NAPLES, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- While officials with the Portland Pipe Line Corporation have repeatedly stated they do not have any active applications pending which would seek to allow them to transport tar sands oil across Maine, environmentalists are calling for studies to be done on the issue before it becomes an issue.
"We are absolutely concerned about the material that would be carried in the pipeline," stated Emily Figdor, director of Environment Maine. "It is called tar sands diluted bitumen. It is really a toxic blend of very heavy oil and chemicals like benzine, which are known human carcinogens."
"Tar sands is so thick you could literally hold it in your hands at room temperature," she added. "You can think of it as almost like molasses.
"We've seen evidence that pipelines carrying tar sands in the U.S. have spilled three times more often than pipelines carrying conventional oil."
But Tom Hardison, director of Portland Pipe Line Corporation which operates the crude oil pipeline, says the system is designed to handle different types of oil safely.
"We have been moving light, medium, and heavy crude through the system for years and we believe that the tars sands, oil sands, is no different than the heavy crude oil we currently move through the system," stated Hardison.
He says the pipeline company has won numerous safety and environmental awards for its work. He estimates the pipeline has moved four billion barrels of oil since he started working for the company in 1974 without any major spills or problems.
"In the early years, there were a couple of spills from the pipeline system, but in my nearly 39 years here with the company, our spill history is outstanding," he said. "We've done a magnificent job moving that four billion plus barrels with next to nothing spilled from the pipeline."
He says the pipeline would seriously consider any opportunity that came along that would allow them to utilize the infrastructure already in place, and would be sure to include the public in that discussion if they were to move in that direction.
Environmental groups want the pipeline to under go a strict review before any tar sands oil is allowed to cross into Maine.
"I think it is a change of use, and what the communities along the pipeline are asking for is a Presidential Permit to be required and for a full environmental review of this," said Lee Dassler, executive director of the Western Foothills Land Trust.
She says the pipeline has been a good neighbor for years, and appreciates the recreational opportunities the pipeline corridor provides, but as an abutter of the pipeline she is concerned about the potential impacts of a spill.
"I believe we are all incredibly vulnerable," she said. "As a homeowner who has invested all my earnings and a huge amount of sweat equity into an historic home in Bolster's Mills, my well water is vulnerable. I am hoping to have geothermal, that would be completely vulnerable to this sort of disaster. Air quality, I would have to move.
"Who would buy my house? How could I ever get insurance on my house? All of those questions, I feel very personally, beyond my work in the land trust."
Others are worried about a spills impact on habitat as well as humans.
"I think most of us in this area were not even aware that the pipeline crossed the river," explained Eliot Stanley, a board member of the Sebago Lake Anglers Association. "I was quite surprised and stunned when I learned that.
"Almost 70% of the salmon in Sebago Lake come out of the Crooked River," he added. "The fact that this is also the public water supply for 200,000 homes in southern Maine is of paramount importance."