Now, as South Portland’s mayor, Blake will moderate a meeting on Monday to discuss the pros and cons of one of the pipelines potentially becoming a conduit for Canadian tar sands oil.
“I have questions myself,” Blake said Wednesday, noting that issues that could be discussed include pumping pressure, viscosity of tar sands crude and the stability of the pipelines.
Now a retired firefighter/paramedic, Blake acknowledged that the issue of tar sands may not be as simple in South Portland as it is in other communities along the company’s dual 236-mile crude oil pipelines.
“We’re in a little different position than everybody else because this is where Portland Pipe Line operates out of. We’re in perhaps a sensitive position,” Blake said.
The sixth largest taxpayer in South Portland, Portland Pipe Line Corporation is one of the community’s largest property owners and an “excellent” local business, Blake said. At the same time, he said South Portland lacks rules pertaining specifically to tar sands oil.
“The city staff has never addressed the issue, so there are no regulations in the city right now for tar sands and we’ve never discussed it,” he said.
Casco, Bethel and Waterford have passed resolutions opposing any plans by Portland Pipe Line Corp. to pump tar sands crude through its pipeline network. Portland City Council reviewed a proposal to prohibit purchasing of tar sands oil but ultimately did not act on the matter to gather more information.
At issue is the concern that oil companies will use the Portland Montreal Pipe Line from South Portland to Montreal, Quebec, Canada to carry the oil from Canada to Casco Bay, where it would be loaded onto tankers for export, according to opponents.
Portland Pipe Line Corporation owns and operates a tanker unloading facility, two tank farms â one in South Portland, the other in Montreal, Quebec, Canada â and a system of pump stations and crude oil pipelines that traverse 236 miles along a common right-of-way from the state of Maine to Quebec, according to the company’s website (http://www.pmpl.com/about-us/).
Two pipelines (18 inch and 24 inch) and eight pump stations are operated out of the South Portland, Maine operations center, which moves the crude from the South Portland tank farm to refineries and the tank farm in Montreal.
In late February, Portland Pipe Line Corporation CEO Larry Wilson told lawmakers in Vermont that his company would be willing to transport tar sands oil from Canada to South Portland but added that the company has no plans to do so.
“I think the real game changer was about two weeks ago when the president for the Portland Pipe Line said if the opportunity arises we’re in the game,” Blake said.
“Up until that point, even though Portland Pipe Line had taken a permit out for expansion to allow reverse flow, they had never done that work,” he said.
Wilson’s comments added intensity to an already growing outcry by opponents of tar sands oil. (Efforts to contact Wilson for comment for this story were unsuccessful.)
Environmentalists have seized on Wilson’s remarks.
“That’s just further evidence that we have that they are considering it,” said Todd Martin, outreach coordinator with the Natural Resources Council of Maine, in a recent interview. The NRCM is scheduled to present arguments against transporting tar sands through the pipeline at Monday’s meeting. Portland Pipe Line Corporation also is scheduled to present information to the South Portland City Council Monday night.
Blake explained that the council adapted its regular every-other-Monday workshop, arranged for it to start a half hour earlier than normal, so the meeting will start at 6 p.m. The council established a format where each side will receive 30 minutes to present information, the public will be allowed to offer input with a time limit of two minutes per person and then a question-and-answer session will follow by the council.
“The main purpose is information sharing, the council will not be taking any action after” the workshop, Blake said.
It’s possible South Portland officials could act on the issue at a future meeting, however, he said.
Currently, site of the meeting is the South Portland Community Center “Senior Wing,” but Blake said organizers may opt to move to a larger venue, something which would be announced.
The workshop stems from public interest in tar sands oil, Blake said, but not from any particular proposal before the South Portland government.
“Because this is the beginning or end terminus, as a councilor I got requests to discuss it six months ago,” Blake said.
By the time he became the council-appointed mayor for a one-year term late last year, Blake said the requests for a public discussion on tar sands oil had increased.
In the past the Portland Pipe Line Corporation has secured a South Portland planning permit to reverse the flow in one of the two lines, but that permit has expired, Blake said. Then it was renewed again and allowed to expire again, he said. Blake said Portland Pipe Line Corporation has not come back since the latest expiration.
With six oil terminals and an “excellent fire department,” Blake said he’s not concerned about South Portland’s ability to oversee marine terminal infrastructure.
“I’m comfortable with the current situation, South Portland is a major terminal area, we have six terminals in our area and we have some of the most progressive marine terminal ordinances,” he said.
In 2009, Portland Pipe Line Corporation was granted an air emission license under a plan to “modify its 18-inch pipeline to allow crude oil to move south from Montreal to the Portland tank farm where the crude oil will be loaded onto marine tank vessels at the Pier 2 facility,” according to a Maine Department of Environmental Quality memo from an August 2009 finding of fact and order.
Opponents worry that the company could acquire permits â local, state and federal â to reverse the flow and transport tar sands oil from Canada to South Portland.
Built in 1941, the pipeline stretches 7.8 miles through Waterford along the Crooked River watershed, crossing the river five times. The pipeline also passes by both Papoose and McWain Ponds in Waterford and also passes near Sebago Lake.
In late February, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, sent a letter, co-signed by 17 other members of Congress, including Congressman Michael Michaud, asking that the owners of the Portland Pipeline not be allowed to pump tar sands oil from Canada through Maine without applying for a new permit and undergoing environmental review. The letter was addressed to Secretary of State Kerry and signed by all of the U.S. Representatives from Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, through which tar sands oil could flow.
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, did not sign the letter.
A Presidential Permit is required for any international oil pipelines, according to the Natural Resources Council of Maine. A substantial change in use of an existing pipeline can trigger the requirement for a new permit, which typically entails an environmental impact review, the organization reported. The U.S. State Department makes this determination.
Pingree’s letter urges the State Department review to examine the “risk to wildlife and fisheries in Casco Bay, and throughout the Gulf of Maine and Atlantic….a number of pristine lakes and rivers including Sebago Lake, the jewel of a regional tourism economy and the drinking water supply for much of southern Maine” and to “account for impacts related to climate change,” as well. The letter references multiple pieces of evidence that tar sands is not like conventional crude oil in terms of risk of a spill, toxicity and difficulty of cleaning-up spills when they occur.
But also in late February, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers pointed to a new report by Penspen Integrity, a division of the UK-based Penspen Limited, which the association said revealed that tar sands crude, diluted bitumen, is not more corrosive than conventional crude. The Penspen report examined 40 studies addressing the behaviour of diluted bitumen and conventional crude, the association reported.