Following St. Croix 360’s article last October about the expansion of Line 61, an oil pipeline which crosses the St. Croix River headwaters, the Sawyer County Record has published a lengthy article by reporter Frank Zufall about the project.
The story largely focuses on a new pumping station built near Stone Lake, Wisconsin:
Those driving at night on Highway 27 south of County Highway K in the Town of Sand Lake, just north of Stone Lake, can’t help but notice to the west, between Rays and Metcalf roads, an open field in the distance lit up like a Friday night football arena.
Under construction is one of the 12 new pumping stations scattered across Wisconsin and northern Illinois that will allow Enbridge Energy to increase the capacity of its Line 61 pipeline that runs diagonally across the state.
When completed, the Sawyer County station will feature an Xcel Energy substation 100 yards from two buildings where electronic switches and small computers will control four mammoth pumps, each the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. Each of the pumps is turned over by a 6,000-horsepower motor, and under each pump/motor lies a vertical concrete footing the size of small house buried eight feet in the soil.
The pumps, motors, concrete, piping and substation are all designed to move Canadian tar sands and North Dakota Bakken crude oil along the 42-inch Line 61, one of four Enbridge pipelines buried near the Arrowhead to Weston easement of the high power transmission line. They will boost the pressure on the crude and send it back down the line to the next new pumping station near Ladysmith.
It’s all part of Enbridge’s plan to increase from the current 570,000 barrels a day up to 1.2 million barrels of oil per day that flow beneath the county from Superior to the terminal in Flanagan, Illinois.
Responding to concerns about the risk of an oil spill similar to the 2010 incident in Michigan’s Kalamazoo River that has been called the worst inland spill in American history, Enbridge employees pointed out numerous precautions taken during the upgrade to prevent it from happening again. The 17-hour spill contaminated 36 miles of river and forced authorities to close access for two years.
Precautions include sensors that let Enbridge staff at its Edmonton, Alberta facility to monitor bearings in the motors, lined retaining ponds designed to contain up to 30 minutes of spilled oil, and remote tools which travel through the pipeline to scan for weakness in the metal. Valves can be shut down from Edmonton within 10 minutes of spill detection, and welds are inspected with x-rays. The larger number of pumping stations necessary to increase the pipeline’s capacity will also give the company more meters to measure flow and detect problems.
Enbridge also said construction is having a positive economic impact in nearby communities. Fifty to 60 workers at the site stay at local hotels and patronize local businesses, and construction materials including cement and lumber are purchased locally.
In a short piece accompanying the article, the paper referenced St. Croix 360’s coverage, as well as moves by counties elsewhere in the state to request thorough environmental review by the Department of Natural Resources.
The organization StCroix360.com has raised concerns that toxic crude oil, oil mixed with chemicals to make it lighter and easier to transport, will be pushed through the line at higher pressures, setting up a scenario for an environmental disaster if the pipeline were to burst beneath the Namekagon River or another waterway in the St. Croix River basin.
Critics say the oil being pumped in Line 61 — Canadian tar sands crude and Bakken crude from North Dakota — is heavier than light crude. And they say the experience in Michigan shows that type of crude is very difficult to clean up.
A recent article on Madison.com from the Wisconsin State Journal states that five counties and two cities in Wisconsin have asked the state to do “more thorough environmental impact studies and engineering review” of the Line 61 expansion.
The Wisconsin State Journal/Madison.com article referenced above covers growing concerns about the pipeline in Wisconsin. Explaining why the expansion did not warrant extensive environmental review because it doesn’t involve new pipe, the article also says Enbridge is considering building a new pipeline along the same route: “Enbridge last year did field surveys in preparation for a possible Line 66 along the Line 61 right of way.”
Dane County in the Madison area is holding up permits to let Enbridge expand its pumping station there. Officials are considering requiring Enbridge to purchase more clean-up insurance.