the resolve of energy companies up and down the supply chain and a cooperative, science-based approach to energy industry regulation.

The “Environmental Impact Statement on the Keystone XL Pipeline Project,” released in January by President Obama’s State Department, is an example of government using objective science to shape its findings and recommendations.

We hoped for the same approach in South Portland where, despite a yearlong misinformation campaign about so-called tar sands oil, voters rejected the overbroad Waterfront Protection Ordinance last fall. Instead, the South Portland City Council decided to forgo a collaborative discussion about tar sands after the election and immediately established an ad hoc ordinance committee to draft a new law.

Those of us committed to preserving the city’s working waterfront and meeting Maine’s demand for energy have grave concerns that the result will be a misguided ordinance that leads to unintended consequences for the city and consumers. Without the storage, handling and efficiency of the oil terminals in South Portland, Maine people could have experienced severe supply disruptions this winter.

As a first step, South Portland residents need to understand that “tar sands” is a misleading term coined by activists who believe the world must immediately end its reliance on fossil fuels. The notion that oil transported by pipeline is tarlike is as untrue as stating that ethanol tastes like corn.

The oil sands is a geologic formation found in the province of Alberta that contain a mixture of water, sand and heavy oil known as bitumen. The bitumen is screened and diluted from the oil sands formation to form what is known as “dilbit,” that can safely be transported by pipeline like other forms of crude oil.

“Once diluents and bitumen are mixed together to form dilbit, they behave as a conventional crude oil,” the State Department’s Environmental Impact Statement on Keystone reports. The National Academy of Sciences reached a similar conclusion last year in its congressionally mandated report on the transportation of petroleum extracted from the oil sands.

That report states, “It moves through pipelines in a manner similar to other crude oils with respect to flow rate, pressure, and operating temperature. There’s nothing extraordinary about pipeline shipments of diluted bitumen to make them more likely than other crude oils to cause releases.”

While there have been some unfortunate pipeline incidents in Michigan and Arkansas in the last few years, the suggestion that those releases were caused by the crude being transported are not true. In both cases the incident reports point to external, structural defects as the cause.

A review of data maintained by the federal Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration leads to similar conclusions about the safety of transporting crude derived from the oil sands formations. According to the data from 2002 to mid-2012, there were no releases of crude oils originating from the Canadian oil sands caused by internal corrosion.

Petroleum products derived from oil sands crude have been safely transported for decades and have been refined to make gasoline, diesel fuels, heating oil, plastics, clothes and thousands of other products that we all use today. Consequently, the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee unanimously concluded last year that a ban on oil sands is unworkable and could result in higher energy costs.

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection told the Legislature, “Refined oil may be comprised of oil from a variety of sources. The proposed (oil sands) moratorium could significantly reduce the availability of oil products in Maine and increase energy costs to Maine citizens and businesses.”

As the Keystone Environmental Impact Statement shows, there is a balance that can be achieved that allows industry to develop infrastructure that diminishes environmental impacts while safely servicing consumer demands. South Portland’s working waterfront has been part of this tradition for a century, safely connecting Maine to energy markets. An ill-informed ordinance could end this legacy.

— Special to the Press Herald