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Enbridge says it has no plans for a new Wisconsin pipeline

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Neil Johnson
Friday, April 28, 2017

TOWN OF LIMA—Tim Mumm said he doesn't fret about one of Enbridge Energy's largest oil pipelines running through the middle of his wooded property along North Sturtevant Road.

Every day as Mumm goes in and out of his driveway in rural Whitewater, he passes through the Enbridge easement, a strip of clear-cut woods on his 15 acres, and passes over two Enbridge pipelines buried a few feet underground.

One of the pipelines going under Mumm's property—a 42-inch pipe known as Line 61—each day now carries 900,000 barrels of bitumen, which is oil separated off of Canadian oil sands, also known as tar sands oil. The line comes in from the north and runs south to a terminal in the central Illinois community of Pontiac, according to Enbridge's pipeline fact sheets and an Enbridge pipeline manager.

It's one of a set of four oil transport pipes that runs out of Enbridge's major Midwest pipeline hub in Superior. From there, the lines run south under 470 miles of Wisconsin, beneath multiple rivers and bodies of water—including the Rock River, and marshy portions of eastern Rock County—before splitting off toward different terminals in northern and central Illinois.

Enbridge officials told The Gazette the company has no current plans to add another pipeline through Wisconsin and Rock County. Environmentalists said they aren't so sure.

Enbridge's Line 61 through Rock County is approved by the state to pump as much as 1.2 million barrels of oil a day south to Chicago and southern oil refineries. The line's current pumping volume is almost double the 560,000 barrels per day Enbridge reported Line 61 was carrying about a year ago.

That makes the line the biggest in North America.

Mumm can't see what all that oil looks like as it courses underground through his property.

Some environmental activist groups say they see the writing on the wall in Enbridge's steady expansion of oil it now pumps through Wisconsin.

A NEW PIPELINE?

The environmental groups suspect Enbridge plans to continue expanding and that it wants to run a new pipeline through Wisconsin which the groups call either “Twin Line 61,” or “Line 66,” a line that would run alongside Line 61.

In a recent interview with The Gazette, Trent Wetmore, Enbridge's operations director for Wisconsin, and Scott Suder, who manages government and stakeholder relations for Enbridge, said Enbridge, which is based in Alberta, Canada, has no current plans to build another pipeline south through Wisconsin.

Wetmore's and Suder's responses specifically addressed public speculation that the company plans a new “twin” pipeline that could straddle the easement where Line 61 and the other four pipelines now run through the state.

Wetmore said Enbridge surveyed the pipeline corridor in 2015 for a potential expansion that would have hinged on its proposed Sandpiper pipeline from North Dakota, but Enbridge shelved that proposal.

Around the same time in 2015, Enbridge put out a report to its stakeholders that included a “forward-looking” proposal earmarking the path alongside Enbridge's Line 61 corridor as a route for a new, 800,000-barrel-a-day “twin line.”  

Wetmore and Suder said Enbridge customers—oil mining and exploring companies, petroleum refineries, and gasoline and diesel fuel companies—don't have enough demand to warrant Enbridge building a new Wisconsin pipeline. They said the scrubbed plan for a North Dakota Sandpiper line quelled the idea that Enbridge could immediately need another pipeline in Wisconsin.

Even if customer demand were there, Wetmore and Suder said, it would take Enbridge years to plan and gain permitting for such an expansion, and a new line would cost billions of dollars, they said.

They said Enbridge does not build new pipelines on speculation.

“We do not have a project, whether it's Line 66 or Line 61 Twin. If there were a project, first of all, you'd have the customer base—which we don't,” Suder said.

“Second of all, before we went and even asked for any permitting (for a project)—which we have not, as a publicly traded company, we are obligated by law, if there were a project, we'd have to contact our stakeholders up and down the line. They'd be the first to know before we even approached any type of permitting whatsoever. And we have not done any of that.”

Wetmore said speculation that Enbridge seeks to build a new Wisconsin pipeline is a “narrative” he believes is being churned out by a national movement against pipelines—a fight being waged by “well-funded environmental groups” that are staunchly opposed to petroleum as an energy source.

“They (activists) want the oil to stay in the ground,” he said.

BIGGER ARTERY?

Enbridge plans to replace one of the major feeder lines for Canadian crude oil, Line 3. The 50-year-old line runs 1,110 miles from Alberta, Canada, to Enbridge's Superior oil terminal.

Line 3, along with several other Canadian supply pipelines, links to the four Enbridge pipelines that run south through Wisconsin, and another oil pipeline, Line 5, that runs through northern Wisconsin and into Michigan.

Enbridge has scaled back Line 3's pumping capacity as a safety precaution because of the line's age, the company said. Wetmore said a replacement line would restore capacity into Enbridge's Superior terminal to 760,000 barrels a day—370,000 barrels a day more than Line 3 is now capable of pumping.

A state of Minnesota environmental impact study of the Line 3 replacement is expected to be released for a public comment period in mid-May.

Enbridge's Wisconsin pipelines allow the company to fulfill about 85 percent of the oil industry's refining capacity in Chicago and 70 percent of oil refining capacity in the Midwest, Wetmore said.

Right now, Line 61, Enbridge's largest Wisconsin line, is pumping a bigger average capacity of oil a day than any single pipeline in the U.S., but the line is running at about 300,000 barrels a day below its top capacity, according to a pipeline fact sheet Enbridge provided The Gazette.

Wetmore indicated the Line 3 replacement would provide a bigger conduit for Line 61, supplying enough oil eventually for Line 61 to carry its full capacity of 1.2 million barrels per day, if customer demand warranted it.

Peter Anderson, a member of the regional environmental and climate change action group 350 Madison, suggested Enbridge's plan to replace Line 3 is a signal Enbridge is angling toward building a new pipeline through Wisconsin.

Anderson said his group suspects a Line 3 replacement could create a greater chokepoint for oil at the Superior terminal, bringing from Canada 200,000 to 300,000 more barrels per day than Enbridge can handle with its current network of Wisconsin pipelines.

That leads Anderson and others to believe Enbridge might be forced to build some kind of new pipeline through Wisconsin—potentially, they and other watchdog groups suspect, the “twin line” alongside Line 61.

“Where are 200,000 or 300,000 extra barrels of oil a day going to go?” Anderson asked.

“If they're not going to dump oil into Lake Superior, they're lying through their teeth” about having no plans to build a new pipeline through Wisconsin, he said.

“They're attempting to delay and defuse political opposition by throwing deception every inch of the way,” Anderson said.

When asked by The Gazette, Enbridge did not comment specifically on 350 Madison's calculations about its pipeline capacity.

But Suder, the Enbridge government relations manager, in an email to The Gazette said Enbridge's Superior terminal and four of its Wisconsin pipelines receiving oil from the terminal are set up to transport multiple types of crude oil safely.

The terminal's system, he wrote, is equipped to allow Enbridge to channel oil on multiple lines, and customer demand fluctuates. That means not all the lines run at peak volumes at all times.

PIPELINE FIGHT

Anderson acknowledges that 350 Madison, as a climate change action group, is opposed to increased refining of oil for energy use in the U.S. and globally.

He said 350 Madison continues to be active in working with landowners in a Dane County lawsuit and a set of appeals that seek to give Dane County zoning authorities the power to require oil pipeline companies to provide extra liability insurance as part of their conditional-use permitting for oil pipeline expansions.

A Madison judge last year ruled against the extra insurance requirement, ruling that a change to state law tucked into the 2015-17 state budget precludes county governments from requiring pipeline companies provide extra liability insurance as part of a conditional-use permit application.

That ruling is now under appeal, Anderson said.

Anderson said 350 Madison and other groups suspect Enbridge lobbied for the state law changes on insurance and pushed another rider that environmental advocates say would give pipeline companies greater powers under eminent domain to claim privately owned land as easements.

Enbridge has denied it worked to get those changes in the last budget. Suder said state legislative oversight groups have made it clear that eminent domain law change is a “business reclassification” that does not give Enbridge or any other corporation extra powers.

Tim Mumm, the Rock County landowner whose property is bisected by Line 61, said he has his own feelings on climate change. He'd rather see dozens of wind turbines around his property than to have oil pipelines running through it, he said.

But Mumm said he doesn't spend all his free time ruminating on the nearly 1 million barrels of oil a day that pass under his property—although sometimes he wonders about the safety of his drinking water if Line 61 ever had a leak.

Mumm said he's not crazy about the speculation that Enbridge could opt to place another large pipeline alongside Line 61, possibly through his property.

“It's mainly that the property already is not the way I bought it—I guess that's my main thought whenever I think about it,” Mumm said. “It's not a day-to-day concern, but it bugs me that some company from somewhere can claim easement rights and can say that they're … it's almost like they're claiming that this pipeline is the public infrastructure. Like it's a road.”



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