The company that owns and operates a controversial oil pipeline across four rivers in the St. Croix’s headwaters announced last week that it is planning to build a second pipeline along the same route. Senior leadership at Enbridge say the “Line 61 Twin” project is in the early stages of development.
The new pipeline has been a rumor since Enbridge sent a letter to landowners along the route in the winter of 2014 informing them of upcoming survey work. In February 2015, Enbridge spokeswoman Rebecca Haase told members of the public that she had no knowledge of more pipelines the company was planning to build across the St. Croix River watershed. Haase repeated the denial to the Sawyer County Record in May.
Then, at its annual investment conference this week, Enbridge’s president of liquid pipelines Guy Jarvis said the second pipeline would be an approximately $3 billion investment necessary to keep up with carrying capacity that will soon be available from the Canadian oil sands region to Superior, Wisconsin. There will be a bottleneck from there if expansion in Minnesota is not matched by a second pipe from Superior to terminals in Illinois.
Enbridge documents show the company anticipates it could transport about 23 million gallons of oil per day through the new pipeline.
“To unlock the potential of the entire reach of Mainline expansion opportunities we would need additional capacity from Superior to Flanagan which could conceivably come in the form of a twin of our Southern Access pipeline. The scope could again be up to a 42-inch pipeline… We are conducting early development work to assess the opportunity and industry interest because we think it is a compelling set of solutions in the current environment,” Jarvis said.
Line 61’s existing route has already been cause for concern and controversy. Built in 2007-2008 and expanded this year to 50 million gallons per day, the pipeline carries heavy crude under the upper St. Croix, Eau Claire, Totogatic, and Namekagon rivers. It was subject to several lawsuits when it was built, and the company received record fines for damage caused by construction. Enbridge also was responsible for the largest inland oil spill in United States history when one of its pipelines ruptured and dumped more than 800,000 gallons of oil into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River in 2010.
The recent project to triple Line 61’s capacity with new pump stations was done with almost no public input, no environmental review, and no analysis performed to ensure the pipeline is buried deep enough under the rivers to survive flooding. Running a second pipe next to Line 61 (and three older Enbridge pipelines in the corridor) could once again help Enbridge avoid oversight.
“Twinning projects have even fewer handles to influence them than new lines, simply because they sometimes don’t need any new easements at all,” said Rebecca Craven of the Pipeline Safety Trust.
This spring, Wisconsin made it easier for Enbridge to cross land without the property-owner’s permission. The legislature passed and Governor Scott Walker signed a bill in May that Enbridge helped write which ensures the company can use eminent domain.
Expansion of the pipeline system from Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast could benefit the future export of oil to foreign markets. Such trade has been banned since the 1970s, but the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill last Friday that would lift restrictions. The legislation was supported by the American Petroleum Institute, which Enbridge is a member of. President Obama has said he would veto the bill.
When St. Croix 360 first reported about Line 61 route and risks last October, the pipeline expansion was almost done and there was little opportunity for citizen input. A new pipeline should require extensive review and public participation, and St. Croix 360 will follow the issue closely and continue to report on developments. Stay tuned.