WHITEWATER — Concerns about increasing the volume of oil being transported in Enbridge Energy Company’s Pipeline 61 were voiced during a public forum on the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater campus Thursday.
The session was held inside a packed Summers Auditorium at the James R. Connor University Center. About 130 people attended.
The forum was sponsored by the UW-Whitewater College of Letters and Sciences and three student organizations: PEACE (Peace, Education and Activism through Creative Engagement); Students Allied for a Greener Earth (SAGE); and UW-Whitewater Chapter of The Water Council.
Eric Compas, associate professor of geography and geology, served as moderator for the two-hour event.
Speaking were Becky Haase, stakeholder relations specialist for Enbridge; Ben Callan, of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR); Elizabeth Ward of the John Muir Chapter of the Sierra Club; and Carl Whiting of 350.org Madison. Ward and Whiting also are members the newly formed Wisconsin Safe Energy Alliance, of WISE Alliance, which was created specifically to address the Line 61 issue, Whiting said.
“We are just community members and organizations that are concerned about what tar sand pipelines mean for Wisconsin,” Ward said.
Each speaker made about a 10- to 15-minute presentation and afterward, as moderated by Compas and student assistant Cameron Barker, they answered questions from the audience.
Enbridge, Inc. is proposing increasing the volume of oil transported in Line 61 from 400,000 barrels per day to 1.2 million barrels, with an intermediate increase of 560,000 barrels until the maximum volume is reached. The pipeline, which Enbridge refers to informally as the “Delavan Line,” runs about 2.5 miles from the City of Whitewater.
Enbridge’s existing pipeline — built in 2007 — runs from Superior to northern Illinois. It enters Jefferson County near Waterloo, heads south and crosses under 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 sand oil, from Canada, which has a higher density than regular oil. Because tar sands oil is denser than traditional oil, it does not float in water, thus creating more expenses in cleaning up any potential spill or leak in or near bodies of water because dredging would be required.
At its Oct. 21 meeting, the Whitewater Common Council passed a resolution urging the DNR to conduct public hearings about the increased volume. The Jefferson County Board of Supervisors passed a similar resolution at its May meeting. The boards of Walworth and Dane counties also have passed similar resolutions.
According to information discussed at the Whitewater Common Council and Jefferson County Board of Supervisors meetings, Enbridge has a record of approximately 800 pipeline-related incidents, including a spill that happened in 2010 in Marshall, Mich., that released about 834,000 gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River.
That spill was the most expensive onshore cleanup in U.S. history. Marshall reopened the area to aquatic activities earlier this year.
That spill also was referenced several times Thursday, as were many references to the Keystone Pipeline which currently is in limbo due to various current political issues at the federal level. Because of that hold-up, Line 61 became the logical alternative to transport oil.
Ward spoke first, and she focused on the potential contamination of the state’s aquifers, wetlands and waterways should a rupture or leak occur in Line 61, noting that “there is almost no oversight on this project.”
Next, Haase focused on safety measures Enbridge has put in place since the Kalamazoo spill, as well as Enbridge “wanting to be part of the conversation” on alternative fuels and climate change.
“The human race cannot rely on fossil fuels forever, and Enbridge is committed to investigating other opportunities that will allow us to continue to power our daily lives and modern way of living,” she said.
Regarding the pipeline, Haase said the oil needs to get to refineries, most of which are located in Chicago or along the Gulf Coast, and what is going on with Line 61 is “pump station upgrades.”
“We do not use oil or petroleum just for our cars or heating our homes,” she said. “It literally goes into almost everything in this room. We rely on petroleum for the clothes we wear, and for getting our food from farms to stores to our homes. It protects us in medical situations, too. It is not just for fueling cars — it fuels our modern way of life.”
Haase said pipelines are more efficient and cause less greenhouse gasses than trains or trucks.
“Pipelines are underground and we drive over them every day,” she said. “There are limitations in dealing with 3,000 rail cars or 16,000 trucks.”
Haase said Enbridge pays $25 million a year in taxes to the State of Wisconsin. That tax money goes to the state general fund, since oil companies do not pay local taxes.
“Enbridge has spent $4.4 billion in the last two years to make sure our systems are safe,” she said. “What is that doing? It is helping Enbridge to become one of the safest pipeline companies in North America. We are not going to stop striving for that, and working toward that, until we get zero leaks.
“We are on our way to getting there,” Haase added. “The pump stations keep everything moving at a consistent speed so we are not losing volume between stations.”
She said the oil flows at 3 to 5 miles per hour in the pipeline.
“It takes about two weeks to get from Edmonton to Superior, and another week to reach Chicago,” Haase noted.
She said that Line 61 was “designed, permitted, engineered, constructed and safety tested” before line was operational because it “had the goal of operating at 1.2 million barrels a day at some point in time.”
During the question and answer period later in the session, Haase said that UW-Whitewater was the perfect place for studying fossil fuel alternatives.
“I want to challenge students to take chemistry classes, find a way that our society can be sustainable,” she said.
Callan was the third speaker. As a governmental official, he took no specific side on the issue; rather, he presented information on the permitting process and regulatory demands that must be met before Enbridge — or any other company — actually can begin construction of a pipeline.
Whiting, who spoke last, presented photographs of damage caused by tar sands drilling, including deforestation and the harm to wildlife, particularly birds, who land in the contaminated pools of run-off water at drill sites.
He drew attention to the “dilutents,” or chemicals, used to make the tar sand oils transportable in pipelines, which, he said, were toxic, even though Enbridge does not publicly have to disclose what chemicals it uses in its lines.
Whiting said after the Kalamazoo spill, the carcinogen benzene was detected in the water.
“Enbridge has claimed that Line 61 was planned to carry 1.2 million barrels a day all the long, but if that was their objective, they were less than forthcoming about it,” he stated.
“The original environmental assessment by the DNR does not mention 1.2 million barrels anywhere, but refers to the capacity of 400,000 (barrels) per day. The DNR focused on the construction of the pipeline because no major spill of tar sand oils had happened at that point.
“The increase in volume won’t be due to wider pipes, but due to massive new pump stations forcing more tar sand oil in a pipe that has never been tried in the real world,” Whiting added.
“The Kalamazoo spill took four years and over a billion dollars to clean up. What will happen to Wisconsin when six times that amount of tar sand oil explodes on our farmlands and rivers? Nobody knows.”
Later, during the question and answer session, he asked the audience rhetorially why the information on the pipeline — of which the members had numerous questions — was coming from citizens like himself and Ward, and not Enbridge itself, or governmental officials.
After the forum, moderator Compas said he was pleased with both the audience participation and the information presented by the speakers.
“I am really glad to see so many people show up,” he said. “I would like to get some numbers, but I think this is the largest public forum that has been held on this pipeline.
“To have the largest pipeline in North America, and to have only one large hearing on campus after the decision has been made, is amazing,” Compas concluded.
“We needed more than just this. I am glad we got perspectives from Enbridge, the DNR and environmental groups. The students got a well-rounded view of the pipeline.”