WHITEWATER — An estimated 200 people opposing the possible expansion of an oil pipeline on the outskirts of Whitewater participated in a march and rally in the city Saturday.
They gathered on the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater campus and then traveled via Prince, Main and Whitewater streets to Cravath Lakefront Park, where many spoke to the crowd.
As they walked carrying signs, the demonstrators shouted a variety of chants, such as “You can’t drink oil, keep it in the soil” and “Stand up, keep fighting.”
The event had two primary sponsors, one being the 350 Madison Climate Action Team, the local branch of 350.org, an international organization that describes itself as “mobilizing a global climate movement.” Its name derives from what scientists say is the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, 350 parts per million of CO2, a figure that the organization says has been surpassed.
Also sponsoring the event was the Wisconsin Youth Network (WiYN), which describes itself as creating “collaborative, intersectional, and communicative spaces for young environmental advocates in Wisconsin.” WiYN serves as a network of 13 similar-minded “youth and young adult-led organizations.”
Cassie Steiner, a member of WiYN and the Sierra Club, and former UW-Whitewater student, said that ending the march at the lake was a symbolic gesture for maintaining clean water.
The organizers and their supporters — both students and area residents — were protesting Canada-based oil company Enbridge’s recent announcement that it plans to construct Line 66, a new pipeline that would be built parallel to the existing Line 61 to help with bottlenecking issues in the existing pipeline system. The existing pipeline, which Enbridge refers to informally as the “Delavan Line,” runs about 2.5 miles outside the City of Whitewater.
Although Enbridge reportedly has not solidified final plans for the pipeline, the company has begun surveying land, collecting data and contacting homeowners along the route.
According to 350.org, Enbridge announced the Line 66 plans in a recent letter to its shareholders, which also stated that between the two lines — Lines 61 and 66 — about 2 million barrels of oil a day could be shipped from Canada to the United States.
Steiner added that Enbridge announced its plans in the Canadian media, but not in U.S.-based media.
Back in 2014, Enbridge had proposed increasing the capacity of Line 61 as a result of delays in the Keystone Pipeline. The company had proposed boosting the volume of oil transported in Line 61 from 400,000 barrels per day to 1.2 million barrels.
Line 61 — built in 2008 — runs from Alberta, Canada, to Superior, Wis., then to a refinery in northern Illinois. The pipeline enters Jefferson County near Waterloo, heads south and crosses beneath the Rock River south of Fort Atkinson and just north of Lake Koshkonong. Additionally, there are two lines running through western Walworth County and two lines running through eastern Rock County near the City of Whitewater.
Line 61 transports tar sands oil, which has a higher density than regular oil and thus does not float in water. The protesters said that would create more expenses in cleaning up any potential spill or leak in or near bodies of water because dredging would be required.
They pointed to the 2010 Enbridge pipeline leak near Marshall, Mich., which released about 834,000 gallons of tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River, leading to the most expensive onshore cleanup in U.S. history. Marshall reopened the area about four years after the spill.
In Wisconsin, the company reportedly has had 85 spills in a decade, five of which involved more than 200,000 gallons, according to a 2016 Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources report.
Figures from the National Wildlife Federation cited by Steiner Saturday stated that between 1999 and 2010, Enbridge has had more than 800 spills, and on Jan. 30, a pipeline co-owned by Enbridge in Blue Ridge, Texas, leaked 600,000 gallons.
One of the speakers Saturday was Lorenzo Backhaus, a UW-Whitewater student who is a member of WiYN and the Sierra Club, and also serves as the co-president of UW-Whitewater-based organization Students Allied for a Greener Earth (SAGE).
“This pipeline, and Enbridge behind it, are going through native lands,” he told the Daily Union. “They are putting people’s lives at risk for profit, and they are putting them in our backyards in the heart of the state.
“They are risking our water and our air, especially with the tar sands that they are pumping through, which is the most vicious to the environment,” he continued. “This is the worst form of energy for the planet. We are standing here in solidarity with the native communities, people of color communities that are targeted by environmental racism, and we’re standing as a community to show that we are all one.”
Backhaus said he believed the message being sent Saturday would be heard.
“It is going to keep happening until change happens,” he said. “If they want us to stop, then they’ll have to stop what they are doing.”
Speaking at the rally were college students, local residents, and activists who traveled from Milwaukee, Madison, and even St. Paul, Minn. Also taking the podium were Native Americans who participated in the Dakota Access Pipeline protests.
Steiner said that Enbridge has started contacting residents who would be affected by the additional pipeline as it seeks to expand existing easements with property owners or create new ones with those newly affected. She said not every property owner accepts the expansion.
“They already have an 80-foot easement from most property owners,” Steiner said. “Another concern is the lack of transparency about all this.”
Steiner said she was pleased with the crowd that participated in the protest Saturday.
“We counted just over 200 people, and that is really great,” she said. “When you compare the relative size of Whitewater to other, bigger cities in the state, you would not necessarily think that many people would come out on a chilly afternoon. This was a great turnout for Whitewater; it shows this city is concerned about the impacts on its environment.”
Meanwhile, Jennifer Smith, a community engagement manager for Enbridge, told area media via email that Enbridge has invested almost $5 billion since 2012 to maintain and upgrade its pipelines and facilities.
“Enbridge recognizes the rights of people to express their views legally and peacefully, and to discuss Enbridge's business, as long as everyone is respectful of those who live and work near our pipelines, including our employees and contractors, and of our pipelines and facilities,” Smith told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.