PORTLAND — Hundreds of people from across New England are expected to gather this week in South Portland and Portland to protest plans to pump tar-sands oil from Canada to New England.

The action will culminate with what organizers are calling “the biggest tar-sands protest the region has ever seen” on Saturday in Portland.

On Wednesday, 350 Maine is organizing a noon protest at Portland Pipeline Co. on Hill Street in South Portland. According to the self-proclaimed “Climate Justice” group, Canadian energy company Enbridge intends to pump “tar sands” 236 miles through the 72-year-old Portland-Montreal Pipeline.

The pipeline is currently used to pump light crude oil from the South Portland tanker facility to refineries in Canada. The tar-sands proposal would reverse the flow in one of the pipeline’s two underground pipes, sending tar sands from Alberta, Canada, to Maine.

Tar sands, also known as bitumen, is a viscous mix of oil, sand and clay. Because it is heavier and more corrosive than light crude, some experts say, the thick goo could force the pipeline to spring a leak.

Others have disputed that claim, and have said that using the pipeline in a new way would have economic benefits for the area.

On Wednesday, the City Council is scheduled to vote on a resolution, proposed by its Transportation, Sustainability and Energy Committee, to ban the city’s use of tar-sands oil for heating and other purposes.

In November, incumbent Portland Water District Trustee Gary Libby successfully ran for re-election on a campaign that opposed pumping tar sands through the pipeline, which crosses a tributary of Sebago Lake, the city’s primary water supply.

On Saturday, demonstrators will gather in Monument Square at 11:30 a.m. and march past City Hall, down Exchange Street and via Commercial Street to the Maine State Pier for what the Natural Resources Council of Maine says will be the region’s largest tar sands protest.

Speakers at the rally will include Mayor Michael Brennan, Unity College President Stephen Mulkey, and a resident of Casco, which passed a resolution Jan. 12 opposing tar-sands pumping.

“Maine and the region have everything to lose and nothing to gain from sending toxic tar sands across our state,” said rally organizer Emmie Theberge. The Natural Resources Council is calling on federal officials to make a full environmental review of the proposal, she said.

William Hall can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @hallwilliam4.

filed under: