Enbridge pipeline project fuels concerns

Proponents and opponents of Enbridge Energy’s plan for new pipelines crossing into Wisconsin to Superior testified recently at Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources hearings on the project.

The Enbridge plan

Enbridge owns the largest pipeline network in Wisconsin and it’s Sandpiper project involves building a new 30-inch diameter pipeline from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale region through Minnesota to Superior. This pipeline would carry about 375,000 barrels of crude oil each day.

The company also wants to replace an aging 34-inch Line 3 pipeline with a 36-inch pipeline. This pipeline would carry 760,000 barrels of oil a day from western Canada.

Both pipelines would enter into Wisconsin from Minnesota and cross about 14 miles of land in the town, village and city of Superior to the company’s terminal.

enbridge routes
A map shows the existing Enbridge Energy lines and the “preferred route” for a new Line 3 and the Sandpiper pipeline. — Image: Enbridge Energy via DNR

Public response

In public comment collected by the DNR at hearings March 10, Douglas County Administrator Andy Lisak said the county backs the Enbridge plan because replacement of Line 3 would be safer than allowing the existing pipeline to remain and expanding the pipeline network could mean fewer trains and trucks hauling oil.

Lisak also testified that the pipeline projects would benefit the local and state economies; he referred to the DNR’s draft environmental impact statement indicating construction would employ 400-500 people.

“Enbridge’s multibillion dollar investment in these projects will help ensure the company’s future in Douglas County as one of the county’s largest and most socially and environmentally responsible employers,” he said.

However, opponents emphasized many jobs created by Enbridge’s expansion would be temporary.

Additionally, opponents pointed to Enbridge’s record on accidents.

The Canada-based company is responsible for 800 pipeline spills since 1999 in its Lakehead System and more than 100 wetland violations during the construction of Wisconsin’s “Line 61” pipeline.

Enbridge also is responsible for the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history — the 2010 tar sands spill in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

In Minnesota and Wisconsin, the new pipelines would run through sensitive habitat and, in Minnesota, they would cross tribal land.

Another concern for environmentalists is how the expansion ties into other Enbridge efforts in Wisconsin.

“The oil carried by these pipelines will not stay in Superior,” said Elizabeth Ward, conservation programs coordinator for the Sierra Club-John Muir Chapter in Wisconsin. “The 14 miles the DNR is studying is one small chunk of a much larger pipeline network that brings dirty tar sands across the border and fracked Bakken oil through Wisconsin and will carry this oil south.”

The state, said Ward, must “study the full impacts of the full network, including the resulting pipeline that will travel through some of Wisconsin’s most important waterways,” including the St. Croix River.

Enbridge’s project faces permitting hurdles in Minnesota, which led Ward to suggest the DNR’s hearings were premature.

“Whether these pipelines will even be permitted in Minnesota is unknown,” she said. “Moving forward on 14 miles of a pipeline when the other 1,450 miles of the pipeline is still up in the air is inappropriate and should be delayed.”

The DNR is collecting public comment on its draft environmental impact statement until March 25.