State News

Wisconsin residents wary of corporate pipeline's promises to not expand

Some Wisconsinites are concerned that Enbridge Inc.’s pipeline replacement plan in Minnesota will lead to an expansion in a Wisconsin pipeline that runs through part of Dane County. 

Image By: Courtney Kessler

Enbridge Inc.’s plans to expand its crude oil pipeline in Minnesota has environmental advocates worried it will translate to further pipeline expansion in Wisconsin, despite protests and promises earlier this year.

A $39 billion Canadian company, Enbridge owns all crude oil pipelines in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Some people have reason to believe that Enbridge is planning an expansion in Wisconsin, citing the need to support an increase in oil that will come with a line replacement in Minnesota, aging pipes in Wisconsin, legal changes and surveys from landowners.

“Enbridge is absolutely going to have to expand their Wisconsin pipelines,” said Phyllis Hasbrouck, Wisconsin Safe Energy Alliance project leader.

Enbridge denies these claims.

“There’s been no decision regarding plans for a new pipeline in Wisconsin … besides, it’s a lengthy process and would take a considerable amount of time,” said Scott Suder, manager of State Government Affairs at Enbridge.

Additionally, Enbridge is a publicly traded company and would have to alert its stakeholders if it was moving forward with a plan, according to Suder.

Enbridge plans to build a replacement for the Line 3 pipeline in Minnesota and abandon the old one, increasing capacity from 390 Kilo barrels per day to 760 Kilo barrels per day. A decision will be made on the project in April.

The Line 3 pipeline flows directly to the Calumet Refinery in Superior, Wis., where it is distributed across Wisconsin. With this increased capacity, residents believe a pipeline expansion in Wisconsin will be necessary.

Enbridge may increase the pressure by means of new pumping stations, and that will let them increase the volume of oil. The pipeline with increased volume will likely be Line 61 which runs through Dane County, 15 miles from the Capitol.

The concept of a new pipeline in this corridor was substantiated by a published powerpoint slide shown at an Enbridge shareholders meeting in November 2016; it shows a proposed “Line 61 twin” in the Line 61 corridor as a way for “Growth Beyond 2019.” Following protests in Whitewater against Enbridge and a possible expansion this February, the slide was removed from the Enbridge website.

There are four main reasons driving the belief that Enbridge will try to expand.

Currently, there are 2,664.4 Kilo barrels of unrefined oil per day coming in through pipelines to the Calumet Refinery in Superior. There are 2,769.3 Kilo barrels per day either being processed or leaving the refinery and traveling across Wisconsin through pipelines. If Line 3 is expanded, there will be up to 3,189 Kilo barrels per day arriving at Superior.

That means 525 Kilo barrels of oil per day will arrive at the tip of Wisconsin with nowhere to go.

Additionally, Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline is over 60 years old. It runs across the top of Wisconsin and through the Straits of Mackinac. It will soon need to be replaced, meaning there will be even more pressure for a pipeline with greater capacity.

Thirdly, in 2015 Enbridge hired a lobbying firm and was successful in changing the wording in Wisconsin’s eminent domain law.

Previously, the law allowed “corporations” to seize land for building projects in the public interest; it was changed to read “corporations and business entities.” Enbridge is a limited partnership, which isn’t considered a corporation under the law—the “business entities” change allows them to seize land under eminent domain. According to Steiner, this change would not have been economically worthwhile unless Enbridge foresaw needing to use eminent domain for a new pipeline.

“This should alarm you,” Nate Borchardt, a UW-Madison alum whose family’s land is threatened by Enbridge’s potential expansion, wrote in 2015.

Finally, pipeline expansion or creation could have severe effects on landowners. Enbridge has had over 800 spills since 1999, the worst being the Kalamazoo river spill in Michigan which released 1.2 million gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo river.

Even one quart of oil can contaminate a quarter million gallons of drinking water and ruin the soil surrounding water sources and above water tables.

Suder said he promises that Enbridge is committed to safety.

“Our entire corporate culture is one of safety,” he said. The Line 3 expansion involves a larger pipe because it is the industry standard and works better with their monitoring systems, he added.

Skeptics of Enbridge say they hope their fears are untrue.

Andy Pearson of 350.org hopes Enbridge isn’t building risky pipelines.

“This pipeline is not about Wisconsin’s interests,” Pearson said. “Enbridge’s customers are not the individuals of Wisconsin—they already meet Wisconsin’s crude oil needs 10 times over—their customers are refineries. Wisconsin is just gullible enough to put ourselves at risk for their gain.”

UPDATE MARCH 29, 7:18 p.m.: A previous version of this article mischaracterized the expansion of Line 61; it is not certain what the exact nature of the expansion will be. The Daily Cardinal regrets this error. 

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