Tar Sands Battleground: South Portland, Maine

An analysis shows that what's happening in the city is just one part of an ongoing fight over Canada's plans to expand petroleum production in Alberta.

July 20, 2014 | Source: Portland Press Herald | by John Richardson

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As the city of South Portland geared up for a specially scheduled meeting on the latest proposal to keep tar sands – or oil sands – from flowing through the city’s industrial waterfront, supporters of the ban cried foul: Outsiders were interfering in the city’s business.

They accused out-of-state “Big Oil” interests of packing a meeting with so many nonresidents that it forced the South Portland City Council to delay its first vote on the proposal and schedule a bigger room. And they worried that the opponents might bring in more outsiders clad in red T-shirts to try to outnumber supporters in their sky-blue shirts and drown out the voices of the South Portland citizens whose environment is at stake.

As if this was all about South Portland.

In fact, what’s happening in the city is one skirmish in an ongoing, international chess match over Canada’s plans to expand the production of its vast petroleum reserves in Alberta, about 2,000 miles west and north of Portland Harbor.

Both sides in the debate here have been organized and supported by outsiders who are concerned with much more than South Portlanders and the future of their waterfront.

South Portland’s city councilors could decide Monday whether to prohibit the city’s petroleum-importing terminals from converting into crude oil-exporting terminals some time in the future. And they may base that decision on the local implications – protect against the possibility of waterfront vapor stacks and additional air pollution or preserve future business options for one of the city’s biggest industries and one of the biggest petroleum ports on the East Coast.