RAYMOND — Raymond Board of Selectmen on Tuesday night unanimously passed a resolution urging state and federal officials “to ensure the highest level of safety for the citizens of Raymond and the state of Maine” if a project to transport Canadian oil sands through a Maine pipeline moves forward.
Citing a need to protect the town’s lakes, rivers, streams and ponds “that have for generations provided recreation for residents and tourists alike, and which enhance property values and generate substantial economic activity that sustains jobs and local businesses,” the resolution urges authorities to scrutinize any pipeline project in Maine that includes oil sands that are produced in Canada and shipped to refineries in the United States.
The resolution is the product of about a year of public concern regarding a potential reversal of an oil pipeline that transports light crude from the tank farm in South Portland to refineries in Montreal. While oil companies say no project is in the works, environmental groups such as Natural Resources Council of Maine and Environment Maine are concerned that Canadian companies are working behind the scenes to expand their distribution network to reach American and foreign refineries. They are especially concerned that the companies are looking to the Maine pipeline as a way to move Albertan oil sands, which environmentalists call tar sands, to South Portland for tanker transport.
Numerous towns in several states along the Montreal-to-Portland pipeline have already adopted resolutions rejecting any oil sands transport, arguing the heavy crude is corrosive and could cause devastating environmental harm if a spill occurs. In Maine, Casco, Bethel and Waterford have passed such resolutions, with several others contemplating measures.
Raymond has spent several months discussing a ban. First broached in February, selectmen rejected a resolution 3-2 at its meeting in early March, with Mike Reynolds casting the deciding vote.
Reynolds said Tuesday night that he had changed his mind within a week of the March vote after having read more information about oil sands. On Tuesday, he thanked Raymond residents and the Lakes Region-based Healthy Waters Coalition, which had provided oil sands-related information.
“So I had my questions answered within about seven days,” he said. “And I am very comfortable with the resolution.”
The resolution is seen as a middle ground by environmentalists and pipeline officials, several of whom were in attendance at the meeting. It doesn’t call for an outright ban, but merely strong oversight should oil sands be considered for transport through the Maine pipeline.
Unlike Casco’s resolution, which focused on global warming concerns and how oil sands are claimed to be corrosive to pipelines, Raymond’s resolution focuses on local matters and urges state and federal agencies “to use the same due diligence as with any project of this nature in place around the nation” to ensure project safety should Portland-Montreal Pipeline Co. reverse their line in order to ship oil sands through Raymond and the surrounding Lakes Region.
“This oil sands resolution is a step in the right direction,” said Leah Stetson, of the Raymond-based Healthy Waters Coalition, which helped draft Raymond’s resolution. “I think it’s proactive but it’s only one step in a number of steps to prevent oil spills of any kind.”
Stetson said she was most impressed that Raymond voted 5-0 to adopt the resolution, given the wide latitude of political leanings on the board. She credits the non-political nature of the resolution.
“The one in Casco referred to tar sands and it also referred to climate change impacts from tar sands, aka oil sands,” she said. “In the town of Raymond, there were conservative views that wanted to stay away from global climate change as an issue and instead focus on local issues, so we focused the resolution on, for example, the Raymond Comprehensive Plan, which identified the importance of protecting the water resources. So we zoomed in on the local issues for the Raymond resolution.”
John Quinn, executive director of the New England Petroleum Council, said after the meeting that Raymond’s resolution is “balanced” and that it “protects the interests of the town and the citizens of Raymond and at the same time doesn’t fall into the trap that towns like Casco fell into that when you look at them they’re full of misstatements and falsehoods that have been put to rest by the State Department’s Environmental Impact Study.”
Quinn is referring to a recently released U.S. government report that determined oil sands were no more corrosive to pipelines than regular crude.
“The corrosion, the heat, the pressure, all of those issues were addressed in the [report],” Quinn said. “The science is on the side of oil sands being very conventional crude, after the whole screening process takes place, and it’s transported just like other crudes.”
Environmentalists are worried that oil sands will sink if spilled, making cleanup difficult. A spill in Sebago Lake, they say, could contaminate Greater Portland’s water supply. Chairman Sam Gifford mentioned during the meeting the need for constant vigilance, training for first responders and oversight of aging pipelines such as Maine’, citing an oil sands spill in Arkansas earlier this week.
Quinn agreed that there are environmental concerns, but he said that Canadian oil sands, when spilled, act like other heavy oils.
“It is typical of heavy oils and even some medium oils,” he said. “They will not stay on the surface forever. Gasoline evaporates. Crude oil will eventually sink, so it’s no different from conventional heavy oils.”
Quinn said North American energy independence, made possible by a partnership between Canada and America, is an overriding and important consideration, as well.
“Whatever we don’t take from Canada, we’re going to wind up taking from Saudi [Arabia], Venezuela, countries that do not have our best interests at heart and have not,” he said.
Since the point of the resolution is to urge state and federal leaders to provide oversight if the pipeline is used to ship oil sands, copies of Raymond’s newly adopted resolution will be sent to Maine’s congressional delegation, Gov. Paul LePage, the Maine House and Senate, the U.S. State Department, the president, the chief executive officer of the Portland Pipeline Corp. and the Canadian consulate in Boston.