Maine Activists Don’t Want Tar Sands Under Their Feet

It’s on in Portland, Maine, where activists have successfully organized to get an anti-tar sands ordinance on the November ballot. Members of Protect South Portland are rallying together in an attempt to keep tar sands out of their city by cutting it off at the head, making it impossible for major oil companies to transport and process this controversial oil product within their city. The results of their organizing could prove explosive not just for Maine, but for the Northeast and the rest of the country.

While many people have heard of Keystone XL and the significant ongoing controversy as communities on the path of the pipeline’s proposed route protest, tar sands oil is actually a larger issue than that. Port cities like Portland are facing their own controversies as oil companies establish shipping terminals and expand their operations, and in the Northeast, some activists are concerned about the existing network of oil pipelines and the fact that it could be converted to carry tar sands oil.

In Portland, activists are trying to keep oil companies out with a zoning change that would make it impossible for them to conduct their operations in the port, and oil companies aren’t happy. Both sides are gearing up for a campaign that will likely prove vicious, and could involve a blitz of advertising.

On one side, grassroots activists plan on going door to door, using their limited resources to reach out and create community connections. Meanwhile, publicists hired by the oil companies will be doing their own outreach, blanketing the community in fliers, political advertising and more.

The City Council members who unanimously supported the decision to put the ordinance on the ballot spoke eloquently about the need for clean air and water in Portland, addressing the concerns brought up by a number of residents worried about the safety of their community if tar sands come to town. Activists point out that there are already safety concerns with tar sands oil, and these are exacerbated with older pipelines not originally designed for this use. Since tar sands oil needs to be chemically treated and heated, the risk of leaks and other problems is much higher, and that’s a big worry when a pipeline runs directly under residential communities.

What happens in Portland could have ramifications beyond the city’s borders. Elsewhere in Maine and across the Northeast, communities are facing similar issues as oil companies set up the framework for the transportation of tar sands oil. Oil companies want to be prepared for future eventualities, and with tar sands oil becoming so controversial, many want to move quietly now rather than waiting until they’re forced to move in the open. Savvy communities like Portland are forcing the issue into the public eye and raising awareness, which is good for activists, although oil companies definitely aren’t delighted.

If Portland is successful in passing the proposed ordinance, it will undoubtedly face litigation from oil companies, and it will also be setting a precedent for other cities to follow if they want to keep tar sands oil out and retain their fundamental character and community.

Photo credit: Stephen Melkisethian.


Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

Dandelion G.
Sheryl G5 years ago

Cathleen K. don't give them any ideas.

Dandelion G.
Sheryl G5 years ago

Good for them. I lived there once and it's a quaint little seaport city with a lot of history and a nice ambiance. What it doesn't need is some oil spill ruining what took years to develop to. There is a lot of activism in that area, and obviously it is paying off. Now other Communities need to do the same. They only way to fight these Heartless Ones is to band together.

Rosemary G.
Rosemary G5 years ago

We should all do our share, not to waste energy for one..
Then we should all hold hands to drive these wanking planet murderers to Mars or the Moon where they can do all the exploring and exploiting they want..Get off your mindnumbing stupid Reality TV (Not reality at all) TV sets and go and protest by the millions in the streets and demand our Whores representatives to drop their sponsors (Oil Companies and Multinationals) and start working for us, their employers...

Lynnl C.
Past Member 5 years ago

Good luck...

Lynda Duke
Lynda Duke5 years ago

I hope the people in the referendum win....I don't want fracking nor tar sands oil under my feet either. Its wrong what these greedy oil barons are doing to the planet! I stand with them on this measure. BEST of LUCK!

Ann Breeden
Ann Breeden5 years ago

Yankees are a tough lot. We managed to fight off the British in the Revolutionary War so I'm sure we'll keep this yucky stuff out of Maine as well.

Fred Hoekstra
Fred Hoekstra5 years ago

Thank you S. E. Smith, for Sharing this!

Cathleen K.
Cathleen K5 years ago

Portland will win this battle, and most of Maine's coastal property is owned by people with too much money to push around, but I worry about smaller, blue collar towns where the traditional fisheries and boat building that once sustained them are going belly up. Maine's governor is a truly evil, crazy and stupid POS who'd think nothing of taking a payoff from oil interests, so we all need to watch the state closely. New Hampshire and New York both have tiny, and incredibly valuable, coast lines, so Maine is the only potential US egress for Canadian tar sands in the Northeast. The Canadian Maritime Provinces look like a better bet to me if they fail in Maine. Were I one of these companies, I'd have gone for a smaller port in northern Maine, where the people are a lot poorer and a lot less well educated, and proposed a total makeover of the harbor, using local labor as much as possible. The locals would have crawled across broken glass to OK the project. Let's all be grateful that oil execs are not as smart as I am.

Wesley Struebing
Wesley S5 years ago

Good for the City Council! About time someone with a little power grows some spine.