South Portland, Maine, bans shipments of Canadian oil sands crude from its port

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy photoYou can count leaders of South Portland, Maine, in the 'no' column when it comes to Canadian oil sands, at least as far as having it in their city.

City council has approved a temporary moratorium on the shipment of oil sands crude through the city's port facilities, according to the Bangor Daily News. The ban is only for six months but it's supposed to give the city enough time to put an ordinance in place to bar Canadian oil sands crude permanently.

It's not clear how much power the municipal government might have to prevent the controversial petroleum product from being transported through its jurisdiction.

The Daily News reported the American Petroleum Institute warned council in a letter it would challenge any moratorium in court. The ban would violate state and federal law, as well as be unconstitutional, the five-page letter states.

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The Suncor tar sands mining operation in Alberta. REUTERS/Todd Korol If that's true, it would reduce the city's proposed ban largely to symbolic status, like Vancouver council's declaration in the early 1980s that the city was a nuclear weapons-free zone. The aim was to prevent nuke-armed U.S. warships from visiting the port but it was never enforced, despite signs posted in the harbour and the city limits.

South Portland's moratorium was triggered by discussion of a proposal to reverse the flow of Portland Pipe Line Corp.'s line between the city and Montreal to facilitate the export of oil sands crude.

The company currently has no plans to do it but chief executive officer Larry Wilson didn't rule it out in the future, the Daily News reported.

It would be part of a larger scheme to reverse the flow of Enbridge Inc.'s east-wests pipeline from Sarnia, Ont., to Montreal for refining, and possibly further to the U.S. east coast. The latter phase, dubbed "Trailbreaker," has since been shelved, the Toronto Star reported last year.

However, with the troubled Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta to the U.S. Gulf Coast still not approved by the American government, the possibility of finding an alternate route to get bitumen crude into the United States should not be ruled out.

[ Related: Enbridge's proposed pipeline reversal a 'recipe for disaster': opponents ]

The Financial Post noted the moratorium proposal was introduced the same day as South Portland voters narrowly rejected a ballot initiative that would have restricted oil sands movement.

“We applaud the city council for their strong leadership in standing up to the oil industry,” Roberta Zuckerman of the group Protect South Portland said, according to the Post. “But now the City Council must turn the temporary ban on shipping tar sands out of our city into permanent legal protections."

The pipeline-reversal project is also facing opposition in Canada from environmentalists and First Nations who worry that a bitumen-crude spill would be more difficult to clean up.

Opponents claim the crude is more corrosive than conventional oil and the aging pipeline is more likely to be damaged by it, The Canadian Press reported in October as National Energy Board hearings into the project were underway.

Enbridge proposes to move 300,000 barrels a day of oil sands crude, compared with the current 240,000 barrels, with no increase in pressure, CP said.