February 17, 2013

Tar sands oil fight moves to Maine towns

Environmentalists and oil executives are bringing their arguments to local boards along the pipeline.

By Leslie Bridgers lbridgers@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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The council has talked about having the pipeline company come back to give its own more formal presentation, but a meeting hasn't been scheduled, said Town Manager Tony Plante.

The City Council in South Portland, the location of the pipeline's terminus, is tentatively scheduled to discuss tar sands oil at a workshop March 11.

In Portland, the City Council has taken a different approach to the issue and is considering banning the purchase of tar sands oil for city operations.

But when the council was scheduled to vote on the policy, city staff couldn't answer questions from the councilors about how it would work and what the financial impact would be, so it was sent back to a subcommittee for further review.

Councilor David Marshall, who chairs that committee, said he expects the council to reconsider the policy change at a meeting in April.

VIDEO SHOWS SPILL IN MICHIGAN

The most recent face-off between oil executives and environmental activists was last week in Raymond, in a small room with low ceilings where there was barely room to stand.

Steve Catir, a Raymond resident who was appointed to the town's conservation commission at the same meeting, played a silent movie on a projection screen that showed an aerial shot of a slick black stream weaving through backyards and patches of trees.

It was Michigan's Kalamazoo River after a July 2010 oil spill that sickened hundreds of people and thousands of animals.

The oil was from tar sands and the faulty pipeline is owned by Enbridge -- the Canadian company that environmentalists fear will transport the tar sands oil from Ontario to Montreal, where it would connect to the pipeline to South Portland.

"Imagine this occurred at Panther Run or the Crooked River," Catir said, referring to local waterways.

Selectmen Joe Bruno questioned how it would be different from an oil spill along the pipeline that's been pumping crude oil under the town for more than 60 years.

Pipelines carrying tar sands oil spill three times more often, said Emily Figdor, executive director of Environment Maine. And when it does spill, it sinks in water and is harder to clean up, she said,

Not true, the oil company officials countered. The tar sands oil is no more corrosive than what's already running through the pipeline, and the company is equipped to clean spills of any kind, they said.

Larry Wilson, president and chief executive officer of Portland Pipe Line, used the projection screen to show the company's safety awards and pointed to a handful of local employees of the pipeline who were sitting in the audience.

"The demands have changed," Wilson said, talking about the challenges of the oil industry. "We're trying very desperately to maintain the viability of the pipeline and the viability of our jobs."

Bruno said he wouldn't want to risk the quality of the water in Raymond, but didn't see a good reason to punish a company that wasn't involved with the oil spill in the video. "I see both sides of this," he said.

The selectmen voted to table a vote on the resolution until their next meeting, on March 5.

Regardless of whether the entire cast of characters returns to Raymond, they're sure to meet again soon.

Ted O'Meara, a spokesman for Portland Pipe Line, said the company has always maintained open communications with the towns through which the pipeline runs.

"Clearly, now there are specific (meeting) agenda items that speak to their operations and they want to be there," he said.

Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at: 791-6364 or at

lbridgers@pressherald.com

 

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