As debate over the proposed Keystone XL pipeline continues, a much bigger project is underway in Wisconsin.
Starting in 2016, Enbridge Inc., an energy delivery company, plans to boost the capacity of its line running across Wisconsin - from Superior to the Illinois border. Since going on line, 400,000 barrels of crude oil flows through the pipeline each day. In August 2014, Enbridge amped the volume to 560,000 barrels a day.
While the Keystone would convey more than 800,000 barrels of crude oil a day, Enbridge’s plan for Line 61 in Wisconsin would increase its flow to 1.2 million barrels.
Madison resident Carl Whiting has been closely watching the project unfold.
He’s had other careers – as an illustrator and even earned a PhD in education. But Whiting says he decided to make ends meet as a cab driver in order to dedicate himself to fighting climate change. He's active with Madison 350 and the Wisconsin Safe Energy Alliance.
“If we continue as we have, my kids and your kids will not have the kind of future they have a right to. And their kids and grandkids may have no future at all,” Whiting says.
His current focus is Enbridge’s Line 61.
Whiting motors his cab outside Madison, and beyond the tiny town of Medina. We stop outside a fence holding signs, “Keep Out.”
“So here we are at the Waterloo station,” Whiting explains. It’s a pumping station that helps push fuel through one of Enbridge’s pipelines.
The company wants to add a more powerful station here to help triple Line 61’s capacity to 1.2 million barrels a day.
Whiting contemplates the damage, if the line failed and a spill occurred along the route.“You have to understand that Line 61 at its full flow rate will fill an Olympic-size swimming pool three times over and be working on a fourth in a single hour,” he says. “I don’t even want to think about what would happen to the Rock, the Wisconsin, the St Croix River, any of these wetlands or tributaries, if there were to be a breach of this massive pipeline."
While Whiting has followed developments every step of the way, Eric Compas has been surprised by the lack of public conversation about Line 61. Compas teaches in UW-Whitewater’s geography department.
He says when he dug into the Enbridge project, he came to believe the company strategically kept its plans low-key while making its way through communities and the DNR permitting process.
“I think it was by design that Enbridge avoided a national spot light and the state – again reading between the lines – seemed to do this as quickly as possible and try to avoid much public discussion, so I think those communities barely had a chance to figure out what was going on before this decision was made and signed and sealed,” Compas says.
Compas says some of his students became interested, so they held a public forum on Line 61 a few months ago and a couple hundred people attended. One speaker was cab driving environmentalist Carl Whiting, along with representatives from Enbridge and the DNR.
Ben Callan is the agency’s point person on Line 61’s enhancement plan. He says the DNR followed state law throughout the permitting process.
Callan also responded to criticism that the DNR should conduct a comprehensive environmental analysis on a pipeline slated to convey more crude oil than any other in the United States. He says that job was done before the pipeline was constructed.
“There was joint department and Army Corps of Engineers environmental analysis that took place in 2007," he says. "Another portion of Line 61 that went west from Superior – called the Alberta Clipper. That project also had an environmental analysis open for comment and finalized by the department, in addition to a federal environmental impact statement."
State and federal oversight did not stop a spill on a different Enbridge line – the largest spill ever in the U.S. - in nearby Michigan. In 2010, a breach in the system sent more than 800,000 gallons of crude oil spilling into the Kalamazoo River. What followed was a year-long cleanup, costing 1.2 billion dollars.
Enbridge spokesperson Becky Haase says the disaster prompted the company to completely overhaul its safety and emergency systems, and she adds, Line 61 is a state-of-the art system.
“Being constructed in 2007, that’s a new pipeline and it has the latest construction technology available. It has anti-corrosive-coatings, it’s got variable frequency drives, it has any number of things,” Haase says.
Despite assurances from both Enbridge and the DNR, five counties along Line 61 have signed resolutions calling on the DNR to carry out an environmental study.
Enbridge is forging ahead with its permitted project. It intends to amp up Line 61 by 2016. Workers are building 11 of the 12 necessary pumping stations.
Patrick Miles feels the weight of the 12th on his shoulders. He chairs Dane County’s zoning committee.
It must decide whether to grant the company a conditional use permit. Miles says the committee is exploring whether it can require Enbridge to carry a certain level of insurance.
“Liability insurance to cover the expense of clean up in the event of an accident; the other thing we’ve discussed is the potential of requiring an environmental study of some sort to evaluate what that risk is, what is our exposure if there is an accident and that will help determine the level of insurance that would be required,” Miles says.
Depending on what the committee decides Tuesday night and how the company responds, Dane County could find itself in a legal battle.
UPDATE: The Dane County zoning committee met January 27, but postponed its decision on the Enbridge permit.
According to committee chair Patrick Miles, the committee "directed staff to work with the County's Purchasing Division to solicit outside expertise to determine the type of insurance policy and an appropriate level of coverage needed. To determine the amount of coverage necessary would mean the study would have to analyze the risk if a spill were to occur. The motion passed unanimously."