A Chippewa tribe in Wisconsin is calling for 12 miles of pipeline to be removed from its reservation after 64 years of operation, saying they want to protect their land and water from oil spills.
The Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa’s tribal council approved a resolution earlier this month refusing to renew easements for 11 parcels of land along a section of Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline, which carries oil and natural gas liquids 645 miles from Canada to eastern Michigan.
The resolution also calls for decommissioning the pipeline and removing it from the tribe’s reservation along the shores of Lake Superior in far northern Wisconsin. The resolution also directs tribal staff to prepare recycling, disposal and surface restoration work that would come with removal.
“We depend upon everything that the creator put here before us to live mino-bimaadiziwin, a good and healthy life,” Bad River Chairman Robert Blanchard said in a news release. “These environmental threats not only threaten our health, but they threaten our very way of life as (Chippewa).”
But it isn’t clear whether the tribe can force removal of the pipeline.
Brad Shamla, Enbridge’s vice president of U.S. operations, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview it was too early to speculate on what authority the tribe may have.
Officials with Calgary-based Enbridge say there’s never been a spill on the Bad River reservation.
The resolution surprised the company, Shamla said, because Enbridge and the tribe have been negotiating renewal of easements on the 11 parcels – which expired in 2013 – for the last three years. The easements for the majority of the remaining parcels on Bad River tribal land extend until 2043 or rest in perpetuity.
“We’d really like to understand better what’s prompting this at this time,” Shamla said.
Dylan Jennings, a Bad River council member, said in a telephone interview that the tribe believes it’s only a matter of time until the aging pipeline ruptures. No amount of compensation or negotiation will change its position, he said.
“A 64-year-old pipe in the ground is not something we’re prepared to leave behind for future generations,” he said.
Asked about next steps, Jennings said the Bad River is a sovereign nation and shouldn’t need approval from any federal or state regulators to force the line out. But the situation is unprecedented — most people stop pipelines before they go in, not after they’re built, he said — and the tribe will need “guidance.”
Jennings said the push to remove the pipe has nothing to do with protests in North Dakota over Energy Transfer Partners’ plans to build a section of the Dakota Access oil pipeline under a Missouri River reservoir. The Standing Rock Sioux and the Cheyenne River Sioux are challenging the pipeline’s permits at numerous water crossings.
Enbridge’s Line 5 has been a flashpoint of contention in Michigan. Environmentalists fear a portion of pipeline that runs beneath the Straits of Mackinac, which link Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, could rupture and cause catastrophic damage to the Great Lakes.
Shamla insisted the line is safe and is inspected at least once every five years to determine the extent of corrosion as well as spot dents, potential cracks and other problems. The company checks the portion that runs beneath the Straits of Mackinac every two years, he said.
“We’ve maintained and operated this line safely for more than 60 years,” he said.