By Darren Fishell, BDN Staff
Bangor Daily News news story
PORTLAND, Maine — The South Portland City Council has effectively banned the export of tar sands, or oil sands, from its waterfront with an ordinance that has gained international attention and that oil industry opponents have vowed to challenge in court or before city officials.
“The fight is not over,” said Jamie Py, president of the Maine Energy Marketers Association, on behalf of the Working Waterfront Coalition.
While opponents alluded to a legal challenge, a representative for the pipeline owner Portland Pipe Line Corp. declined to comment on specific next steps the group would take. Matthew Manahan, attorney for the company whose pipeline runs from South Portland to Montreal, told the council before the 6-1 vote that it is an “illegal ordinance” that “would clearly be pre-empted by federal and state law.”
The decision comes as the Canadian province of Alberta is seeking international markets for its oil reserves, which are the third largest in the world after Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.
Supporters hailed the vote as a groundbreaking measure that joins efforts from local residents to block other energy infrastructure developments, most notably the lawsuit brought by a group of Nebraska residents that has delayed development of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline.
Emily Figdor, leader of the group Environment Maine, said the vote stands to serve as an example of grass-roots organizing defeating large-scale energy projects. The group will hold a briefing for national media Tuesday and other media events about the vote also are scheduled Tuesday.
“Citizens working together can do extraordinary things and the oil industry is not invincible,” said Figdor, who estimated about 325 supporters of the ordinance turned out for the meeting wearing blue shirts or stickers indicating their support.
Many of those supporters spoke during the meeting, which lasted more than three hours. They stated the ordinance will protect air quality along the city’s waterfront.
The South Portland vote is the first explicit obstacle the pipeline faces in reversing its direction to move tar sands from Alberta east. Vermont has stated that any pipeline reversal would get renewed permitting review but has not blocked tar sands outright. Many communities in that state have passed resolutions opposing tar sands going through their towns.
The Portland Pipe Line Corp.’s city permits for building smokestacks required to export tar sands oil and another that would be required to reverse the flow of its pipeline have also expired.
The 6-1 vote in South Portland, with Councilor Michael Pock in opposition, makes final an earlier vote and tees up the next stage in the fight that began in a referendum campaign seeking to prohibit construction of infrastructure needed to export tar sands from the South Portland waterfront, which failed by a narrow margin.
Councilors who opposed that measure in a public letter and at the ballot box said Monday they changed their minds after a committee tasked with a new ordinance limited it to preventing bulk loading of crude oil onto marine tank vessels.
Opponents speaking on behalf of the Portland Pipe Line Corp., which is owned by a Canadian subsidiary of Exxon Mobil Corp. and Suncor Energy Inc., echoed arguments Monday that the ordinance is not based on scientific study but on political campaign tactics.
“I request that you take the emotion and politics off the table and actually examine the science of the matter,” said Tom Hardinson, vice president of the Portland Pipe Line Corp., which is under the umbrella entity Portland Montreal Pipe Line along with Montreal Pipe Line Ltd.
Hardinson said the measure would limit the company’s ability to adapt to changing demand, against a landscape where the United States and Canada recently have started harvesting more of their own energy through tar sands and hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking.
Gorden Houlden, director of the China Institute at the University of Alberta and an advocate of pipeline construction, said in a telephone interview that the benefit for North America is reduced dependence on reserves in Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, which he said are largely hostile to the United States.
Without new pipelines in place, Houlden said he expects tar sands from Alberta would be carried south and west in existing pipelines through the United States and through British Columbia. Eastern exports, he said, most efficiently travel through Maine.
Without passage through Maine, Houlden said, reserves to the east would likely go around the state.
Before the vote, councilors had approved a temporary moratorium on development of infrastructure to export tar sands oil from the waterfront. After considering revoking that measure, they decided to keep it in place and consider removing it at a later vote.
They are scheduled to take up that 180-day moratorium at a Sept. 3 meeting.