Opponents of a proposed pipeline project that would bring Canadian tar sands oil through New England gathered in Portland, Maine Saturday for a regional protest against the scheme by oil pipeline companies to use existing lines to transport what experts call the "world's dirtiest fuel".
Regional allies from across the northeast and Canada took to the streets of the small, coastal city to protest proposed plans to bring toxic tar sands oil from Montreal, Canada to Portland, Maine through an existing pipeline system.
Opposition has been growing in the northeast on both sides of the border against the oil giants behind the toxic plan—Canada's Enbridge and the US-based ExxonMobil.
"This is our water, our land, our homes, our climate and our future. And we say 'No' to dirty tar sands oil." –David Stember, 350.org
In the largest rally against tar sands ever seen in the region, more than two thousand people braved the sub freezing weather, marching to the Maine State Pier for a rally overlooking Casco Bay where the proposed pipeline from Montreal would end at an export terminal. Saturday's Portland rally was the culminating event which followed a week-long series of smaller actions in towns and cities in Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and other places.
"Our goal this week and here today is to put the powers who think they can make this pipeline decision behind closed doors on notice," said David Stember of Vermont, and an organizer with 350.org, at the rally Saturday.
"Whether it's the National Energy Board deciding on Enbridge's plan to bring tar sands into Montreal, or President Obama who can stop this Exxon/Portland Montreal Pipeline Company project by denying it a new premit, the voice of the people will he heard," he said. "This is our water, our land, our homes, our climate and our future. And we say 'No' to dirty tar sands oil."
The Portland Montreal Pipeline Company, a subsidiary of ExxonMobil and headquartered in South Portland, says they have no current plans to reverse the flow of their pipeline to transport tar sands oil, but would be open to that option if it became available. Enbridge, for its part, is openly pushing for the reversal of the so-called "Number 9 Line" in Canada.
"The people of eastern Canada and New England have their own plan and are forming a wall of opposition to keep the east tar sands free," the coalition of local and national campaign groups who organized Saturday's actions said in a joint statement.
US Congresswomen Chellie Pingree made news at the rally by telling the crowd that she agreed a flow reversal "would pose serious environmental risk" and would, on behalf of her consituents, "ask the Obama administration to do a full environmental review of any attempts to pump tar sands through that old pipeline."
"Let's just say here and now," Pingree continued, "That ExxonMobil should not be allowed to move ahead with a risky scheme without a presidential permit, and I don't believe the facts will support one."
“Maine and the region have everything to lose and nothing to gain from sending toxic tar sands across our state,” said Lisa Pohlmann of the Natural Resources Council of Maine.
“We cannot afford the risk of tar sands oil oozing across the Northeast in Exxon’s pipeline and we will be calling on the State Department to demand an environmental review of this risky proposal," she added. "There is too much at stake.”
“We call on the National Energy Board of Canada to deny approval of the Canadian section of this tar sands pipeline, and on the U.S. State Department to conduct a full environmental review which allows complete public input,” said Stember from 350.org, which helped organize the rally along with other national groups including the Sierra Club and National Wildlife Federation, and local groups including 350 Maine, Environment Maine and the Natural Resources Council of Maine.
The already existing 236-mile long, 62-year old pipeline is currently used to pump light crude oil from Portland to Canada; however, the Enbridge/Exxon plan would use the pipeline to pump tar sands originating from Alberta, Canada, to Portland's Casco Bay.
The highly toxic substance is known to be far more corrosive than other forms of oil and presents a much higher risk of pipeline leakage and spills.
"If tar sands are pumped through that pipeline, a leak could endanger the area’s water supply at Sebago Lake and be almost impossible to clean up, because the heavy oil sinks to the bottom of waterways," writes William Hall at Bangor Daily News.
In addition to Saturday’s protest, EcoWatch reports that dozens of solidarity protests have been taking place throughout the week, including the "Hands across the Connecticut River demonstration where the tar sands pipeline crosses the Connecticut river in Vermont and New Hampshire, picket lines and marches in front of numerous Exxon Mobil Stations, Flash Mobs in downtown centers, human oil spills and numerous drop in visits to local offices of members of Congress."
The march wound its way through the streets and alleys Portland's Old Port district:
(All Photos: CommonDreams / Creative Commons)