Protesters crossed through Chippewa County on Wednesday en route to Superior in a walking tour of the Enbridge Line 61 pipeline that carries tar sand oil from Canada through Wisconsin to Illinois.
In 1968, the Canadian company Enbridge purchased three oil pipelines, later adding a fourth — Line 61 — and is now surveying for the possible installation of a “twin” to Line 61.
The protesters traveled through Columbia County earlier this month.
Line 61 currently moves about 800,000 barrels of oil a day. Enbridge is increasing pumping horsepower to move more than a million barrels a day later this year. Line 61 traverses Columbia County and Enbridge has a pumping station off Dumke Road near Portage.
Among the loose coalition of people and groups opposing an Enbridge expansion, many are generally opposed to new investment in any fossil fuel-based infrastructure.
“The chemicals are volatile and are dangerous. One that is most concerning, even though it is not in a high proportion, is benzene, which is a known carcinogen, is connected with birth defects, and it has acute effects and so it’s a bad actor,” said Mary Beth Elliot, a retired UW-Madison professor of pharmacology.
“In Kalamazoo, Michigan people got sick,” she said, referring to the July 2010 incident in which a burst 30-inch Enbridge pipeline leaked about 843,000 gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River. ”Their eyes were burning, they got sick to their stomach. A lot of it was from chemicals that evaporated into the air. So these are chemicals you really don’t want to be exposed to for any reason.”
“Their old line, which they refuse to replace since (it was purchased in) 1968 is continually needing repair, so my place is continually getting dug up,” said Mark Borchardt, of Marshfield, co-founder of the group 80 Feet is Enough, referring to Enbridge’s current swath of land along the pipeline’s route, 80 feet wide. “In my neighborhood they keep digging up and digging up, and one of my neighbors lost their house — they had to move out and it has been empty for three years.”
So far, Enbridge has not declared its intention to build the twin line.
“We have not received any information that, yes, they are proposing a pipeline and this is their timeline and this is what they are looking at — nothing like that,” said Ben Callan, a water regulations and zoning specialist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. “All we’ve received is a letter in February 2014 that they intended to do surveying.”
If Enbridge officially moves forward with a new pipeline project, the company will need DNR approval.
“We would mainly be involved in our authority associated with the proposed construction aspects of that project —waterway crossings, temporary dredges, and wetland excavation impacts,” said Callan. “There would also be a requirement for an erosion control permit by the DNR.”
Although falling outside of his specific purview, Callan said that Enbridge likely would have to pass an air-quality permitting process.
“So with that permitting authority, we would also be responsible for making sure that the project complies with the Wisconsin Environmental Policy Act. So it is likely that the project would also involve an environmental impact statement before any permit decision could be made.”
The 1972 act requires the DNR and other state agencies to consider environmental impact of state policy, including investigation of alternative options and offering the information to the public for review and comment.
“To the best of my knowledge there haven’t been any spills associated with Line 61 itself,” said Callan. “When Line 61 was under construction back in, I think it was, ’07, ‘08, I think that during construction they had an incident where another pipe in the corridor had a release and subsequent Line 61 construction, but it wasn’t Line 61.”
“The cost of cleanup is huge—to clean up a barrel of tar sands is $29,000, cleaning up a barrel of light, sweet crude, that is about $2,000,” said Elliot.
The greater cost and risk associated with tar sands oil was confirmed in a study by the National Academy of Sciences released earlier this year, which found, “In comparison to other commonly transported crude oils, many of the chemical and physical properties of diluted bitumen, especially those relevant to environmental impacts, are found to differ substantially from those of the other crude oils. The key differences are in the exceptionally high density, viscosity, and adhesion properties of the bitumen component of the diluted bitumen.”
“When it spills in water — we’ve all seen on TV, where they use skimmers and booms to collect it, well that doesn’t work with tar sands oil,” said Elliott. “When it hits the water, it doesn’t take long at all for things to evaporate in the air and also, then the heavy stuff sinks to the bottom and then it sticks onto plants, and animals and fish.”
The “ground work” for the expansion project, originally announced in October 2015, is finished, according to Enbridge spokeswoman Jennifer Smith, though she said that the company has not yet decided whether it will move forward with construction of the Line 61 twin.