By John Balentine
RAYMOND â Residents unmoved by a company’s claims that a pipeline project impacting the Lakes Region has been scrapped formed a human oil spill on Raymond Beach Monday to protest what they say could be an environmentally disastrous initiative.
The companies in charge of a pipeline that delivers crude oil from Portland to Montreal say they have no immediate plans to reverse the flow in order to carry Canadian tar sands oil to Maine ports.
But the two-dozen activists, many dressed in black, showed up in Raymond Monday as part of a series of protests organized by the Natural Resource Council of Maine, which believes the companies are not being forthright in their plans for the pipeline.
The July 21 rally was held on the two-year anniversary of a major spill of tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. Tar sands, which are dug from the ground in central Canada, are the dirtiest form of oil in the world, said Dylan Voorhees of the Natural Resources Council of Maine. It has a thick consistency and must be delivered at high speeds, which can wear down the pipes and cause a spill, he said.
Raymond’s event was held near a section of the pipeline that crosses underground near Sebago Lake. The protesters’s goal is to prevent a tar sands spill from happening near the lake or tributaries which feed the lake, which serves as Portland’s drinking water source. Protesters say the Portland-Montreal Pipeline Co. is working behind the scenes with a Canadian company, Enbridge, to transport tar sands oil through Maine.
Voorhees said the 70-year-old pipeline â which begins at the tanks farms in South Portland, travels underground along the Presumpscot River, up the eastern shore of Sebago Lake and along Route 121 to Casco and Waterford and then west toward the New Hampshire border and beyond â is too old and fragile for the coarse tar sands oil.
“When the tar sands leak happened near the Kalamazoo River, it happened on a dinky little creek and then flowed a mile into the river,” Voorhees said. “And, within two or three days, 30 miles of the river was contaminated with oil. So the capacity for it to spread is pretty great.”
Voorhees said tar sands oil is heavier than crude, so a spill begins to sink into sediment quickly and is difficult to extract.
“It’s impossible to clean up,” he said.
Protesters at the Raymond Beach event were adamant that tar sands not be shipped through the area.
Mary Jane Swanson, of Meadow Road in Raymond, owns property adjacent to the pipeline.
“It’s not just my well I’m worried about, but we have a stream and a swamp and it feeds into Panther Pond, which feeds into Sebago Lake, so why wouldn’t everybody be upset and worried?” Swanson said. “If I were in Windham drinking Sebago Lake water, I would be here today at this rally.”
Patricia and Charles Allen, summer residents of Casco, came dressed in black because of the dangers they believe the prospect of tar sands pose.
“I think it’s dangerous,” Patricia Allen said. “I don’t like what it does to the environment, where they’re getting it from, and it’s an extremely dangerous commodity being pushed through the pipes at high temperature under a lot of pressure, and all you need is one spill.”
She said while some say tar sands may aid the economy, it could wipe out the local and regional economy since individual wells, and Sebago Lake could be destroyed if a spill happened nearby.
“Even the new pipes, they’re having spills on, and these pipes are 60 years old,” Charles Allen said.
Patty O’Day-Senior, who drove from Parsonsfield to be a part of the demonstration, said, “We cannot risk it. Maine has good water, and we hope we can keep the good water. There are so many places with drought right now, we are extremely lucky. And I don’t want to take the barest chance.”
Helyne May, of Windham, was one of the organizers of the Raymond Beach event and believes more people will join the movement once they hear about the potential environmental impact of tar sands.
“The goal is to make sure there is public input into this. Enbridge and Portland Pipeline Company are denying that it is going to happen, but their denial isn’t very credible considering they’ve had a plan in place,” she said.
The Natural Resources Council of Maine points to permitting applications from Enbridge seeking the reconstruction of pumping stations across the border in order to reverse the flow of tar sands oil from the western oil fields toward Montreal.
But Enbridge spokesman Graham White says the company has no intention of piping tar sands through Maine.
“The reversal is for Canadian refineries in Montreal, it has nothing to do with U.S. supply or lines,” said White.
White said a former project, named Trailbreaker, was considered to reverse the flow, but it was nixed when the economy turned sour in 2008 and is no longer in the works.
“We are not considering the project and we haven’t been for nearly five years now,” White said. “We have been consistent and clear in this position repeatedly to news media on both sides of the border, stakeholders, the public and regulators.”
Enbridge had been in talks regarding tar sands conveyance with Portland Montreal Pipeline Co., whose public relations firm, Portland-based Garrand Advertising and Marketing, echoes Enbridge’s statements regarding the pipeline reversal project.
“There is no active project to do that now, and the company’s policy continues to be that they’re not going to engage in speculation about what may have been proposed in the past or what may happen in the future,” said spokesman Ted O’Meara. “There is no current project to reverse the flow in either of the lines.”
O’Meara said the companies involved wouldn’t rule out a project that would bring tar sands to Maine in the future, if demand rises.
“If there was demand for it, the company is certainly going to be very forthcoming about that and talk to all the stakeholders involved, as it has in the past,” O’Meara said.
The company wouldn’t want any spills and would take all necessary precautions if it were to ship tar sands, he said.
“This is a company that’s been around for 70 years, is a good neighbor, has a great track record in terms of environmental protection and operational integrity,” O’Meara said. “It’s been recognized by its industry, by the Coast Guard, so no one’s trying to hide anything here. There simply is no project at this point and we’re not going to engage in a lot of speculation with [Natural Resources Council of Maine] when there’s really nothing on the table.”
O’Meara said the company has always acted in a “safe and responsible manner” with regard to the pipeline.
“So if there’s an additional use in the future or if there were a proposal to reverse it, they’re going to look at it the same way they’ve always done it: Can we do this safely and in a responsible way?” he said.
Voorhees interprets the companies’s remarks as misleading. He says there are actions afoot in Canada to reverse the pipeline and he says the only reason for those reversals is to continue on to Portland, where the tar sands would be shipped via oil tanker to domestic refineries.
“It remains true that the company is denying that the reversal for the Montreal to Portland stretch is not happening at this time,” Voorhees said. “So what does ânot at this time’s mean? It means not at this time. âNot at this time’s and âno active proposal’s doesn’t mean anything.
“So what I want to know is if they are trying to suggest people should go home and stop being concerned about this, then they need to promise this isn’t going to happen. And if that’s not going to happen, then their statements are not going to appease anyone.”
Perhaps the least appeased were the protesters at Raymond Beach on Monday, who were motivated to sound the alarm that tar sands oil could devastate the region’s environment and economy.
“With any movement, people have to be the ones to generate it,” said Helyne May. “And then leaders end up jumping ahead of the parade. But the citizens have to be proactive and form the parade. And once people know about it and are interested in it, I think they’ll show up.”