On the third anniversary of the nation’s largest and most expensive oil pipeline spill, Mainers rallied at the Portland Water District headquarters, carrying signs and dressed in black to symbolize an oil spill. They gathered to denounce oil industry efforts to pump thick, heavy tar sands oil through the 63-year-old pipeline—which traverses the Sebago Lake watershed—to Portland Harbor for export.
“We need to learn from history so we don’t repeat mistakes. The Kalamazoo spill tragically demonstrates the risks of pumping tar sands through our communities. We will not let Big Oil risk so much here in Maine for the sole purpose of increasing their profits,” said Environment Maine Director Emily Figdor.
In addition to being a recreational mecca, Sebago Lake provides Portland Water District’s drinking water, supplying 200,000 people – 1 in 7 Mainers. This water would be threatened by a tar sands oil spill, which would be nearly impossible to clean up.
Rally participants, including union members and residents who have worked to pass resolutions opposing the tar sands pipeline, called on Senator Susan Collins to join with the other members of Maine’s delegation and seek full environmental review of any tar sands oil pipeline proposal in Maine.
“Three years ago today, a massive tar sands oil spill polluted 40 miles of the Kalamazoo River in Michigan,” said Dylan Voorhees, Clean Energy Director, Natural Resources Council of Maine. “Three years and a billion dollars later, the Kalamazoo River is still polluted. It is clearer than ever: Maine cannot afford the risk from a tar sands pipeline crossing our state and its lakes, rivers, and bays. That is why today, we call on Senator Susan Collins to join with the rest of Maine’s Congressional delegation and ask the U.S. State Department to require a new Presidential Permit and full environmental review of any tar sands pipeline through Maine.”
“Tar sands pose an unacceptable threat to our fisheries, drinking water, and way of life. A spill here could be a disaster of catastrophic proportions—polluting Sebago Lake and potentially our drinking water and forever changing the place we love,” said Eliot Stanley, Board Member of the Sebago Lake Anglers Association.
In June, voters in Harrison overwhelmingly approved a tar sands resolution at the polls, making Harrison the 5th Maine town to do so. To date, seven Maine municipalities have passed resolutions concerning the transport of tar sands through the pipeline. (The seven municipalities are Casco, Raymond, Portland, Waterford, Harrison, Bridgeton, and Otisfield.) Most resolutions have specifically called on elected officials, including our federal delegation, to help ensure a Presidential Permit process and a full environmental review.
“A tar sands oil spill in to the Crooked River would devastate the river ecosystem, homeowners like me along the river, and the many businesses that depend on it like my brewing company,” says Lee Margolin, owner of Pennesseewassee Brewing in Harrison. “My brewing company depends on clean, healthy water from the Crooked River watershed.”
On July 25, 2010, a pipeline ruptured in southwestern Michigan, spilling more than 1.1 million gallons of thick, toxic tar sands oil and contaminating a 40-mile stretch of the Kalamazoo River, killing wildlife, closing businesses, ruining home values, and making people sick. So far, attempts to clean up the spill have cost more than $840 million, are expected to soon top $1 billion, and contamination remains.
This spring, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ordered the pipeline’s owner, Enbridge Inc., to remove large pools of oil that still remain at the bottom of three areas of the river in order to stop the tar sands from spreading to new areas. The disaster continues to unfold three years later because tar sands (also known as “bitumen”) tends to sink in water, whereas conventional oil floats and so can be more easily collected and skimmed off. Enbridge has not gone along willingly with clean-up orders from the EPA.
Tar sands are diluted with toxic chemicals, including the carcinogen benzene, for pipeline transport, increasing the additional health impacts of tar sands spills.
Citizens and groups opposed to tar sands have urged Maine’s delegation to act on their behalf to demand a permitting process and environmental review before the pipeline can be reversed to carry tar sands. In 2012, Representatives Pingree, Michaud and more than a dozen other members of Congress wrote to Secretary of State Kerry asking for such a review and permitting process. Senator King has since said publically that he supports this process as well.
In response to this pressure, the State Department has indicated that it is monitoring this potential project and will evaluate the need for a Presidential Permit and environmental reviews as the Portland Pipe Line Corporation gets closer to initiating its reversal plan.
In March 2013, another huge tar sands pipeline spill happened in Mayflower, Arkansas, spilling approximately 200,000 gallons of diluted bitumen into a suburban neighborhood and nearby wetlands. That pipeline, owned by Exxon Mobil (the ultimate parent of the Portland Pipe Line Corporation) is the same age as the Maine pipeline and was reversed to carry tar sands in 2006. The tar sands oil spill happened just seven years after the reversal, when the pipeline was extensively cleaned and pressure tested.