By Matthew Arco
The Portland Daily Sun
Environmental groups fearing that talks to pump “incredibly destructive” crude oil from Canada to Greater Portland are once again resurfacing, are opposing the project even before one is officially put in writing.
The Natural Resources Council of Maine is planning to join three other environmental groups in Portland this week to educate the public of the dangers of “tar sands” traveling from western Canada to South Portland, said Dylan Voorhees, the council’s clean energy director.
The coalition plan to gather at the Casco Bay Ferry Terminal Thursday to speak out against the Keystone XL Pipeline, but also to discuss a years-old proposal to reverse the flow of crude oil from Maine to Canada, officials said.
“It’s an incredibly destructive and energy intensive process (to extract the tar sands),” said Voorhees, referring to the increased production of Canadian oil fields in Alberta.
“Ultimately, the larger context is that there’s a large effort of getting tar sands crude oil out of Canada,” he said. “It doesn’t seem prudent on us to wait until there’s an application to start learning about this because it’s very clearly on the radar.”
Voorhees cited a proposal by a Canadian oil company, Enbridge, before Canada’s National Energy Board as evidence that plans are being made to export tar sands oil out of Canada.
The company’s application seeks to reverse the flow of crude oil from western Canada, in the oil fields of Alberta, to pipelines connected to eastern cities like Montreal. The expectation is that Portland Pipe Line will then reverse the flow of its South Portland-Montreal pipeline, Voorhees said.
“Literally, it’s called the phase one application,” he said, referring to Enbridge’s proposal.
But set plans for the crude oil to hit Maine’s pipelines are far from certain, according to Portland Pipe Line, the company that owns the pipeline.
“We do not have an active project â¦ in terms of bringing western Canadian crude here,” said David Cyr, treasurer of Portland Pipe Line.
“That’s the long and the short of it,” he said.
Since the pipeline was built in 1941, Portland Pipe Line has shipped more than 4 billion barrels of crude oil to Canada, according to the company’s website. The oil is shipped from various parts of the world and the line was first constructed to protect transport of oil to Canada from German U-boats.
Despite statements that a project is not active, Voorhees and others say they’re not convinced.
The recent increased production of the Alberta oil fields means Canada is less dependent on foreign oil and are more interested in exporting it, Voorhees said.
“They’re just taking a little bite out of it and hope to go under the radar,” he said.
Enbridge officials did not return requests for comment.
The expectation that Portland Pipe Line would eventually seek to reverse the flow of its lines has also caught the attention of the Natural Resources Defense Council, National Wildlife Federation and the Sierra Club of Maine, which say there’s a good reason people should be educated if or when a proposal is presented.
“We’re talking about the world’s dirtiest source of oil,” said Glen Brand, director of Sierra Club Maine.
Tar sands crude is thicker, more corrosive and abrasive on pipes and requires higher pressure for transporting through pipelines, Brand said. For those reasons, environmentalists are worried about leaks along the pipeline route.
“That could pose a threat to Sebago Lake because the pipeline goes right along it,” said Brand, adding that the lake supplies drinking water more than 15 percent of Mainers.
“That’s why we want to start bringing public attention to it,” he said.
The news conference is slated for 10:30 at the terminal located at 56 Commercial St. Later in the day, many of the same officials plan to host a discussion group at 7 p.m. at the Glickman Library at the University of Southern Maine’s Portland campus.
The group discussion is open to the public, who are asked to RSVP by contacting Emmie Theberge, of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 430-0105.