UW-Whitewater students and activists protest possible pipeline

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Catherine W. Idzerda
Saturday, March 4, 2017

WHITEWATER—More than 100 people from Wisconsin and beyond turned out to march against a pipeline that might or might not be built.

The event, which was hosted by the Wisconsin Youth Network, ran from the front of the UW-Whitewater University Center to the Cravath Lakefront, where a rally and press conference were held.

At issue is a possible pipeline that would run along Enbridge Energy's Line 61.

Line 61, which runs through eastern Rock County, sometimes carries heavy crude, also known as tar sands crude, a substance that concerns opponents and environmentalists.

Last year, Enbridge completed pumping upgrades that doubled the capacity of the line to 1.2 million barrels of oil a day, an Enbridge spokesperson said. When the pipeline was OK'd in 2006, it was with the understanding that it would some day carry that much oil, an Enbridge spokesperson said in 2015.

It now has more capacity 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.

In 2015, in a presentation to investors, Enbridge officials announced to stockholders a plan to create a “twin” to Line 61 and indicated they were “coordinating early development activities.” Activists point to a slide from this presentation that includes a picture of the twin line as proof that an additional line is planned.

On Friday, a spokesperson for Enbridge said the information activists were referring to was “very old.”

“The possibility of expansion along our existing pipeline corridor was first introduced in February 2014 when Enbridge informed elected officials and affected landowners along the corridor in Wisconsin and Illinois that we wanted to begin field surveys as part of our evaluation for expansion,” Enbridge Community Engagement Manager Jennifer Smith wrote in an email to The Gazette.

During the 2015 presentation to investors, investors were told about the possible twin pipeline as part of its “forward looking business outlook,” Smith wrote in her email.

“Throughout 2016, we have consistently communicated to our landowners, stakeholders and the media that the company has not made a decision to move forward with the project,” Smith wrote. “Enbridge would only move forward with a project if sufficient need and customer support existed.”

Activists don't buy it.

They say Enbridge announced plans to move forward with the twin pipeline in 2015 and since then has surveyed additional property along the pipeline route.

In addition, Enbridge had a hand in changing Wisconsin's eminent domain laws. Why would the company get involved unless it saw a future need for the change, opponents asked.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos' office requested Enbridge Energy attorneys speak to the speaker's office about language changes in the eminent domain bill, according to 2015 Wisconsin Public Radio report.

Changes included changing the word “corporation” to “business entity.” Enbridge is a limited partnership, which has a different legal meaning.

Cassie Steiner, UW-Whitewater alum and Sierra Club outreach coordinator, believes Enbridge needs the pipeline.

“You just have to do some very basic math,” said Steiner, who helped organize the protest.

Enbridge is rebuilding its Line 3, which runs from Canada to Superior. When that line is complete, its capacity will increase, Steiner said.

In addition, environmentalists, business people and even a bipartisan group from the Michigan Legislature is pressing for the decommissioning of Enbridge's Line 5, the pipeline that runs under the Straits of Mackinac.

Steiner thinks between the increased capacity in Line 3 and the possible loss of Line 5, Enbridge will need another line to carry product.

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