For the fifth time in three weeks, a Canadian consular official attended a small town meeting where a ban on the passage of oilsands oil through the Portland to Montreal pipeline was being discussed. The latest meeting was on Tuesday in the lakeside town of Raymond, Maine.
"My mandate, our mandate, the consulate's mandate is to promote and defend Canada's interests in New England, as well as strengthen relations in the region, and that's the premise for my being here," said Aaron Annable, consul for foreign policy and diplomacy service at the Boston consulate, when asked about his presence at the meeting by CBC News.
In his presentation, Annable stressed the important economic relationship Maine has with Canada. Our country is the state's largest export market and that trade supports over 29,000 jobs.
"So as you consider this resolution, I wanted to highlight the wider elements of the oilsands … and try and address some of the misperceptions," said Annable.
The resolution considered by Raymond's Board of Selectmen (New England's equivalent of a town council) was put forward by the Healthy Waters Coalition, a local environmental group. The coalition is worried about an oilsands spill into Sebago Lake.
There is talk that the Portland to Montreal pipeline, which has been carrying crude oil from the Maine coast to Montreal refineries since 1941, could be reversed and carry diluted bitumen to the Maine coast.
"We're a community that depends on recreation dollars. So if we lose that ability to use the lake for recreation, it could be devastating for us," said Steve Catir, a member of the Healthy Waters Coalition.
"I think the nightmare scenario would be if this gets into the Crooked River and flows into Sebago Lake," he told the Maine politicians.
The river supplies 40 per cent of the water in the lake and the pipeline crosses it six times. Sebago Lake serves as the water source for more than 200,000 people in southern Maine and it is the home of the Sebago Lake salmon, a rare species of landlocked salmon.
Catir had lots of support at Tuesday's meeting in a standing-room only hall. Also on hand was the director of Environment Maine, Emily Figdor, whose group is co-ordinating the effort to get small towns along the route of the pipeline to pass resolutions opposing the proposal. So far, they have been successful in Casco and Bethel, with politicians in Windham and Portland choosing to give further thought to whether or not they will support the pipeline.
Environment Maine believes a reversal of the pipeline is imminent, because Enbridge has applied to the National Energy Board to reverse its Line 9 pipe between Sarnia, Ont., and Montreal.
"This is about the democratic process. It's about people having a say in a project that poses immeasurable risks to our resources, to our drinking water, to our way of life, to the treasured places that we live in and that we visit," said Figdor.
She said her group has no problem with the regular crude oil flowing through the pipe.
"Our concern is all about tarsands oil," she explained.
The group wants a thorough U.S. federal government environmental review of any proposal to reverse the pipeline's flow so it can carry Alberta bitumen. Figdor is convinced that bitumen is more corrosive than light crude oil. She also says that when it escapes into water it sinks rather than floats, making it nearly impossible to clean up. As an example, she cites Enbridge's oilsands spill in the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. Two years after the accident, crews still haven't finished the cleanup.
Industry hits back
On the other side of the debate, along with the Canadian consul, were a multitude of officials from the Portland Montreal Pipe Line (PMPL) company as well as the New England Petroleum Council (NEPC).
"Wrong, wrong, false, wrong! I don't know how I could be much clearer than that," said John Quinn, executive director of NEPC, when addressing Raymond's politicians about the corrosivity of oilsands bitumen.
PMPL admits that it would be interested in piping oilsands to its port on the Maine coast but says so far, no such plan exists. Still, in the company's opinion, Maine towns have nothing to worry about when it comes to oilsands bitumen in their pipes.
"We have a legacy of moving various crude grades, whether it be light medium or heavy crude grades, very safely. So we have no concern if the opportunity were to present itself," Larry Wilson, CEO of PMPL, told CBC News.
At the end of Tuesday's meeting, Raymond's Board of Selectmen didn't know what to make of the claims and counter-claims about oilsands bitumen. They said they wanted more information and decided not to adopt the resolution but discuss it again at their next meeting a month from now.
In the meantime, Catir is impressed the Canadian government sent a delegation to Raymond.
"We need to remember that they do represent the Canadian people who are, in fact, great neighbours and allies and friends. But our interests lie with the consequences that could occur here."