Rock River Trail Initiative takes aim at proposed oil pipeline

By Jim Hagerty
Staff Writer

A proposal that would send an oil pipeline from Superior, Wis., to the Illinois state line has drawn staunch criticism from the Rock River Trail Initiative (RRTI).

Calgary, Alberta-based Enbridge Energy Co., plans to send about 1.2 million barrels of oil per day through the pipeline beginning in 2016. The pipeline would begin in western Canada and stretch to the Gulf Coast.

Backers claim the project would help wean the United States from its foreign oil dependency.

In a letter to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, RRTI Coordinator Greg Farnham addressed the dangers the pipeline could bring along the Rock River corridor.

Expansion of the flow capacity of Line 61 by Enbridge Energy Company will increase significantly the risk of environmental damage to the Rock River and harm to residents of the river communities downstream of the pipeline crossing near Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin,” Farnham wrote. “Potential damage would extend to residents and their communities in the river corridor in both Wisconsin and Illinois.”

According to the company’s track record, Farnham’s concern may justifiably err on the side of caution.

In July 2010, the Enbridge pipeline burst in Marshall, Mich., spewing more than 830,000 barrels of crude oil into the Kalamazoo River. The spill affected more than 30 miles of the river — a $1 billion cleanup effort that is still being managed. The company missed its 2013 completion deadline, and now faces EPA sanctions.

In 2012, a rupture near Grand Marsh, Wis., spilled 1,200 barrels of oil into farmland. Although it was quickly contained, the incident drew heavy criticism from Washington, D.C., and stirred up haunting parallels between Enbridge and the 2012 BP Gulf of Mexico disaster.

The company’s woes haven’t stopped there. To date, Enbridge has been cited for more than 100 environmental violations in 14 countries, according to a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel report.

Since the Marshall spill, Enbridge has spent more than $4 billion to upgrade its pipeline safety and inspection systems to prevent future spills.

That’s our main goal, to keep the oil in the pipeline,” Enbridge Stakeholder Relations Specialist Becky Haase told “We want to keep communities and the people who live and work and play near our pipelines safe. If we’re not delivering oil, we’re not making money, so we would go out of business. So, that’s our bottom line: to keep the oil in the pipeline.”

Rock River Trail officials are aware of the company’s efforts, yet say they are not enough to quell their concerns.

We also understand that a recent report of the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Transportation declares that the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has failed to ensure proper safety inspections of at-risk pipelines,” the RRTI letter said.

For these reasons, we believe compliance with provisions of the Wisconsin Environmental Policy Act requires that an environmental assessment of the proposed capacity expansion for the pipeline be conducted by the department,” the RRTI letter continued. “Accordingly, a permit should not be issued at this time and a complete environmental analysis of the proposed project should be conducted, including public hearings in the counties of the Rock River valley that would be directly impacted by potential operational problems of Line 61.”

May 13, the Jefferson County Board voted against an air permit Enbridge would need to build oil storage tanks near Fort Atkinson, Wis.

The pipeline would run directly under the Rock River south of Fort Atkinson.

From the June 4-10, 2014, issue

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