Perched on the edge of the Fore River, South Portland's Bug Light Park offers visitors a spectacular view of Maine's Casco Bay.
Until recently, that view might also have included a massive oil tanker unloading its cargo for transport along the Portland-Montreal Pipeline, which starts at the park's edge. Today, however, the pipeline terminal sits idle, a testament to the power of people to stand up to big money and corporate interests.
"This is a story of local people from a small town standing up against Big Oil, period," says CLF Maine Director Sean Mahoney.
Over seven decades, the 236-mile pipeline pumped more than five billion barrels of oil through Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont to Montreal. But after the surge in Alberta tar sands oil, its flow dropped to a trickle.
As early as 2008, the Portland Pipe Line Company began exploring reversing the pipe's flow. The idea: to pump tar sands oil from Montreal to the South Portland terminal for export. In 2013, word spread that the company --by then owned by ExxonMobil, Suncor, and Imperial Oil--might be preparing to move the plan forward. The news prompted hundreds of people to march against the proposal on a frigid January day.
The march-served as a wake-up call for South Portland city leaders and many residents. Soon after, a dozen neighbors gathered in a local living room to discuss how they could rally residents to attend an upcoming meeting on the project at the city Community Center. Ultimately, 400 people came to the meeting, but, while emotions ran high on both sides, no resolution was put forward.
The concerns that drew together those opposed to the proposal were many, says MJ Ferrier, who lives barely a block from the terminal. The aging pipeline passes through rivers, lakes, and wildlife areas, she says, including over tributaries flowing into Sebago Lake, which provides drinking water to 20 percent of Maine's population. A rupture or spill of tar sands oil--like the million gallons that fouled Michigan's Kalamazoo River in 2010--would devastate wildlife and threaten drinking water.
What's more, reversing the pipeline would require building two 70-foot-tall smokestacks, which would spew toxic fumes into densely populated neighborhoods nearby.
Determined to stop the pipeline, the neighbors organized as Protect South Portland. Opposing the pipeline meant standing up to some of the biggest names in the oil industry. But Protect South Portland was undaunted, going door to door to...