Further review sought for Enbridge pipeline expansion

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Jim Leute
Saturday, January 24, 2015

JANESVILLE—Janesville City Councilman Jim Farrell uses words such as dismayed, disappointed—even embarrassed—to describe the city council's decision not to support further scrutiny of planned expansion of an oil pipeline that runs through Rock County.

On a 4-2 vote in December, the council defeated a resolution similar to one that's been passed in at least five Wisconsin counties and two other cities.

The resolution asked the state Department of Natural Resources to put together an environmental impact statement on Enbridge Energy's plan to double the capacity of Line 61, a 42-inch pipe that runs in Wisconsin along a route that includes a 25-mile section in eastern Rock County.

The line sometimes carries heavy crude, also known as tar sands crude, and that concerns opponents and environmentalists.

Permitted in 2006 and constructed over the following two years, Line 61 is one of four parallel Enbridge pipelines from Superior to what's referred to as the Delavan pumping station.

During construction, Enbridge degraded wetlands, streams and private properties, according to the state Department of Justice. That prompted the DNR to allege more than 100 environmental violations. The company settled with the state for $1.1 million in fines in 2008, according to a news release from then-Attorney General J.B.  Van Hollen.

Line 61 and Line 13 split from the other two lines at Delavan and continue nearly due south into Illinois.

Line 61 flows south.

Line 13 flows north from its origin in Manhattan, Illinois, and carries a lighter crude used as a diluent that helps heavier oil flow better.

The remaining two lines, Lines 6A and Line 14, split at Delavan and run south toward Chicago and a terminal in Indiana.

The Delavan station is misnamed, at least in geographic sense.

It sits off Highway 59 in the town of Lima, a few miles southwest of Whitewater and many more from Delavan.

Enbridge plans to increase the flow of crude through Line 61 to 1.2 million barrels per day, twice the amount it now pumps through the line.

Opponents fear higher flow rates mean any pipeline rupture would more quickly spew more of the tar sands crude and perhaps cause irreparable environmental damage.

Line 61's proposed capacity is more than the 860,000 barrels TransCanada wants to push through Keystone XL, the contentious pipeline that would run from the Canadian border to the Gulf Coast.

Both corporations say they are building to meet customer demand, even as oil prices plummet.

“We're looking five, 10, 15 years down the road,” said Enbridge spokeswoman Becky Haase. “Oil prices are definitely something we pay attention to, but it takes years and years to permit and build a pipeline, and we're thinking more in the long term.”


When approved in 2006, Line 61 received a favorable environmental assessment and was OK'd with the understanding that it would some day carry an average of 1.2 million barrels of oil a day.

“People were asleep when the permitting was going on and it was being built,” said Bruce Noble, an activist with Wisconsin Grassroots Pipeline Awareness who has traversed the state many times calling for more review of the pipeline.

“The environmentalists were asleep, too.”

Much has changed since 2006, he said, noting that Enbridge pipelines in the state have ruptured at least five times since 2003, including a 1,200-gallon spill in Adams County in 2012.

Enbridge captured headlines in 2010 when a pipeline burst and heavy crude flowed into a tributary of the Kalamazoo River in Michigan.

A 6-foot break dispersed more than 1 million gallons of oil. Volatile gasses evaporated, leaving the heavier bitumen to sink in the water column.

Thirty-five miles of the Kalamazoo River were closed for cleanup until June 2012, and in 2013 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ordered Enbridge to return to dredge portions of the river to remove submerged oil and oil-contaminated sediment.

It was the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history.

By itself, heavy crude oil does not sink, Noble said.

But as gasses vaporize, “it does sink to the bottom and becomes very hard to clean up,” he said.

“Enbridge might say that it doesn't sink, and if they mean immediately, they're right,” he said. “But the gas at first holds it up, but as it off-gasses, it will sink.

“That's the kind of half-truth we hear from Enbridge.”


Noble said there's a big difference between the environmental assessment done in the original permitting of Line 61 and the environmental impact statement sought now.

According to government documents, an environmental assessment determines if there will be significant effects from a project. The purpose of an environmental impact statement is to analyze and disclose the significant effects.

An assessment is typically a shorter document than an impact statement, and its preparation offers fewer opportunities for public comment or involvement. Environmental assessments have fewer procedural requirements and therefore take less time to prepare on average than impact statements.

“The history of spills dictates that we do a full environmental impact statement,” Noble said.

His organization formed last year to educate people living along the 300-plus miles of pipeline in Wisconsin.

“There's a lack of transparency with Enbridge in regard to the products they are carrying through their pipelines, the chemical compositions in those pipelines, and we're worried that people do not know the hazards associated with those products when they spill,” he said.

Enbridge says it has an above-average safety record and its practices have improved since the Kalamazoo River spill.

Haase said Line 61 is in mixed service, meaning it carries a range of crude oils from light to heavy depending on customer demands and market conditions.

“Enbridge transports more than 80 different commodity types, again depending on the customers' shipments,” she said.

Haase said her company worked with the state DNR and federal regulators to adequately permit Line 61 for 1.2 million barrels per day.

“For the environmental assessment, we worked with the DNR to analyze every waterway, every tiny stream, from Superior to the border,” she said. “We believe the assessment was adequate.”

Haase said the original assessment was challenged in Dane County Court in 2006. The judge, she said, sided with the DNR in that the assessment was all that was needed to approve the project for 1.2 million barrels per day.

Haase and Enbridge are quick to say there are no guarantees against future spills.

“You can never say never, but the likelihood of another release like the one in Michigan is very small,” she said. “Enbridge worked very diligently and determined that change was needed.

“We took it as a catalyst to completely overhaul our operating procedure and emergency response plans to make it safe, and since then we've spent about $4.4 billion in training and changes.”


Enbridge is in the second phase of a two-part plan to increase capacity on Line 61.

The first phase increased daily capacity from 400,000 barrels per day to 560,000 barrels.

The second bumps capacity two-fold, which Haase said should be complete this fall.

Both phases included new pump stations along the line and upgrades at existing stations.

The Delavan station in the town of Lima is getting an additional 6,000-horsepower pump. Three existing pumps are being replaced, along with other upgrades, Haase said.

Enbridge worked with the town for permitting.

“There were no wetlands affected, so no DNR permit was necessary,” she said.

While there may not be any wetlands near the pump station, Line 61 is near Lake Koshkonong and goes under the Rock River in Jefferson County and Turtle Creek in Rock County.

Enbridge has pipeline shut-off valves on each side of the river and creek.

Where it crosses the Rock River, the valves are about a half mile on either side of the river. At Turtle Creek, the two valves are about one mile on either side, Haase said.

“The pipeline does go through environmentally sensitive areas,” said Rich Bostwick, a Rock County Board supervisor and chairman of the board's land conservation committee.

While the shut-off valves may sound practical, they're quite away from the river and creek, he said.

“With the Turtle Creek, that could be two miles of pipeline product that could leak into the creek, he said.

Bostwick's committee had a hearing last fall on the pipeline's expansion.

The full county board subsequently did what the Janesville City Council would not: It approved a resolution calling for a full environmental impact statement.

“We want the DNR to do an environmental impact statement, take a critical, unbiased look at the pipeline's construction, its normal operation and the potential for accidents,” Bostwick said. “If that's not in place, I don't how this can be allowed to happen.

“An assessment is nowhere near as comprehensive as an impact statement, and, without it, how do you know what could go wrong and therefore how to deal with it?”

People are starting to learn more about oil pipelines, he said.

Who knows if the Kalamazoo River will ever be fully cleaned up, he said.

“What would be different if that happened in Rock County?” he said. “We don't know, and that's part of the problem.”


In Janesville, the resolution garnered support from only two council members--Farrell and Sam Liebert.

Councilman Brian Fitzgerald voted against it, saying he didn't believe the DNR or the EPA would respond to what he called “symbolic” resolutions from local governments.

In part, Noble agrees with Fitzgerald.

Given the political climate in Madison, the DNR doesn't have the willingness or the teeth to take another look at the pipeline, Noble said.

“But there's great power in symbolism,” he said. “We'll continue to work on all 16 of these counties. People elect these county supervisors, and the people want something different.

“Even if the DNR doesn't do anything, we're not going to stop. We're educators.”

Bostwick, too, agrees his county's unanimous approval of the impact statement resolution could be considered symbolic.

“If you take it in isolation, it could be looked at as symbolic,” he said. “But when a number take a similar step, maybe Enbridge will take notice and look more seriously at the concerns.

“We just hope our voice is one of many encouraging Enbridge to get out in front of it. Supporting an environmental impact statement would give the public confidence about what they're doing.”

From his seat on the city council, Farrell said the resolution was far more than symbolic.

The pipeline will now handle three times the volume of oil it first did, and conditions have changed, he said.

Even though the pipeline is miles from Janesville, a spill could affect the Rock River, the centerpiece of the city's latest redevelopment plans, he said.

“A spill could happen, and if it contaminates the Rock River, it would be disastrous for our downtown,” he said. “Who would want to come here?”

Farrell said passing the resolution was a cost-free act that could help prevent or improve the response to spills.

In approving it, the county board did its job, he said.

“I don't think it's symbolic to ask government to do what should be done,” he said. “Sometimes it takes a number of voices to get something done by government.

“Will it prompt the DNR to do something? Maybe not, but unless you make your views known, nothing will be done.”


Haase said safety and potential spills are Enbridge's chief concern, particularly in areas where spills pose the greatest environmental risk or threaten populated areas.

In addition to the oils it carries, Line 61 and others also include diluents that ease the flow of oil trough the pipelines.

Those hydrocarbons used as diluents concern opponents, Noble said.

“The relative amounts of diluents necessary to obtain the proper viscosity for transportation vary depending on the type of oil to be diluted,” Haase said, noting that diluents typically account for 20 percent to 28 percent of the pipeline's volume.

“Like all other products we carry, we adhere to strict safety protocols concerning the operations of our pipelines.”

Enbridge has an office in Janesville and a maintenance shop in Fort Atkinson that has a staff that would respond to maintenance issues or spills, Haase said.

The company routinely works with fire departments and first responders through tabletop exercises, drills and mock scenarios, she said.

“It's typically focused on locations and what to do and what not to do,” she said. “You don't want to be in an emergency situation introducing yourself.”

An introduction isn't needed between Enbridge and Sgt. Shena Kohler, emergency management director at the Rock County Sheriff's Office.

“They reached out to me right away when I came into this role at the end of 2012, and that was very comforting,” Kohler said.

Kohler said Enbridge has provided training to the area's first responders, including the sheriff's office, the county's hazardous materials team, the Janesville Fire Department and others.

A spill anywhere in the county would “pretty quickly” prompt a call for mutual aid from all nearby first responders, she said.

“They've supported our first responders quite nicely and given us lots of training,” Kohler said, adding that the company awarded Rock County a training grant last year.

“Enbridge has been great to work with, and they do a really good job of keeping us in the loop," Kohler said.

Whitewater Fire Chief Don Gregoire said his units and hazardous materials team likely would be one of those first responders.

The Whitewater station is about four miles from the Delavan pump station.

"Working with Enbridge has been really good," Gregoire said.

He plans to approach the company about a joint purchase of foam products that would be used in a spill.

"They've been to our station and given us lots of training. When I call them, they call me right back."

Haase said Enbridge has more than 500 employees working and living in Wisconsin.

“Everybody is concerned about the safety of their communities, and Enbridge is, too,” she said. "We definitely want to work with communities so they feel safe with the pipeline and understand that Enbridge is working to protect that community.

“Even though the pipeline is underground and sort of out of mind, we want them to know we are there doing our jobs.”

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