Pipeline reps: Anti-tar sands resolution inaccurate, unfair

Nick Payeur, left, health & safety coordinator for the Portland Pipeline Corp., with David Cyr, secretary-treasurer, defended the company’s safety record Tuesday to the Bridgton Board of Selectmen. But they came too late in their aim to convince the board not to approve a referendum vote opposing possible transport of tar sands in the company’s pipeline. The June 11 referendum warrant has already been finalized. (Geraghty Photo)

Nick Payeur, left, health & safety coordinator for the Portland Pipeline Corp., with David Cyr, secretary-treasurer, defended the company’s safety record Tuesday to the Bridgton Board of Selectmen. But they came too late in their aim to convince the board not to approve a referendum vote opposing possible transport of tar sands in the company’s pipeline. The June 11 referendum warrant has already been finalized. (Geraghty Photo)

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

Two Portland Pipe Line Corp. representatives came bearing a stack of thick folders for Bridgton Selectmen at their Tuesday meeting.

But, in their aim to convince the board not to allow a town-wide vote opposing the possible transport of “tar sands,” or diluted bitumen, through Maine, they were a few weeks too late. Selectmen had already voted unanimously April 23 to place the Tar Sands Resolution on the June 11 town meeting warrant.

Still, Portland Pipe Line Secretary-Treasurer David Cyr and Health & Safety Coordinator Nick Payeur were grateful to be given any chance at all to state their case. Pipeline industry executives were not allowed to speak at a special town meeting in January in Bethel, when that town became the first in Maine to pass an anti-tar sands resolution.

Since then, there’s been sentiment in Bethel that the vote should be rescinded as being taken in too much haste, with voters hearing from only one side. A petition drive was launched to force a revote, which will take place in June. Bethel’s vote was followed by passage of similar resolutions in February and March in the towns of Waterford, Casco and Raymond. Besides Bridgton, anti-tar sands resolutions are up for voter consideration in June in the towns of Harrison and Otisfield.

Of all seven towns that have either passed or are considering passing anti-tar sands resolutions, only Bridgton does not lie within the Portland Pipe Line corridor, which transports crude oil offloaded from ships in Portland Harbor through western Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont to Quebec, Canada.

On Tuesday, Cyr used that distinction to ask Bridgton Selectmen to justify their willingness to allow a town-wide vote on the issue. “One of the concerns I have is that Bridgton isn’t even on the pipeline route,” said Cyr. Referring to the language contained in Bridgton’s resolution, Cyr said its intent is to “instill fear in people, and we think this is unfortunate.”

The resolution, which was brought to the board for consideration by residents Marita Wiser and Jon and Sally Chappell, states that “tar sands are heavier than conventional oil and spills are more dangerous and difficult to clean up.” It also notes the 2010 pipeline spill of diluted tar sands in the Kalamazoo River in Michigan, and states that any future transport of such fuel through the pipeline “may create unreasonable risks to the health, safety, natural resources, property and economic welfare of persons living in Bridgton and neighboring communities.”

Board member Woody Woodward told Cyr and Payeur that he wasn’t generally in favor of non-binding resolutions such as this, which speak to hypothetical, and not actual scenarios. But he noted that the board had softened the language by using “may” instead of “would” when speaking of the environmental risk.

“It seems to be accurate. It’s a question of how people interpret those issues,” Woodward said.

Cyr countered by saying his company doesn’t agree that transporting tar sands creates a greater change that the pipeline would leak. Contrary to what environmental groups like the Natural Resources Council of Maine have been saying, said Cyr, tar sands do not move through the pipeline at higher temperatures than crude oil. As for economic benefits, said Cyr, “Every ship that comes into our docks (bearing oil ready for transport) spends $50,000 in the Greater Portland community, providing a significant economic benefit to the region.

Cyr said Portland Pipe Line Corp. has operated safely since 1941 and pays millions in property taxes. It employs local contractors for pipeline maintenance, and has earned the highest safety award given by the United Petroleum Institute for the second year in a row.

He said that the earlier tide of opposition against tar sands transport is beginning to abate as his company has ramped up public awareness efforts to counter the anti-tar sands movement.

“Raymond’s resolution was much more friendly (than those passed in other towns),” he said, so much so, that it was supported by the oil industry. And on Monday, he added, the Legislature’s Environmental and Natural Resources Committee voted against a bill that would have imposed a two-year moratorium on the transportation of "tar sands" oil in Maine, opting instead to draft a resolution urging state officials to expand a Department of Environmental Protection study already underway.

Cyr said Portland Pipe Line Corp. had a proposal underway in 2008 to reverse the flow in its pipeline to allow for diluted bitumen transport from Canada to Portland, “but we never finished the project. We didn’t get the customers.”

Now, however, Cyr said, “Our ability to stay competitive is changing drastically, and we’re looking at every opportunity to use our assets.” He said, “We think these resolutions tend to damage our reputation,” and pointed out that the Obama administration recently released a study related to a proposed new Keystone XL Pipeline from Canada to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries that found that “oil sands are no different than conventional crude oil” in terms of safety risks.

“We need to defend our rights, because if not, it leaves a void for our opponents to fill,” Cyr said. One of the side benefits of fighting the anti-tar sands resolutions in Maine, he said, “has been to enhance our outreach program,” which has long been a goal of the company.

Selectmen Bernie King, picking up on Cyr’s statement that the company has the “right” to operate, told Cyr otherwise. “I have a big objection to you saying it’s your right to do what you do — it’s a privilege.”

Cyr said he misspoke, and agreed with King.

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