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County supervisor concerned about pipeline

August 12, 2014 | 11:37 AM
Wisconsin folks are used to being told they live in "flyover territory."

Now it appears Wisconsin is tunnel under territory as well.

Charlene Staples, a Walworth County Board supervisor, is particularly concerned about what a Canadian company called Enbridge Energies wants to do beneath western Walworth County.

She's advanced a resolution to the county board asking that the state DNR provide the public with more information and allow for more public comment on Enbridge's plan to increase the flow of petrochemicals in its underground pipelines from 400,000 barrels a day to 1.2 million barrels.

It also calls on the state to closely examine all of the potential environmental impacts the increased flow might have on state's ecology.

Introduced on July 14, the resolution states, in part: "It is important to have more public hearings and opportunities for public comment as well as a full environmental statement regarding the proposed increase in flow."

The material to be transported is a product extracted from tar sand oil, called dilbit (diluted bitumen) which is reportedly more corrosive than traditional oil.

The state DNR has had one public hearing on the Enbridge proposal in Superior on May 5. More hearings were not required by state law.

"Since it is an existing pipeline, they had one hearing in Superior," Staples said. It drew very little public attention.

The resolution passed the land conservation committee in July. It will go to the county board in September.

Jefferson and Dane counties have already passed resolutions also calling for the state to increase public participation and slow down the permitting process to allow Enbridge to increase its pipeline's rate of flow.

Staples said she's concerned because Enbridge has a bad safety record in the U.S.

The company has had two significant pipeline breaks in Wisconsin, one in Rusk County and another in Clark County.

In 2010, another Enbridge pipeline, which runs through Michigan, ruptured sending 850,000 gallons of a thick, bitumen-based crude oil flowing from a wetlands area into the Kalamazoo River, which drains into Lake Michigan.

After spending nearly $800 million on cleanup, petroleum is still reportedly bubbling up in the wetlands where the spill originally occurred.

The National Transportation Safety Board investigated the spill.

And, according to U.S. News online, the company's emergency response to the pipeline rupture was less than sterling.

U.S. News quoted the investigation report as saying in part:

"This investigation identified a complete breakdown of safety at Enbridge. Their employees performed like Keystone Kops and failed to recognize their pipeline had ruptured and continued to pump crude into the environment. Despite multiple alarms and a loss of pressure in the pipeline, for more than 17 hours and through three shifts they failed to follow their own shutdown procedures,"according to Deborah A.P. Hersman, NTSB board chairwoman.

Those have not added to Staples' confidence in Enbridge's claims of being a safe company.

"As a county board member, I think part of my job is a concern for safety," Staples said.

Staples said she had no idea that the Enbridge pipeline ran through the county's District 5, which she represents.

She said she didn't know about the pipeline at all until she saw some information about it posted on Facebook.

"I have an Enbridge pipeline just a quarter mile from my house," said Staples, who lives in Darien.

"My concern is that people don't have enough information about the pipeline," Staples said.

She said she recalls receiving informational brochures from Enbridge, but didn't pay much attention.

"I still don't know what goes through their pipeline," Staples said. "We really have to pay attention to it. I'm very skeptical of the things the company is saying."

The company has a pumping station it refers to as its Delavan station, but that facility is actually in eastern Rock County, about 10 miles northwest of Delavan, according to a map provided to the county board by Enbridge. Staples shared the map with the Regional News.

Two pipelines go through Walworth County, cutting through Richmond, Delavan and Darien townships, Staples said.

The pipeline runs about a mile west of lakes Delavan and Geneva on its way to the Illinois-Wisconsin state line.

The line cuts through the major drinking water aquifer in the county, Staples said.

"And we all realize how water travels," said Staples, referring to the west to east flow of groundwater in Walworth County.

"We rely on tourism," said Staples. Tourism and agriculture are the two most important parts of Walworth County's economy.

If anything should happen that contaminates the water or land, either of those elements of the county's financial wellbeing could be irretrievably damaged, she said.

"It's a scary thing as far as I'm concerned," she said.

What Enbridge pumps through the pipelines is slated to be processed at U.S. refineries, but the final product may then be shipped overseas from New Orleans ports.

That means there may not be even a remote chance that any of the fuel made from the dilbit pumped under Wisconsin will ever be used by a Wisconsin consumer.

"There's risk and there's benefit," said Staples. "I don't see the risk outweighing the benefit."

Enbridge pipeline spills in Wisconsin

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel online archives, Enbridge has been involved in three notable oil spills in Wisconsin.

In January 2007 in Clark County, a pipeline cracked open and released about 50,000 gallons of crude oil until an operator could shut down the line from an operations center in Canada.

Then, about a month later, Enbridge construction crews in Rusk County struck the existing pipeline while preparing to extend a new pipeline beneath a roadway.

Oil filled a hole more than 20 feet deep before the flow was shut down, and some of it seeped into the water table.

In July 2012, a pipeline failed in Adams County, forcing the evacuation of two homes.

About 50,000 gallons of light crude oil spilled onto farmland from line 14, which carried about 300,000 barrels a day.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the spill, which came almost two years to the day of the Kalamazoo River spill in Michigan, (the largest inland oil spill ever,) caused U.S. Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass, ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee to comment that Enbridge "is fast becoming to the Midwest what BP was to the Gulf of Mexico, posing troubling risks to the environment."

However, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board noted there were improvements in how the company responded to the Adams County leak, as opposed to its almost nonresponse to the Kalamazoo leak two years earlier.

Tags: County Report

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