The prospect of transporting ‘tar sands’ crude to Portland from Canada draws more than 200 to a forum at USM.
PORTLAND – A pipeline accident that allows oil to get into Sebago Lake could contaminate the water supply for thousands of southern Maine residents, a panel of state and national conservation advocates said Thursday night.
More than 200 people turned out for a presentation on the Portland campus of the University of Southern Maine, indicating the interest that the prospect of piping “tar sands” crude oil into Portland has generated.
The evening presentation followed a morning news conference aimed at raising awareness about the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, which would cut across the heart of the nation, and the potential for a similar operation between Montreal and Portland.
“Tar sands oil is very different from conventional oil; it’s much, much worse,” Dylan Voorhees, clean energy director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said in a news release. “It poses higher safety risks to people and even greater impacts to the environment and climate.”
Conservationists who spoke Thursday night said the oil industry plans to export millions of barrels of tar sands oil from the Canadian province of Alberta to the United States.
Oil companies have proposed the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline to carry oil mined in Canada across the continental United States to the Gulf of Mexico.
President Obama rejected the permit for the pipeline earlier this year, but pending legislation in Congress seeks to override the president’s decision.
In Maine, groups such as the Natural Resources Council of Maine have grown increasingly concerned because they believe that Portland Pipe Line Corp. wants to partner with a Canadian firm to bring tar sands oil to Portland Harbor.
Portland Pipe Line now unloads oil from ships at its terminal in South Portland and pumps the oil north to Montreal through one of two pipelines it owns.
Voorhees claims Portland Pipe Line wants to use its unused pipeline to import tar sands oil from Canada to Portland, where ships would load it and carry it to refineries along the East Coast. A southbound pipeline would pass next to Sebago Lake, the source of drinking water for thousands of people in southern Maine.
“Tar sand oil is more corrosive and acidic than conventional oil, making pipes more susceptible to corrosion and bringing a higher risk of spills,” said Glen Brand, director of Sierra Club Maine. “That’s a risk we need to understand better before any reversal of oil is considered.”
David Cyr, treasurer for Portland Pipe Line, said the company has moved crude oil from South Portland to Montreal since 1941.
“We don’t have an active project that would reverse the flow (from Montreal to Portland),” Cyr said when told about the groups’s concerns.
Voorhees said the pipelines, which run 236 miles through Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Quebec, are mostly underground, but run past Sebago Lake and cross five or six rivers.
Jim Murphy, a senior counsel for the National Wildlife Foundation, said the Keystone pipeline’s projected lifespan is 50 years. Portland’s pipeline is already much older than that.
“There is reason to be very nervous about putting this corrosive substance through such an old pipeline,” Murphy said.
Voorhees said Thursday’s news conference and meeting were held to raise public awareness and to bring pressure on Maine’s U.S. senators, who may vote on the Keystone pipeline legislation as early as next week.