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South Portland council blocks export of polluting tar sands oil



Environmentalists from across the US have welcomed the decision made by the council of South Portland in Maine, US, to block exports of controversial Canadian tar sands oil from being shipped through the city.

Last week, the city council voted 6-1 in favour of a ban on heavy crude oil exports through its harbour.

“This is so exciting,” Mary Jane Ferrier, spokeswoman for the group Protect South Portland, told the Portland Press Herald.

“This is a big thing with impact far beyond our city.”

The vote was held because locals feared that the oil industry had ambitions to pump tar sands oil down from Alberta to the Atlantic coast. 

A 236-mile pipeline, owned by ExxonMobil, currently carries crude oil from South Portland to Montreal, but environmentalists have been wary that proposals may soon be tabled to reverse the flow. 

Tar sands oil is a fossil fuel particularly controversial because of its disproportionate environmental impact. It emits around 12% more greenhouse gases than conventional oil, largely because of a more energy intensive mining and refinement process.

It has even been estimated that the tar sands industry has greenhouse gas emissions greater than the combined output of the nations of New Zealand and Kenya. 

Tar sands oil has also been linked with a range of health problems found in people living near extraction areas.

With such concerns in mind, campaigners have engaged in a long battle to educate the people of New England about the dangers of tar sands.

The 60-year-old Portland Montreal Pipeline (PMPL) also runs through the New England state of Vermont.

“The PMPL passes through Victory State Forest and across 15 different rivers and streams, including the Black River, the Missisquoi River, and the Connecticut River,” explained Mark Nelson, chair of the Vermont Sierra Club. 

“Tar sands should not be passing through these precious resources. We thank the many people and organisations in South Portland for fighting against big oil.”

While environmentalists hailed the vote as a blow to tar sands, the industry does have other options for exporting their product along the east coast. Plans have been put forward to extend existing pipelines to Quebec. 

On the west coast, plans are progressing for the larger and even more controversial Keystone XL and Northern Gateway pipelines.

Tar sand oil has now even reached Europe. The first large-scale shipment, which arrived in Bilbao, Spain, was greeted by angry protestors.

Photo: Howl Arts Collective via Flickr

Further reading:

Canadian tar sands oil pipeline is approved, despite protests

Aiming for tar sands oil is greedy and destructive, Neil Young tells Canadian PM

Canadian tar sands oil pipeline is approved, despite protests

Intensive lobbying for tar sands taking place in Europe

Tar sands pollutants ‘greatly underestimated’, says study