Forecaster Forum: Anti-oil agenda ignores the facts in South Portland

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For more than a century the working waterfront has been both a vibrant part of South Portland’s local economy and served as Maine’s most important connection to global energy markets.

Today, a billion gallons a year of refined petroleum products flow safely through the community’s waterfront terminals and on to local gasoline stations, heating oil dealers, and other local energy suppliers.

The infrastructure it takes to serve the energy needs of South Portland consumers would not exist today were it not for a long tradition of cooperation between industry, the community and regulators at the local, state and federal levels. The very foundation of that cooperation is a reliance on fact-based science.

Energy Citizens is hard at work in South Portland to make sure that fabricated facts and hysteria are not used to force unwanted and unwise change on the waterfront and the responsible operators who work hard everyday to meet Maine’s energy needs. This organization exists to educate and empower citizens concerned about maintaining our access to abundant and secure supplies of energy.

The issues Energy Citizens works on are often national in scale, but can sometimes play out on local stages, as is the case here in South Portland.

More than a year ago activists with a narrow, off-oil agenda starting spreading misinformation about a type of crude oil that originates in the Canadian oil sands of western Canada. Using the made-up term “tar sands” they have been making the case that Canadian oil sands represents a grave threat to South Portland and its residents. The Portland Pipe Line Corp. has said repeatedly and as recently as last week the company has no pending, planned or imminent proposal to reverse the flow of its pipeline.

The oil sands is a geological formation of sand, clay and heavy oil known as bitumen. At approximately 168 billion barrels, bitumen is known to be the world’s third-largest supply of energy and will play a critical role in achieving North American energy independence. As another long, cold Maine winter draws to an end, we all need to be thinking about improving our region’s access to energy.

The Canadian oil sands formation has been a source of energy in western Canada for decades and, thanks to advancements in extraction technology and global energy economics, is already a part of our energy mix today. Crude from the oil sands is already in your cars and trucks and in your heating oil.

The U.S. State Department and the National Academy of Sciences have each concluded over the last 12 months that crude derived from the oil sands in Canada presents no greater risk than traditional crude oils. Despite the clear, peer-reviewed science from these reports, activists opposed to the use of fossil fuels continue to use trumped-up tales about so-called tar sands to target South Portland’s working waterfront.

Local residents do not have to compare scientific reports to get a sense of how far fossil fuel opponents will go to change the face of South Portland’s waterfront and the very future of this community.

Last summer, nearly 3,800 South Portland voters responded to warnings about a non-existent reversal project at Portland Pipe Line that supposedly would have included the construction of two mammoth, toxin-emitting smokestacks at Bug Light Park. There were, of course, no active plans last summer to reverse the pipeline and many petition signers ended up voting against the overly broad and divisive Waterfront Protection Ordinance in November when they learned the truth.

Again and again, WPO backers knocked on doors last fall promising it would be business as usual for the waterfront if local voters enacted their tar sands ordinance. However, every paper that took a position on the WPO and five of South Portland’s seven city councilors argued the ordinance was too broad and should be defeated.

After their loss at the polls those who pushed hardest for passage of the WPO turned their sights back to the City Council, pushing for immediate action. The council pressed ahead with an ordinance committee, despite assurances from Portland Pipe Line – a trusted South Portland neighbor for 70 years – that there is no proposed, pending or imminent plan to reverse the flow of its pipeline.

If you are concerned about maintaining South Portland’s working waterfront and maintaining Maine’s links to energy markets please join the conversation and make your opinion known. Also consider enrolling in Energy Citizens to get the tools to be an informed energy consumer and citizen.

John Quinn, a South Portland native, is executive director of the New England Petroleum Council.