Published Date Written by David CarkhuffA Portland Water District committee will hear Wednesday night from experts who oppose the transport of “tar sands” or diluted bitumen oil through the Sebago Lake watershed. The workshop is part of a broader effort to research the issue of piping Canadian tar sands oil through a pipeline of the Portland Montreal Pipe Line company that runs from Portland to Montreal, Quebec.
At 6 p.m., the district’s planning committee will hold a special meeting at the district’s headquarters on Douglass Street in Portland. The meeting is a workshop and is not intended as a public forum, board members cautioned.
“We have already heard from our staff and will hold another special meeting in March to hear from proponents,” explained Gary Libby, trustee and member of the water district’s planning committee.
William Lunt of Falmouth, representing Cumberland and Falmouth on the Portland Water District board, agreed that the intent of the meeting is to gather information in a workshop setting, not to solicit public comment.
“If the board decides to take any kind of action, there will be public hearings at that time,” he predicted.
Lunt said as a board member he was limiting his focus strictly to the question of the pros and cons of transporting tar sands oil in the pipeline through the 361-square-mile watershed.
“I have deliberately not taken a position on how I feel about tar sands oil because I don’t think it’s appropriate,” Lunt said.
Rather, Lunt said he wants to understand transport of tar sands oil.
“That’s what my job is as a trustee, whether I agree or disagree with how they get tar sands oil out of the ground is immaterial to my position as a Portland Water District trustee,” he said.
Libby said, “Our information gathering is really limited to issues that relate to the safety of the pipeline as it crosses through the Sebago Lake watershed and not to focus on the general debate about tar sands oil.”
The pipeline in question crosses the Crooked River in six places and Panther Run in one place, Libby said. Crude oil currently only flows from Portland, where it’s brought in via tankers, to Montreal, in a pipeline built during the World War II era, he said.
“Obviously the water district is concerned about making sure the Sebago Lake watershed is protected. We’ve heard enough about the potential to reverse the flow on the Portland-Montreal pipeline that we’re concerned,” Libby said.
“We decided that we ought to have a factual background, a knowledge of the issues, in case there is a decision to reverse the flow of the pipeline so we would be ready to either take a position for or against or suggest some potential safeguards for the Sebago Lake watershed,” he added.
Graham White, manager of business communications for Canadian energy company Enbridge, told The Daily Sun recently that tar sands transport through Maine is not an active initiative for the company.
“Please note that contrary to recent reports and claims by some environmental and protest groups in the region, Enbridge has no plans or proposals whatsoever to transport any crude products, including diluted bitumen, through the pipelines of the Portland Montreal Pipe Line company that runs from Portland, Maine to Montreal, Quebec. Further, this is not an Enbridge pipeline and Enbridge has no affiliation with the company that operates the line. The ‘Trailbreaker’ project is not being pursued and was terminated in 2009. The current Line 9 Reversal Project is to promote access of Canadian and U.S. Bakken crude to Canadian refineries in Ontario and Quebec and does not involve any plans to transport crude past Montreal,” he wrote in an email message.
Libby said it doesn’t make sense to wait until a decision is made regarding tar sands transport through the Sebago Lake watershed.
“I understand that it may not happen, but if it does we as members of the water district planning committee want to be well informed and want to do what we can to try and protect the watershed,” he said.
“We’re looking at it from a very, very narrow point of view which is what potential dangers may there be for the Sebago Lake watershed and what kind of measures could we propose if a decision is made to reverse the flow,” Libby said.
As a quasi-municipal government entity, the district board lacks “significant authority” to regulate use of the pipeline, Libby acknowledged, but board members cited their responsibility.
“We’re elected to try and protect the drinking water of the Portland Water District,” Libby said.
The city of Portland grappled with the tar sands issue, but from a totally different perspective.
In January, the City Council decided it wasn’t ready to make a decision on a proposed municipal purchasing policy that would have blocked buying tar sands oil, as well as bottled beverages and polystyrene containers. The resolution was referred back to the Transportation, Energy and Sustainability Committee.
“Tar sands oil is one of the dirtiest fossil fuels on the planet, causing massive environmental impacts across a widening expanse of western Canada,” according to the Natural Resources Council of Maine (http://www.nrcm.org).
According to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, “Oil sands are a mixture of sand, water, clay and bitumen. Bitumen is oil that is too heavy or thick to flow or be pumped without being diluted or heated.”
The association uses the term “oil sands” as “a more accurate term, since bitumen, a heavy petroleum product, is mixed with the sand, and oil is what is derived from the bitumen.” Canada has the third largest oil reserves in the world, and 97 percent of Canada’s oil reserves are in the oil sands, the association reports (http://www.oilsandstoday.ca).