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Canadian Pipeline Decision Raises Tar Sands Fears in Maine
03/06/2014   Reported By: Tom Porter

Environmental advocates are concerned that a decision this afternoon by Canadian Energy Regulators will pave the way for the arrival in Maine of so-called tar sands oil from Alberta - an energy source which they describe as much more toxic than conventional crude. The decision by Canada's National Energy Board allows for the reversal of a 400-mile stretch of pipeline leading to Montreal, enabling it to flow eastwards to Quebec. Tom Porter has more.

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"Oil interests are trying to get tar sands out," says Dylan Voorhees, of the Natural Resources Council of Maine. "They're clearly moving closer to bringing it to Montreal in large volumes and that should send an alarm call of concern to Maine people."

The reason for the concern, says Voorhees, is that Montreal is the doorstep of the Maine-Montreal Pipeline, which currently transports crude oil inland from the Maine coast to Canada - but which he, and others, feel will eventually be used to bring oil sands east from Montreal across Maine to the terminal in South Portland, from where it can be exported by sea. This, he says, would bring with it unacceptable environmental risks.

The Portland Pipe Line Corporation, however, has repeatedly said it has no plans to reverse the flow of oil, and five months ago it surrendered a state emissions permit that it would have needed to do so. Nevertheless South Portland resident and tar sands opponent Crystal Goodrich thinks it's fair to assume that Canadian oil sands will one day be piped through her neighborhood on its way to the terminal - the economic incentives are just too strong.

"This thing that really indicates that it would be coming here is that once it gets to Montreal it has nowhere else to go but here, to be exported," Goodrich says, "because Montreal cannot possibly process the mass quantities that they have going there."

In the wake of this past November's failed ballot proposal that would have prohibited the flow of oil sands into South Portland, the city council has appointed a committee which is currently drafting a new ordinance - one that would prevent oil sands from being pumped in, but do so in a way that would be more "business-friendly" than the last proposal was thought to be.

As well as re-energizing this local debate, Dylan Voorhees says Thursday's Canadian decision should also increase the
urgency behind calls for a full environmental review of the pipeline. "The really only full environmental review of the pipeline could only happen if the United State's State Department decides to require that," he says.

Tar sands opponents also point to a series of recent newspaper ads which defend oil sands as evidence that there are plans to bring the oil into Maine for export.

Jamie Py is president of Maine's Energy Marketers Association, which represents the state's 350 oil dealers and other energy suppliers. He recently penned an op-ed for the Portland Press Herald.

"I wrote the op-ed so that folks in South Portland, and the committee that's rewriting an ordinance, understand that there is information about oil sands and about pipeline safety that they don't seem to have taken into consideration," Py says.

Py points to studies - including a paper published by the National Academy of Sciences - to shore up the argument that oil sands is just as safe as conventional crude to pump through a pipeline.

"Let's look at good science if we're going to look at these things, before we leap into some other area of whether or not these terminals are good or bad for the state of Maine," Py says.

Opponents however, say their concern is centered around the consequences of a spill of tar sands oil, which they say would be much more harmful to the environment.

Calls to the Portland Pipe Line Corporation seeking comment were not returned by airtime.


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