SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- A group of about three dozen protestors descended on the Portland Montreal Pipeline Company's headquarters in South Portland calling on the company to not import tar sands oil into Maine from Canada via their existing pipeline.
Environmentalists say tar sands oil requires a greater amount of energy to extract and process than conventional oil, and harvesting tar sands increases our dependence on oil and the size of our carbon footprint.
They say they are deeply concerned over plans to pump the tar sands oil east from Alberta to Maine where it would be loaded into ships and transported to refineries.
"Tar sands oil is very different than conventional oil," explained Emily Figdor, director of Environment Maine. "It is a sticky, peanut butter like substance that at room temperature you can literally hold in your hands."
She says the thickness of the tar sands oil requires more pressure to pump it through pipelines, increasing the chances for the pipeline to rupture and the oil to damage the environment.
"We've got a real concern there about what is going to happen if that line should rupture in the vicinity of Sebago Lake or in the watershed," stated Eliot Stanley, a member of the Sebago Lake Anglers Association. "Sebago Lake is the source of water for 200,000 people in the greater Portland area. If anything happens to pollute that lake, everybody is in trouble."
Stanley says the pipeline crosses the Crooked River, a main tributary into the lake, six times and passes very close to it as well.
Ted O'Meara, a spokesperson for the Portland Montreal Pipeline Company told NEWS CENTER that "there is no current plan or project in the works to do that", referring to pumping tar sands oil into Maine. He said the company continues to explore ways to use that pipeline, and there could be plans for a reversal of the pipeline which flows from Maine to Montreal in the future, but if they did seek to move tar sands oil via their pipeline their plans would be made very public to allow for an open discussion.
While there is no permit actively pending to bring tar sands to Maine via the pipeline, environmentalists say all signs point to that happening in the future.
The impact of tar sands oil on the environment has the city of Portland looking to adopt a resolution that would make it among the first communities in the country to become tar sands free.
Mayor Michael Brennan joined councilor Dave Marshall in announcing a proposal that would require the city manager seek contracts for city facilities and vehicles from vendors that do not use tar sands oil.
"We treasure clean water. We treasure what Sebago Lake and Casco Bay do for Portland and for this region," said Brennan. "So we think working on these policies and moving in this direction will allow us or help us to prevent any future tragedies that will detract from what Portland and this area is known for."
The resolution that the city council will consider on Wednesday night also calls for city staff to find greener alternatives to using bottled water and would ban styrofoam from being used to serve food on in city facilities.
The city of Portland will also be the site of a large regional rally against tar sands oil on Saturday beginning at 11:30 in Monument Square. Activists anticipate several hundred people will attend the event.