Victory for environmentalists may be near in one of the more overlooked battles in the war against Canadian tar sands oil.
A backdoor plan by Canada's Enbridge and the US-based ExxonMobil to establish an alternate tar sands pipeline has met fierce resistance in the small city of South Portland, Maine where the proposed export terminal would be built.
In a proactive initiative to block the scheme, a local citizens group has collected nearly 4,000 signatures—roughly 4 times the amount necessary—in support of a referendum to place the matter before voters on the November ballot. The question will ask whether the city should enact a zoning change to permanently restrict new development of petroleum-related industry on its waterfront.
"It's clear the people of South Portland want this initiative in November," said Carol Masterson, an organizer with the anti-pipeline group Concerned Citizens of South Portland.
According to the group, "any pumping of tar-sands oil through the city's port would require construction of two smokestacks near [a local park] that would emit an unknown combination of volatile organic compounds and other harmful gases and particles."
South Portland Mayor, Tom Blake, and his wife were the last to add their signatures to the list Monday, the Portland Press Herald reports.
"No amount of jobs are important (enough) if we can't drink the water, breathe the air or work the soil we stand on," he said.
The plan employs an existing 60-year old pipeline that carries oil from freighters docked in South Portland's harbor across northern New England to Montreal. The oil giants hope to connect this line to crude tar sands oil being mined in western Canada and reverse the direction of flow making the coastal Maine town an alternate export terminal for the heavily polluting bitumen.
In addition to concerns about the toxic byproducts of processing or a potentially devastating spill or leak near vital water sources, those against the pipeline fear that by opening up the vast Canadian reserves we will essentially be spelling "game over"—as former NASA scientist James Hansen has said—for the planet.
Below is a map of the Portland-Montreal pipeline route: