November 6, 2013

South Portland voters reject ordinance targeting tar sands oil

But supporters say they plan a second ordinance to prevent the shipment of the oil through the city.

By Matt Byrne mbyrne@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

Voters in favor of the Waterfront Protection Ordinance were defeated on their referendum vote.

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Members of the Working Waterfront Coalition, supporters of Say No to the WPO, gather at the campaign headquarters at the Maine Military Museum in South Portland.

Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

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Working Waterfront Coalition campaign manager Dan Demeritt tallies poll results.

Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below



The Waterfront Protection Ordinance, officially introduced in June, would amend the South Portland zoning ordinance to specify that permitted petroleum-related uses include the unloading of petroleum products from ships docking in South Portland. The amendment would also limit the enlargement or expansion of existing petroleum facilities.


So-called “tar sands” oil is a raw form of petroleum found underground in a mixture of water and sand. At room temperature, the substance has the consistency of cold molasses and therefore must be diluted with a bevy of volatile organic chemicals before it may be pumped through a pipeline. Vast deposits of the substance have been known to lie under the Alberta wilderness since the 1930s. The Alberta government says that proven reserves equal about 170.8 billion barrels of crude oil, most of which is locked up in oil sands. For years, the form of petroleum was too expensive to extract and process to be profitable.


The possible effects of the ordinance have been hotly debated. Proponents say the ordinance is narrowly drafted to prevent the conversion of one of the city’s large oil import terminals into an export terminal for Canadian tar sands oil. Opponents, however, say there is no plan to export tar sands oil through the city and that the language of the ordinance would restrict operations at other terminals that have nothing to do with the Canadian oil.

Portland Pipe Line Corp., which has an 18-inch pipe and a 24-inch pipe, has experienced a decline in demand for the oil it pumps into Canada. In 2009, the company received state and local permits to reverse the flow of one of its pipes to bring Canadian crude oil from Alberta into South Portland for loading onto tankers that would ferry it to refineries overseas.

Tar sands oil has become a target of environmentalists, who say its development will accelerate global climate change and pose other environmental risks. The petroleum industry has said it poses no greater risk than other oil.

In its raw form, the crude is a mixture of sticky petroleum, water and sand that at room temperature has the consistency of cold molasses. It is mixed with a cocktail of potent chemicals that dilute its consistency, so that it can be handled efficiently and pumped through piping. The product is referred to as diluted bitumen.

The project envisioned in 2009 would have added loading arms and two 70-foot-tall smokestack structures to Portland Pipe Line Corp.’s pier, next to Bug Light Park. The stacks, called vapor combustion units, would have burned off gases associated with the loading of diluted bitumen onto tankers.

Portland Pipe Line Corp. eventually decided not to pursue the project, but a state environmental permit allowing the company to build the stacks remained on the books, and was renewed in August 2012. That led many people to believe that the company still wanted to bring the tar sands oil through South Portland. The company made a point of surrendering the permit this fall.

On its face, the amendment to the city zoning would have redefined the allowable uses in the city’s shipyard zone and other parts of the waterfront, strictly defining the unloading of petroleum as an allowed use and limiting any expansion or alteration of petroleum facilities that would change their function or capacity.

Portland Pipe Line Corp. and other waterfront businesses that handle and distribute petroleum products rallied against the proposal.

Attorneys for the companies objected to the ordinance’s wording, particularly phrases that would restrict expansion or enlargement of the facilities, which they argued would trigger the demise of their clients’ massive businesses.

Without the ability to maintain, update and alter equipment, they said, the industry would whither, taking with it millions of dollars in municipal tax revenue and countless jobs.

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:mbyrne@pressherald.com

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Additional Photos

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Proponents and opponents hold up dueling signs about South Portland’s proposed Waterfront Protection Ordinance on Tuesday as voters head to the polls to decide its fate.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer


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