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Protesters in Maine rally against tar sands oil

Demonstrators gathered in Portland, Maine, during a protest against the possible transportation of tar sands oil through the region.

Scott Eisen/REUTERS

Demonstrators gathered in Portland, Maine, during a protest against the possible transportation of tar sands oil through the region.

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Hundreds of people rallied in Portland on Saturday in what was billed as the largest protest yet against the possibility of so-called tar sands oil being piped in from Montreal.

Protesters gathered downtown, then marched to the city’s waterfront for a rally that included speeches from Democratic US Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine, Portland Mayor Michael Brennan and others who said allowing heavy oil from western Canada to cross northern New England poses serious environmental risks.

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Environmental groups say plans are in the works to bring oil by pipeline from western Canada to Montreal and then to Portland. Critics say tar sands, or oil sands, oil is so corrosive, acidic and thick that it’s more likely to spill than conventional crude oil and that would put rivers, lakes and streams at risk in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. They further say that renewable energy should be promoted to reduce reliance on oil.

‘‘With climate change once again at the forefront of our minds, it is crucial that we work together to end our dependence upon on foreign oil and keep our community free of fuels like tar sands,’’ Brennan said in a statement. ‘‘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.’’

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 oil from Canada to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast. Environmental groups say the pipeline would transport ‘‘dirty oil’’ from tar sands in Alberta, Canada, and produce heat-trapping gases that contribute to global warming.

The company that owns pipelines connecting western Canada to Montreal, and a separate company that owns the 236-mile pipeline from Portland to Montreal, both say there are no 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 from overseas 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, which represents the oil industry.

Seventy percent of the gasoline sold in Maine now comes from oil from Alberta that’s refined in New Brunswick, he said. 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.’’

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