Casco residents vote to oppose passage of tar sands oil through their town

Over the weekend, residents of Casco at a special town meeting voted to pass a resolution opposing the transportation of controversial tar sands oil through their town. That makes Casco the first municipality to pledge to stand in the way of a reversal of the Portland-Montreal Pipeline to accommodate the movement of the thicker, more acidic oil from Alberta, Canada, to the Atlantic Ocean and tankers bound for international markets.

The Natural Resources Council of Maine believes as many as 50 other towns along the pipeline route in northern New England could fall in line along with Casco, potentially creating trouble along the permitting path for pipeline owners if, in fact, the reversal of flow is something they’re planning. (The pipeline owners have largely dismissed that notion.)

Environmental advocates consider tar sands oil a major threat, and have maintained that Portland Pipe Line Corp., whose corporate parentage can be traced back to a subsidiary of tar sands extractor ExxonMobil, is eyeing change in pipeline flow to move the material across Maine.

In Casco, the 62-year-old pipeline travels along the Crooked River, and passes by Pleasant Lake and Parker Pond. The proximity to water bodies particularly concerns environmental groups which have spoken out about the issue, as pipes nationwide carrying the more corrosive tar sands oil have been shown to be more likely to have leaks, according to opponents of the oil.

To borrow a few sentences from a story I previously wrote on the subject: One incident that is often referred to by opponents is a 2010 spill of bituminous oil in the Kalamazoo River in Michigan that environmental regulators said has “permanently” polluted 38 miles of the waterway and — at one point — raised benzene gas levels in the nearby air to 15,000 parts per billion. The exposure level at which humans can be severely harmed or killed, he said, is 9 parts per billion.

Said Brooke Hiddell, a Casco-based registered Maine Guide in a statement:

I’ve been guiding on the Crooked River and other pristine Maine waters for years. Maine’s large outdoor recreation industry depends on clean, healthy waters for salmon, brook trout, and other species — and an increased risk of an oil spill into these waters from tar sands oil being forced through Maine’s aging pipeline would be devastating to the entire Sebago Lake watershed.

According to the NRCM, which issued a release about the vote Saturday, the special town meeting was held in response to a petition circulated in town and signed by about 340 residents.

Here’s a statement by Mary Fernandes, chairwoman of the Casco board of selectmen:

The people of Casco have spoken. We feel as a town that transporting tar sands oil through the Portland-Montreal pipeline poses unpredictable risks to the health, safety, natural resources, property and economic welfare of Casco residents.

Pipeline managers, as well as officials with Gov. Paul LePage’s office and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, have gone on the record saying there are no imminent proposals to reverse the flow of the pipeline — the latter party would have received permit requests if so. Also worth noting, representatives of the Portland Pipe Line Corp. have said requests to reverse flow are not necessarily signs that tar sands transportation across Maine is coming next, saying the procedure could also be used to accommodate the movement of less controversial crude oil from western Canada to the Atlantic.

But those comments haven’t swayed regional environmental advocates, who distrust large oil companies and point to efforts in recent years to reverse the flow of the pipeline on the Canadian side of the border which connects with the Portland-Montreal line.

Here’s one last statement on the subject, by Grant Plummer, a member of the Casco board of selectmen:

I think a lot of people reached the conclusion that putting tar sands through this pipe would provide only risks — to our people and economy — and no real benefit to the town or the state.

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Seth Koenig

About Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.