November 9, 2013

Letters to the editor: Debate on tar sands oil still energetic

When a vote is won with the narrow margin of 51 percent against and 49 percent for, as was the recent South Portland Waterfront Protection Ordinance, you know you have a continuing, high-voltage community problem to resolve.

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Portland Pipeline equipment unloads oil from a tanker in South Portland. A writer urges residents to attend a public meeting Nov. 26.

Press Herald file/John Ewing

I urge everyone concerned, both pro and con, about the importation of tar sands-derived oil into Portland’s harbor to come to the Nov. 26 public meeting in South Portland to discuss a six-month moratorium on the importation of diluted bitumen.

Call this forum a discussion, a cooling-off period, a workshop, but it is necessary – and it is what is happening all over the United States and Canada as we all try a regain some sanity around this emotional and contentious issue.

In both countries, citizen groups are demanding answers from their elected officials and the petroleum industry about the dangers of diluted bitumen flowing through pipelines, along with its attendant vapors needing to be vented into the air.

We are not alone in our concerns.

If you feel comfortable about living next to a pipeline where diluted bitumen will potentially course or near a vapor combustion unit without investigating what is running through those pipes or being spewed into the air, I would suggest you ask some questions.

You can start by asking about all the chemicals used to dilute this product you are nesting next to, and you will be told sorry but that is proprietary information protected by trademark agreements.

That’s just for starters.

This is a time for all of us to sharpen our minds and not our axes, to think deeply and to do our homework.

The information is out there in order for all of us to try to tease out the truth, and I would suggest going right to the industry websites and see their plans for our future.

Then ask yourself is that the future you want and at what cost?

Nicole d’Entremont

Peaks Island

The Waterfront Protection Ordinance, voted down by a slight majority of South Portlanders, would have restricted oil industry expansion and prevented the transport and processing of tar sands oil, the dirtiest and most climate-deadly type of petroleum product around.

The “economic impact analysis” produced by local economists at the behest of the Canadian-owned Portland Pipeline Corp was influential in blocking the WPO, yet it was problematic on two accounts.

First, it was based on the unlikely scenario that all oil-related businesses close or leave if the ordinance passed (despite the fact that they are currently profitable and as if there were no relocation and startup anew costs) and nothing replaced them.

Second, it ignored potential benefits. In addition to avoided costs of air pollution-related disease – University of Maine economist Mary Davis estimates that childhood asthma attributable to air pollution costs Maine approximately $9 million annually – other potential local environmental benefits include avoided clean-up costs in the event of a pipeline leak, which, based on the experience of North Dakota, where 153 spills so far this year have occurred, is not an unlikely event.

Other benefits from the ordinance ignored in the analysis include avoided declines in property values and negative effects on other local businesses caused by the expansion of a dirty industry.

Even if “job protection” claims were sincere and not just “Big Oil” looking to protect its profits, the real issue is, we can’t continue to create jobs by ignoring environmental costs.

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