March 12, 2013

Portland-area residents: No tar-sands pipeline

By Tux Turkel
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — Residents from around the Portland area sent a clear message at a workshop held by the city Monday evening to learn more about transporting the heavy crude known as tar-sands oil: They respect the fine record of Portland Pipe Line Corp. but don't want the pipeline to move the oil through their communities.

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Residents from around the Portland area gather at a workshop Monday to learn more about transporting the heavy crude known as tar-sands oil. Many made clear they don’t want a pipeline to move the oil through their communities.

Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer

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Frederick Lancaster of South Portland was one of many residents Monday at the South Portland Community Center who spoke against a tar-sands oil pipeline.

Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer

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Most of the people who filled the community center's gym expressed fears that included a greater risk of fouled waterways and polluted air. Such consequences are inevitable, environmentalists said, if the pipeline begins pumping tar-sands oil from western Canada to Portland Harbor.

There are no plans now to do that. But Portland Pipe Line acknowledges that it would welcome the opportunity, as a way to boost sagging business. It insists that the product could be moved safely, just like the millions of barrels of heavy crude from overseas that it has pumped for decades.

Portland Pipe Line operates a marine terminal, tank farms in South Portland and Montreal, a system of pump stations and two underground lines.

Since 1941, crude oil has been unloaded from ships in Portland Harbor and pumped to refineries in Montreal, 236 miles away in Canada's province of Quebec.

But shifting overseas market prices and an abundance of oil in Alberta have heightened interest in reversing the flow.

Concerns that the reversal would involve tar-sands oil have prompted more than three dozen forums or votes on local resolutions in communities across northern New England that are bisected by the pipeline.

The sessions have been orchestrated by environmental groups including the Natural Resources Council of Maine, Environment Maine and, which are part of an international campaign aimed at blocking further extraction of tar-sands oil in western Canada.

Opponents say that burning more oil from the massive deposits will release huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, speeding and worsening climate change.

The groups have galvanized local support by highlighting potential backyard disasters. Charging that tar-sands oil is more corrosive than conventional crude, activists have raised fears of a greater risk for pipeline accidents that are harder to clean up.

Those fears were realized on July 26, 2010, when a pipeline carrying tar-sands oil ruptured near Kalamazoo, Mich., and the spill wasn't stopped for 18 hours.

At Monday's workshop, Dylan Voorhees, clean energy director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, showed slides of the polluted Kalamazoo River. Cleanup continues, with costs exceeding $1 billion.

That could happen to Sebago Lake or its tributaries, he indicated, if a spill happened here.

Voorhees also showed a digital image of 70-foot stacks that he said would be needed at the Portland Pipe Line dock to vent toxic vapors associated with transportation of tar-sands oil. People in the audience received a handout from the Natural Resources Council with a similar photo-illustration. Many also accepted tags that read: "No tar sands in South Portland. Stop the smoke stacks."

Voorhees' presentation ended with sustained applause and a standing ovation.

It was a tough act to follow for representatives of the pipeline company and its allies.

Patrick Binns, Canadian consul general to New England, spoke of the importance of Canadian energy exports. Despite the growing role of renewable energy, he said, oil will remain a critical resource for decades and Alberta has the third-largest proven reserves in the world.

New technology is reducing the impact of extracting that oil, Binns said, with current greenhouse gas emissions on par with other sources of heavy-oil production.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Participants line up to speak at a workshop about transporting tar-sands oil.

Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer


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