We reported a little over a year ago about a Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) report, and further research by the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM), that pointed to the dangers inherent in tar sands extraction and its transportation through the Northeast. Though no formal pipeline has been proposed, NRCM has been tracking efforts by Enbridge and ExxonMobile which indicate that the companies are well on their way in exploring a reversal of the flow in the Portland-Montreal oil pipeline.

What makes this concept frightening to many people is that the current pipeline flows alongside or across over a dozen of the Northeast’s most pristine and valuable natural resources. These include Sebago Lake (source of drinking water for Portland, ME), the Androscoggin River, the White Mountains of New Hampshire and glacial lakes in Vermont. The aging pipeline was designed to handle lighter-weight conventional crude oil, not the heavy, molasses-like bitumen which is a component of tar sands. Residents of the communities where this oil would flow point towards tar sands spills such as that on the Kalamazoo River, where effects of the spill are still being felt 3 years later.

Though many municipalities have issued resolutions opposing tar sands, the municipality most able to halt forward progress of this idea is South Portland, the City where diluted bitumen, were it ever to flow through the pipeline, would need to be processed. The current Waterfront Protection Ordinance (WPO), up for vote in November, would stop the development of the tar sands project by disallowing conversion of South Portland’s current petroleum facilities from unloading to loading of oil, and by preventing new facilities or expansion of the current facilities.

A Mixing of Messages

Impact of Tar Sands Extraction on Albert, Canada

For supporters of the WPO, the ordinance is about tar sands, and tar sands only. There is no language in it that jeopardizes current businesses or restricts new waterfront businesses, other than those specifically involved in petroleum. This means that restaurants, wharves, ship maintenance, and other businesses currently on the waterfront would be unaffected. Further, current oil facilities in South Portland would be allowed to upgrade and modernize facilities, just not expand or change uses.

Despite this, the opposition to the ordinance has called it an “attack” on the working waterfront, going so far as to fund a study that examines what would happen if all petroleum-related business left South Portland (a scenario that is not going to happen). Meanwhile, a coalition of over 200 businesses have come out in support of the ordinance.

The planet cannot afford the release of the hydrocarbons stored in the Alberta tar sands. This is scientific fact, human-caused climate change is ‘unequivocal.’ For voters in South Portland, we encourage you to review the following materials to help guide your decision to vote for or against the ordinance:

If you wish to get involved in the campaign in favor of the WPO, visit the citizens group Protect South Portland or 350 Maine.

ReVision Energy’s mission is to help people and businesses transition away from fossil fuels to sustainable solar energy. To that end, we are opposed to extreme forms of fossil fuel recovery such as tar sands oil extraction and fracking for natural gas. The technology exists now to provide our energy needs cost-effectively and cleanly through renewable energy, and we advocate a transition to sustainable energy as quickly as possible.