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Mass. residents join Maine oil pipeline protest

Protesters gathered in downtown Portland, Maine, on Saturday and then marched to the city’s waterfront to protest against a possible proposal to pipe tar sands oil from Canada through Northern New England.

Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald Via AP

Protesters gathered in downtown Portland, Maine, on Saturday and then marched to the city’s waterfront to protest against a possible proposal to pipe tar sands oil from Canada through Northern New England.

An anticipated proposal to pipe tar sands oil from Canada to Maine drew more 1,000 protestors to Portland, Maine, on Saturday, including several hundred Massachusetts residents.

Organized by a coalition of environmental groups opposed to tar sands because they say its production emits large amounts of heat-trapping carbon dioxide, three buses from the Bay State joined the downtown rally. The coalition is also worried about the possibility of an oil spill.

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New England “has the best seafood in the world,” said Adam Greenberg, a member of and spokesman for climate advocacy group 350 Massachusetts. “We have the best fall foliage and the best winter season. It relies on clean air and clean water.”

The 350 Massachusetts branch is part of the national movement 350.org, which fights climate change. The name refers to how many parts per million some scientists say is the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Rally participants gathered downtown, then marched to the city’s waterfront, where they heard speeches by Democratic US Representative Chellie Pingree , Portland Mayor Michael Brennan, and others who said allowing the heavy oil to travel down through northern New England poses serious environmental risks. Pingree said the pipeline should need a presidential permit and would have to request one from President Obama. A spokesman for Pingree said the crowd was estimated at more than 1,000.

Plans are probably in the works by a group, including ExxonMobil Corp., to bring tar sands oil by pipeline from western Canada to Montreal and then to Portland, according to the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

In addition to climate concerns, critics say tar sands, or oil sands, are so corrosive, acidic, and thick it may be more prone to leakage which would put rivers, lakes, and streams at risk. The leaks, they say, are also harmful to the environment because the heavy oil sinks to contaminate sediments. They further say that renewable energy should be promoted to reduce reliance on oil.

‘‘We need to work together to expand the market for renewable energies and eliminate the demand for tar sands and other fuels that are not only a root cause for climate change but also carry real risks of pollution and spills in our backyard,’’ according to a statement from Brennan.

The debate in Northern New England comes at the same time that debate is increasing in Washington over the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline, a $7 billion project that would carry tar sands oil from Canada to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast.

In Maine, the already existing pipeline now transports crude oil from Portland to Canada. Plans to reverse the direction of the transport of oil would increase the chance of spillage, said Devan Hawkins, a spokesman for and member of 350 Massachusetts, which brought buses of people to the protest. Hawkins estimated about 300 Massachusetts residents attended the rally.

Companies that own the pipeline segments that the tar sands oil could travel through say there are no current plans to bring tar sands oil across Northern New England to Portland. The Portland-to-Montreal pipeline now carries oil that arrives in Portland by ship through Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Quebec to Montreal.

Opponents of oil sands oil are putting out misinformation, said John Quinn, executive director of the New England Petroleum Council.

The oil is no more corrosive or dangerous than conventional crude oil, he said.

‘‘They intend to demonize oil sands because it’s a direct threat to wind power,’’ Quinn said. ‘‘Many of the organizers of this rally oppose petroleum in any form.’’

Others, like Greenberg, a 24-year-old Milton resident, disagree and believe that the environmental repercussions could be disastrous.

“The bottom line is I think it’s really the moral responsibility of all of us,” he said, calling these environmental issues the “greatest challenge we’ve ever seen.”

“Personally, I want to have kids,” he said, “and I want them to grow up in the New England that I love.”

Beth Daley of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. Derek J. Anderson can be reached at derek.anderson@globe.com.
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