From Standing Rock to Wisconsin’s heartland, people are standing up to the fossil fuel industry. Here in Wisconsin, Enbridge — the $42 billion Canadian company invested in the Dakota Access Pipeline — plans to build a twin of their Line 61, called Line 66, to expand the flow of toxic tar sands across the state.
What does Wisconsin stand to gain from that? Why should Wisconsinites risk a catastrophic spill that could ruin local tourism; endanger people, livestock, and wildlife; pollute our water; and threaten rural communities, just for a wealthy foreign company’s profits? Wisconsin does not need more oil: Domestic petroleum consumption peaked in 2007, while exports drastically increased. This oil is clearly not for us, but will be shipped elsewhere.
To build this, Enbridge is threatening to take Wisconsinites’ lands through eminent domain. At Enbridge’s request, the Wisconsin legislative majority facilitated this abuse when they adopted an anonymous, last-minute addition to the 2015 budget expanding this power to “business entities” (read: Enbridge). Many of the lands along this route are farm fields and cranberry bogs, maintained by hardworking farmers to feed their fellow Americans. Should we thank them by allowing a foreign company to take their land or threaten their crops with oil spills?
Line 66 would carry tar sands, the most polluting and costly fossil fuel on earth, through Dane County, out near Marshall.
According to eminent climatologist James Hansen, continued extraction of Canadian tar sands would be “game over for the climate.” Moreover, the clearcutting of Canada’s boreal forest causes environmental destruction and devastation to fish and wildlife.
To allow tar sands to flow through pipelines, they must be combined with “diluent” — a cocktail of dangerous chemicals. The resulting mixture is more dangerous, more difficult and approximately 15 times more expensive to clean up than conventional crude oil. In a spill, the lighter toxic chemicals evaporate and form dangerous clouds. The heavy crude that is left behind coats riverbanks and river bottoms, necessitating repeated, destructive dredging.
Residents of Marshall, Michigan, were rudely awakened to these dangers in 2010 when an Enbridge pipeline ruptured just outside of town. It took over 17 hours for Enbridge to act. In that time, Line 6B spilled about a million gallons and fouled 34 miles of the Kalamazoo River. After a $1.2 billion cleanup, area residents report the river is still not fully restored.
That is not the only spill on their record. From 1999 to 2010, Enbridge was responsible for 804 spills that released 5 million gallons. What if the next time an Enbridge pipeline leaks or ruptures, Enbridge lacks the financial resources for cleanup? Will the affected county be forced to pay for it, or will the toxic oil just never get cleaned up?
When Enbridge sought to triple the flow in existing Line 61, the Dane County Board tried to address this by requiring $25 million in cleanup insurance. However, local control was eroded yet again when another anonymous, last-minute change in the 2015 state budget retroactively outlawed such protections. 350 Madison has filed an appeal with the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, citing serious deficiencies in the ruling that struck down the provision and contending that Enbridge is still required to purchase the spill insurance. We hope that justice will be restored and Dane County allowed to protect its citizens.
We can be sure that any new expansions will also include such risky behavior and underhanded tactics. Enbridge’s proposed new pipeline represents “all risk, no reward” for Wisconsin.
We invite readers to join this fight to protect our state’s people, land, and water. You can start by coming to the Pipeline Fighters’ Benefit Extravaganza on Saturday, Feb. 4 (see sidebar).
Despite efforts to erode it, the power to protect ourselves and the state we hold dear is still in our hands.
Ben Peterson is a volunteer with 350 Madison, which seeks a just transition to a 100 percent renewable energy economy.
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