Wednesday August 21, 2013 | 11:27 AM

WASHINGTON – Maine activists opposed to pipelines carrying "tar sands" oil won't get a chance to rally at an event featuring Vice President Joe Biden after all.

Biden was slated to attend a fundraiser Thursday for New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan at a private home in the Cape Neddick area of York. But on Wednesday afternoon the vice president canceled trips to Maine and Rhode Island in order to stay in Houston with his son, Beau Biden, who is undergoing medical testing related to a recent health episode.

Beau Biden, 44, is attorney general of Delaware. A more complete article about the cancellations is available here.

Activists with Sierra Club and -- a group active on climate change issues -- had planned to gather outside of the York home on Thursday to demonstrate their opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline and to any plans to ship bitumen crude oil through Maine via pipeline. The groups  canceled the rally after it was announced Biden would not be traveling to Maine.

Here is a little background on why crude from Alberta's "tar sands" or "oil sands" has become an issue in Maine, however:

The Obama administration is currently reviewing a proposal for a pipeline stretching from the Canadian province of Alberta to the Gulf Coast. There's also frequent talk about plans to use the existing Montreal-to-Portland pipeline to transport bitumen crude from the “tar sands” or “oil sands” to tankers in South Portland.

Officials at Portland Pipe Line Co. – the owner/operator of the 236-mile-long network of pipelines – have said there are no current plans to seek to reverse the flow of oil to send bitumen crude to South Portland from Quebec. But they also haven’t ruled out such a move, either.

Activists have been attempting to link the Keystone XL and Maine pipeline issues as they battle against an oil source they view as especially dirty and counter-productive to efforts to slow global warming. Supporters of the Keystone project dispute those dire environmental assessments and predict the project will create thousands of new jobs.

But the derailment and explosion of a Montreal, Maine & Atlantic train hauling 72 cars of crude oil from North Dakota to a refinery in St. John, N.B., has added new dimensions to the debate over the best way to transport oil. The explosion killed 47 people and destroyed dozens of buildings in Lac-Megantic, Quebec.

TransCanada, meanwhile recently announced plans for a $12 billion pipeline with capacity to carry more than 1 million barrels of crude oil from Alberta to St. John via a route likely to skirt northern and eastern Maine.


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Kevin Miller is Washington bureau chief for the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media. He has worked as a journalist in Maine for 6 ½ years, covering the environment, politics and the State House. Before arriving in Maine, he wrote about politics, government and education for newspapers in Virginia and Maryland.
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