Jefferson County board adopts resolution opposing tar sands project

Wisconsin Gazette

The Jefferson County Board on May 13 voted 27-2 for a resolution urging the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to reject the air permit for a proposed tar sands pipeline expansion and undertake a full environmental assessment first.

“As supervisors, we were just doing our job last night. Jefferson County residents recognized a threat to their environment, their resources, and their quality of life and stepped up and asked us to protect them. There was no doubt how we should proceed. We were just doing our job ensuring these residents have a voice in the process,” said Walter Christensen, the supervisor who introduced the resolution.

Enbridge Energy has proposed an expansion of its Line 61 tar sands pipeline that travels through Wisconsin from Superior to Flanagan Illinois, from 400,000 barrels per day to eventually 1.2 million bpd.

The Sierra Club-John Muir Chapter and Madison 350 said this is an almost unprecedented amount.

Also, the groups, in a news release issued after the board’s vote, said Enbridge has a dismal safety record, with about 800 pipeline-related incidents since 1999. Most notoriously, Enbridge is known for the largest tar sands oil spill in history, when a pipeline ruptured and spilled 840,000 gallons of tar sands oil into a wetland that leaked into the Kalamazoo River during a planned shutdown in 2010.

Four years later, the spill still has not been successfully cleaned up, despite an expenditure in excess of $1 billion.

Recently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ordered another dredging of the river. The spill was the result of a failure in a pipe with a flow-rate one-sixth of the Line 61 proposal that runs through Jefferson County, according to the environmental groups.

“Tar sands oil is very different from traditional ‘light’ oil, making the potential for a spill and the concerns worse,” said Elizabeth Ward, conservation programs coordinator for the John Muir chapter. “Tar sands oil is incredibly dense, so if there is a contamination in a waterway, it does not float, making cleanup much more difficult. Additionally, it must be mixed with a caustic chemical compound to move it through pipelines, which the likelihood of a rupture.”

The only public hearing held regarding the proposed expansion was on May 5 in Superior.

“This pipeline and its expansion jeopardize Lake Superior, other lakes, rivers, and waterways along the route,” said Ward. “The potential problems with this expansion could present more risk than Wisconsin citizens are willing to bear for tar sands oil.  We hope the DNR listens to the request for a full study and more hearings so they can determine whether we’re willing to accept that risk.”