Moratorium blocking port development to ship crude could be made permanent
South Portland, Maine, could be the first U.S. city to pass a law to block Alberta oilsands crude from getting anywhere near its waterfront.
The city of 25,000 people is turning into a test case for local communities that don’t want oilsands bitumen shipped from their ports.
Tom Blake, the former mayor of South Portland, gave CBC News a tour of his city this week where a temporary moratorium has been imposed on any new structures used by oil companies to help load oil from a pipeline on land, to oil tankers in their port for export.
“We have no interest in having the world’s dirtiest oil come through our community," said Blake, who currently sits on city council.
South Portland sits across the bay from Portland, Maine. It’s the third-largest oil port on the U.S. East Coast.
It has provided imported oil by pipeline to Canada since 1941, when it was built to help provide a safe source of energy to this country during the Second World War.
The oil moves north from Maine through New Hampshire to Montreal via the Portland Montreal Pipeline, a subsidiary of the Canadian parent company that is owned by three companies involved in the Alberta oilsands: Shell, Suncor and Imperial Oil.
In 2008, the company applied for a permit to reverse the flow of the pipeline to bring Canadian oil to the U.S. east coast.
The plan was scrapped because of the recession and there is no current project on the books. But the company president Larry Wilson has been quoted as saying he is looking for every opportunity to revive the plan.
“The current president has stated publicly many times and to me personally that he would love to bring tarsands to South Portland,” said Blake.
So when Canada's National Energy Board approved the reversal of Enbridge's Line 9B to bring oilsands bitumen east to Montreal in early March, many in South Portland figured it was only a matter of time before that oil would be heading south to their port for export.
"They want to use the existing infrastructure because they're not getting their other pipes done as quickly as they want to," said Crystal Gooderich, a spokeswoman for local citizen's group Protect South Portland.
Last fall the group of residents formed a vocal anti-oilsands campaign and narrowly lost a citywide vote on a restrictive new ordinance on all waterfront development.
But it was enough to convince the city to pass a six-month moratorium in November on proposals to build new structures to transfer oil onto marine vessels.
Portland Pipeline's original plan included two 21-metre industrial stacks on the city's scenic waterfront to burn off gas from the piped oil before its transfer to a tanker.
The council may extend the moratorium for a further six months to allow a committee to draft an ordinance for a permanent ban.
South Portland moves to block Alberta bitumen from reaching its port