February 2, 2013

Alarm over climate 'tipping point' fueled Portland rally

Hoping to restrict pipelines and quash the pursuit of tar sands oil, activists make their global fight local.

By Tux Turkel tturkel@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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On Jan. 26, 1,400 protesters made Portland a regional focal point against the extraction and transportation of Canada’s tar sands oil. For environmentalists, the rally was about more than just a pipeline.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

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The projection by Hansen, head of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, contains an apocalyptic message for his followers. It's summed up in protest signs, including those carried by some of the marchers in Portland late last month: "Tar Sands = Game Over!"

In Maine, the fight over tar sands has centered on the Portland-Montreal Pipe Line, which pumps crude oil from ships in Portland Harbor to Montreal.

Last year, Toronto-based Enbridge Inc. filed for permits in Canada to reverse the flow of a pipeline from Ontario to Montreal. The stated goal is to bring tar sands oil east to refineries in Quebec. That would allow Quebec refineries to receive crude oil from Alberta. It also would lessen refinery needs for more costly overseas imports, which have moved through Maine since 1941 over the twin, parallel pipe system.

This shifting market away from imports is hurting business in Portland, where one of the two pipelines isn't currently being used. Environmental activists on both sides of the border suspect the next step is to reverse the flow on the Portland line, to export tar sands oil overseas, rather than import oil to Montreal.

The company has repeatedly said it has no current plans to do this. But in recent interviews, it has acknowledged a desire to reverse the flow, if it made business sense.

"They're looking for ways to maximize use of their asset, and that could involve a reversal, if there's market demand to do that," said Ted O'Meara, a spokesman for the company.

O'Meara suggested that a line reversal wouldn't automatically mean the export oil would come from the Alberta tar sands. He was unable, however, to say what other sources might be available.

Activists are using that uncertainty to sow the seeds of distrust. They also cite evidence that tar sands oil is more corrosive and more likely to result in pipeline leaks, a charge the industry denies but one that is being studied by the National Academy of Sciences.

The specter of a highly polluting oil leaking into Sebago Lake, the Androscoggin River or other senstitive locations along the Portland-Montreal Pipe Line has made Maine and Portland regional focal points in an international battle.

The global movement operates under an umbrella organization called 350.org. It functions largely online, and carries out activities through local and regional affiliates around the world. Tactics pioneered in the 1960s anti-war era have been freshened by lessons from the Occupy movement and growing use of social media.


The Portland rally was organized by 350 New England and state affiliates that include 350 Maine. Representatives meeting in Boston last November agreed that the pipeline would be the region's rallying point.

"We realized we needed to do something big, and people said, 'We need to go to Portland,' " said Bob Klotz, a South Portland physician assistant who's active in 350 Maine.

Klotz set out to alert people to the upcoming protest. He started with a personal email list containing roughly 10 names. A mailing list from the Occupy Maine movement eventually expanded his contacts to 1,000 names. An Internet petition he started opposing a resolution last year by the Maine Legislature in favor of a tar-sands pipeline in the Midwest attracted 2,500 signatures on the SignOn.com website, so he sent a general message to those people.

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Environmental activist Bill McKibben speaks to the Vermont Legislature last week in Montpelier. The author’s speaking engagement at the State Theatre in November helped build interest in the Jan. 26 tar-sands protest in Portland.

The Associated Press


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