Wisconsin DNR Denies Candidate for Governor and State Legislator’s Appeal of Enbridge Oil Storage Tanks at Superior, WI

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Above is the Canadian route used to pump tar-sands-derived oil from the tar sand mines of Alberta, Canada to the city of Superior, Wisconsin, a 1,000 mile route. Enbridge Energy company received a permit to build three 1/2 million gallons of oil capacity tanks earlier this summer, according to a report by Mike Simonson of Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR).

The city of Superior, Wisconsin is located adjacent the City of Duluth, Minnesota, which are both commercial harbors located on the southwestern shore of Lake Superior, the largest fresh water lake in the world and upper most of the world’s chain of 5 Great Lakes. The permit for the massive tanks is the last legal hurdle the Enbridge Company is required to complete before embarking on its project to expand the capacity of the pipelines that will transport up to 1.5 million gallons of dirty, heavy crude oil through the state of Wisconsin on Enbridge’s “Southern Access” pipeline.

From Superior, Enbridge Energy’s already built Southern Access 42-inch pipeline, built in 2006 (DNR determined that no environmental impact Statement or contested case hearing would be required for the project) the pipeline goes southeast from Superior, diagonally through the center of Wisconsin, then all the way south through Rock County and into Illinois. Enbridge officials claim they intend to TRIPLE THE CAPACITY OF THE PIPELINE BY UPGRADING, OR BUILDING 17 PUMPING STATIONS along the way.

The Wisconsin DNR last month turned down an appeal of a recently issued DNR air permit for the project which had been filed by state Rep. Brett Hulsey (D-Madison), a candidate for Wisconsin governor in 2015.

According to a report on Madison’s independent news radio program, “In Our Backyard” (WORT-FM), Hulsey said when he filed his appeal that it was only the first step he planned to take in challenging the permit, and that if they were not pleased with DNR’s action, “we could go to state or federal court from there” to stop the project. Hulsey’s said he is most concerned with the quality of the pipeline and the history of the company operating it: “my concern again is they’re trying to expand this pipeline [capacity], run this dirty tar sand oil through it, and the pipeline wasn’t designed for that.”

Hulsey also said Enbrige has a “horrible” record of pollution spills across Wisconsin and Michigan, “and honestly based on their record they’re not qualified to run a two-car parade”, he said. “I want DNR to ensure there are spill plans to protect people along the route.”

The three half-million barrel tanks are being built to hold tar sands oil from Alberta and the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota, where fracking is used to access the oil from wells. Enbridge Energy, located out of Houston Texas, is required to obtain an air quality permit from the state for the project.

Last Tuesday, the DNR denied Hulsey’s appeal, saying his argument had nothing to do with the air quality permit issued for the tank construction. Additionally, a second petition was denied to Peter Bormuth, a man from Jackson, Mich., who like Hulsey contended that Enbridge Energy has a record of pipeline leaks (which it does). Bormuth also said the tanks violate the public trust doctrine over navigable waterways like Lake Superior and the Nemadji River. The DNR called Bormouth’s argument too general of an allegation, according to Simonson’s report.

The DNR got more than 200 letters and 3,400 emails during the comment period, “many” of those opposed the air quality permit for the tanks, Simonson said.

The DNR approved a permit for Enbridge to build the three massive oil storage tanks in Superior in early June of this year. The pipeline company said the tanks will be complete in two years,

Sierra Club John Muir Chapter Conservation Program director Elizabeth Ward said it was important for the DNR and Enbrige Energy to look at the big picture of the tar sands and climate change. She said the DNR wasn’t listening to the public, and that it was also ignoring the dangers a pipeline spill could pose.

“We know that by increasing pressure in the tar sands pipeline, the likelihood of a rupture is greater,” said Ward. “So that warrants a full environmental impact statement and assessment by the DNR. But instead, the DNR chose to do this piecemeal permitting, really leaving the public out of the process”, Simonson quoted Ward as saying.

Groups and some local governments are still after state officials to take a closer look at the proposed expansion of an oil pipeline that’s buried under much of Wisconsin.

Dave Spitzer, of the group 350 Madison, said some counties in the state are also asking for a more comprehensive state review.

Ben Callan, of the DNR, recently issued a wetlands permit for five of the Enbridge Energy pump stations. Callan said current law doesn’t require a new assessment beyond what that DNR did eight years ago.

Callan said he understands counties are raising concerns, but he said the federal government has oversight over pipeline capacity and safety.

Enbridge officials have hired a former Republican state cabinet secretary to try to keep its Line 61 expansion flowing smoothly.

Hulsey said Bakken oil is dirty and expensive. He said storing it will emit benzene and other carcinogenic fumes, as well as allow more of the crude to flow through Wisconsin pipelines.

“Actually the real proposal is to use less oil,” said Hulsey. “My clean energy jobs plan invests $700 million in our state facilities to use less energy.”

Enbridge Energy spokeswomen said her company was “surprised” by the level of public interest, that the tanks are important, “but not exactly as controversial as something like the Keystone Pipeline”, she said.

Enbridge Energy is planning a $7 billion upgrade to their existing pipeline, which runs from the Canadian oil tar sands to Superior. Environmental groups compare this with the stalled Keystone XL pipeline in size and scope.

The expansion would replace a 47-year-old pipeline from Hardisty, Alberta to Superior, Wisconsin. Enbridge Energy spokeswoman Lorraine Little says the 1,000-mile long line would almost double the carrying capacity from the Alberta oil [tar] sands region to Superior.

Wisconsin Sierra Club John Muir Chapter President Shahla Werner said after a million gallon spill into Kalamazoo River in 2010, this Enbridge Energy line is as potentially hazardous as the higher profile Keystone pipeline, which is still waiting for approval from the U.S. State Department in Washington DC.

“The public should not just be concerned about Keystone and it’s not just about the impacts in Canada. It’s a real risk to our Great Lakes region and to Lake Superior,” Werner said.

Enbridge Energy notified its stockholders last December that they’re going to proceed with a $2.5 billion pipeline expansion, Simonson reported on WPR. “It’ll run 600 miles from the booming North Dakota Bakken Oil Fields to their Superior facility”, he said.

“Five years ago, the Bakken oil sands produced 200,000 barrels of light crude oil a day. Now it’s up to 700,000 barrels a day and is expected to reach 1.2 million barrels a day in the next five years. Enbridge Energy can pipe 225,000 gallons of that crude oil a day to Superior and points south to Chicago, Detroit and Toledo”, his report added.

Enbridge Energy Partners spokeswoman Lorraine Little told Simonson this expansion, dubbed “Sandpiper,” would more than double their capacity from North Dakota, “Because of that increasing supply of availability, you’ve got refineries in other parts of the U.S. who are interested in taking that light crude oil”. So these projects really represent moving the oil where the refineries are.

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Little said this pipeline project, along with increased oil [tar] sands production, will shift supply from Middle Eastern and South America to North America, “So you might think of it a bit as re-piping America. The Sandpiper pipeline could be in service by early 2016.

“They’re increasing the capacity of the line by 360,000 barrels a day and they’re changing the type of oil so that it can carry both light and tar sands oil,” Werner said. “So they’re changing the product. Sierra Club’s been working on blocking tar sands expansion for a long time.” Excavation and production of tar sands to make it into oil involves large quantities of fossil fuel burning for heating it on the front end, before the dirty oil is made thin enough to flow in the pipelines.

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About Mike Neuman

Environmentalist; Father; Senior Citizen; Husband, School Crossing Guard; Green Bay Packer Fan; Wisconsin Badger Fan; Animal Lover; Humanitarian

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