Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Eastern Prom Wilderness: The Petrochemical Prospect II

About 300 yards beyond the bathrooms at the beach, the Eastern Prom Trail begins to curve to the right (southwest) around the ledges at the base of Fort Allen Park. Here, an unpaved side path diverges left to follow the waterfront to some rocky ledges, the easternmost point of the Portland peninsula.

These ledges offer excellent views in three directions of Casco Bay. To the northeast are Mackworth Island and Cousins Island's Wyman Station. To the east are the Diamond Islands, Fort Gorges on Hog Island Ledge (see photo) and Peaks Island. To the south is Portland Harbor, with the oil tanks of South Portland beyond.

Oil tanker ships are another frequent sight from this vantage, either as they approach through the shipping channel or as they unload crude oil at Portland Pipe Line pier in South Portland. From there, oil feeds into the tanks that dominate the South Portland waterfront, and into a network of pipelines that extend to refineries near Montreal.

In a city renowned for its working waterfront, oil imports constitute an overwhelming bulk of the harbor's freight. About half of it comes from Europe's North Sea oil fields, to which Portland is the closest American port. So unlike the fishing, tourist, and cargo industries, which generate marine traffic from local natural resources, these oil terminals are here because of Portland's geographic position between global oil reserves and the North American petro-addicts who burn them.

Almost no one actually sees oil: from the time it comes out of the ground to the moment it gets burned, it is hidden away in tanks and pipelines. Nevertheless, the unusual grace of a huge supertanker looming over tugboats as it docks at the South Portland pier offers a rare opportunity to contemplate how much oil we use, where it comes from, and the consequences of the global market that brings it here.

Previously: Introduction, Trailhead, , The Beach, and
The Petrochemical Prospect I

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