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Next Canadian Tar Sands Pipeline Headed for Maine?

February 9, 2012

PORTLAND, Maine - Concern is growing about a plan to pipe tar sands crude oil from Ontario to Portland - especially in the wake of the controversial postponement of a similar project, the Keystone X-L pipeline, by President Obama last month.

This form of thick crude oil was of little value until oil prices rose and new technology was found to extract and refine it. A Canadian company, Enbridge, wants to reverse the flow on a portion of existing pipelines between Portland and Ontario to send down tar sands crude that will be shipped elsewhere in the world.

The substance is difficult to transport safely, according to Dylan Voorhees of the Maine Natural Resources Council.

"It's a concern, especially given that this pipeline runs right along Sebago Lake, the water supply for the greater Portland area. That's worth understanding."

The company that owns the pipeline in Maine says there is currently not an active project of this sort. Voorhees and a number of national experts on the risks of transporting tar sands crude oil are holding a news conference this morning. Tonight they will host a public discussion on the University of Southern Maine campus.

The process of extracting tar sands crude from the earth in Alberta, Canada, is environmentally harmful in and of itself, Voorhees says, pointing out that it would contribute to climate change when used to generate energy. That concern is in addition to its transportation risks, he says.

"Tar sands crude is more acidic and more corrosive. It needs to be transported at higher pressures and higher temperatures. These and a number of other factors about the substance make pipeline safety issues more important than ever before."

Now is the time to raise public awareness about the tar sands pipeline possibility, Voorhees says.

"It has been on and off the drawing board for a couple of years, but with oil prices headed up and high, it's a real prospect we need to be prepared for."

The National Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Council are all participating in the public discussion at Glickman Library on the USM campus.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - ME