South Portland Maine activists get ban on use of port for exporting tar sands – 2014


Prevent establishment of an oil export terminal in the port of South Portland, Maine. Their mission is to protect South Portland from the toxic air pollution from the export of tar sands oil.

Time period notes

June 6, 2013 to July 21st, 2014.

Time period

06-JUN, 2013 to 21-JUL, 2014


United States

Location City/State/Province

South Portland, Maine

Location Description

Major east coast port in southern Maine.
Jump to case narrative


Protect South Portland


not known.

External allies

Environment Maine, Tar Sands Free Northeast, Shifting the Power,

Involvement of social elites

Not known.


Portland Pipe Line Corporation, American Petroleum Institute, and related interests like Exxon who owns controlling share of the parent company of Portland Pipe Line Corp.

Nonviolent responses of opponent


Campaigner violence


Repressive Violence






Group characterization

local community members

Segment Length

10 weeks

Success in achieving specific demands/goals

6 out of 6 points


1 out of 1 points


3 out of 3 points

Total points

10 out of 10 points

Notes on outcomes

The City Council approved a ban on modifications to the harbor that would be necessary for reversing the flow of the pipeline and preparing the tar sands oil for export.

Database Narrative

The campaign began 6 June 2013, and ended 21 July 2014, with the South Portland City Council vote to ban the export of unrefined crude from its port.

This campaign was part of the international movement against extraction, production, and consumption of fossil fuels and in favor of reducing carbon emissions. This movement included many campaigns against export terminals for oil, coal, and natural gas in the US and Canada. This one was significant because South Portland hosted, at the time, the only deep water port with an existing pipeline on the east coast of the US. The pipeline had been used to send imported crude oil delivered on ships to the port of South Portland for refining in Montreal, Canada. With the rapid development of tar sands oil in Alberta, refinery owners in Montreal began choosing this source instead of the oil from overseas that came from South Portland by pipeline. The Portland Pipe Line Corp, the owner of the pipeline, had reportedly been considering reversing the pipeline’s flow so that they could send tar sands oil from Alberta to South Portland for export on tankers to US east coast refineries or other international destinations. The process of preparing the tar sands oil for export would produce air pollution at the endpoint at the harbor, and the pipeline across Vermont, New Hampshire, and southern Maine would risk water pollution from leaks in the pipeline. Tar sands oil is more corrosive than conventional oil and under higher pressure, and, as a result of this, is more likely to leak than conventional oil. The residents of South Portland, who opposed the change in the use of the pipeline, were concerned about the health risks of the air pollution and the both the health and economic risks of leaks into the harbor and other waterways it would cross.

During a kick-off rally on 6 June 2013, Concerned Citizens of South Portland announced their citizen’s ballot initiative, the “Waterfront Protection Initiative”, to prevent export of tar sands through South Portland’s harbor. If they got 950 signatures it would be on the November 2013 ballot.  People gave speeches, held signs, and chanted slogans. If passed, the ballot initiative would change the zoning so that the pipeline owner, Portland Pipe Line Corp., could not make changes to their pier to handle tar sands oil coming from Alberta to South Portland for export. The ordinance allowed continuation of the current usage of the pipeline for imports.

As of 17 June the citizens group had collected nearly 4,000 signatures in 11 days, about 4 times the number needed to get their initiative on the November ballot. The ordinance, if passed, would prevent the building of two smokestacks near the pier to burn off volatile organic compounds and harmful gases. The group convinced the South Portland mayor and his wife to sign as well.  The mayor’s support was a significant asset to the campaign.  

The campaign made many efforts to increase the public awareness throughout the summer and fall.  On 2 July, Concerned Citizens of South Portland held a public meeting at Sebago Lake, with speakers, including Bill McKibben of  They used a Facebook page to promote events and share news, to help build awareness and support for the work they were doing.  The effort during the fall of 2013 built public support for the ballot initiative so that it would be passed in the November election. Teams of activists knocked on doors and explained the purpose of the ban on tar sands coming into the port from the pipeline, so that people would support it.

The South Portland City Council voted at one of their public meetings to put the citizen’s initiative on the November ballot. Hundreds of citizens, business owners, realtors, teachers, healthcare professionals and others attended the public hearing. Concerned Citizens of South Portland changed its name to Protect South Portland (PSP) on 21 August.

The newly renamed campaign kickoff began on 11 September for Protect South Portland with banners, signs, and speeches as 160 supporters attended. They planned to canvas and make phone calls to build support for the Waterfront Protection Ordinance, and set up an online donations program. Supporters wrote letters to the editor about the ordinance and its effect on the waterfront.

Those opposed to the PSP had hired canvassers, consultants, and funded studies. In response, the PSP held a public meeting answering charges against the initiative. The campaign produced a Youtube video of the press conference, including a statement from the mayor. In a setback, on 14 October, 5 of 7 city councilors wrote a letter opposing the initiative, complaining about the process of developing the ordinance, and recommending others oppose it.

Protect South Portland held a rally on 2 November in support of the initiative, to try to build support for the coming election. The November ballot initiative lost by less than 200 votes. However, City Council agreed to meet to discuss a moratorium on tar sands exporting.

Through November and December, the City Council held a meeting to hear from the public about the issue of making South Portland an export terminal for tar sands. More than 20 spoke in favor of a moratorium. City Council voted in favor of the moratorium in the first of two needed votes. The city Planning Board also approved it. City Council agreed to a moratorium on the tar sands. The campaign sent people to speak at all the public meetings in favor of the initiative and a moratorium in tar sands development at the port. City Council agreed to set up a committee to write a new ordinance.

The period from January through July, the rest of the campaign, was spent building support and showing it at meetings related to writing the new draft of an ordinance. Part of that effort was through social media and their facebook page where they promoted attendance at public events and shared information about dangers of tar sands coming through pipelines. Some of this involved responding to public relations efforts by the opposition. The American Petroleum Institute, an industry public relations group, bought newspaper ads to promote the ‘benefits’ of oil from Canada, and to ignore the serious risks.

PSP also publicized the 14 January – 21 January hike made by allies from New Hampshire who were following part of the trail of the pipeline from Montreal as it crosses Vermont, New Hampshire, and into Maine, to catalog the waterways that would be at risk from pipeline leaks.

The City Council established an Ad hoc committee to draft an ordinance banning the development of diluted bitumen oil processing or export. The City Council asked the committee for a new ordinance that would not harm existing businesses and not conflict with existing federal and state laws. City Council held public meetings and asked for input for the first 6 months of 2014. On 25 June, City Council hosted a public meeting where the committee presented the new ordinance banning the export terminal, called the Clear Skies Ordinance. Hundreds of supporters packed the meeting.

American Petroleum Institute bought another ad a few weeks before the City Council would vote opposing the ordinance with misleading claims about the ordinance causing massive job loss.The 7 July City Council meeting was postponed because oil industry members flooded the meeting and took all the seats for the public. City Council decided to move to a larger venue and meet on 9 July. At that 9 July meeting, City Council passed the Clear Skies Ordinance. 355 supporters showed up with sky blue Clear Skies tee shirts. Supporters outnumbered opponents 9 – 1.

The City Council took their final vote on the Clear Skies Ordinance 21 July and approved it.

This was a victory for Protect South Portland as they achieved the ban they worked for. This ordinance prevented building the infrastructure for exporting tar sands oil through South Portland. This battle may not be over as there was a lawsuit introduced in 2015 to overturn the ordinance.


The campaign was encouraged by other cities banning fossil fuel project. One campaign noted was the one in Denton, Texas, against fracking. (1)

Sources June 6 June 18, 2013 Oct 23

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy

Jamie Irwin, 01/03/2015