A controversial pipeline that runs through northern Wisconsin and across the Bad River Reservation has ruptured at least 33 times in the past generation and spilled more than 1.1 million gallons of oil into the environment.
A database maintained by the federal agency charged with pipeline safety has since 1968 recorded spills on the Enbridge Energy Pipeline 5 that runs from Canada to the Upper Peninsula and then back into Canada north of Detroit. The database contains only vague details about what caused the leaks and how they were discovered, but it documents 1.13 million gallons of oil spilled since 1968.
The safety of Line 5, originally laid down in 1953, is a point of contention as the Bad River band is suing to have the pipeline removed from its land and Enbridge is investigating the possibility of rerouting it south to Mellen and then back north near Highway 2, around the reservation.
Several audience members at a Sept. 5 Mellen City Council meeting echoed Bad River concerns about leaks into watersheds, and one referred to a National Wildlife Federation Study that reported more than 30 leaks on the line.
That information came from a search of Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration data by National Wildlife Federation pipeline safety specialist and researcher Beth Wallace. They outline a total of 33 leaks that caused a release of at least 1.13 million gallons of oil.
Enbridge Communications Representative Juli Kellner said this week that she did not have information relating to line 5 leaks in Michigan. But she said there have been no leaks in Wisconsin in the past 15 years. She said there were minor leaks in 1992 and in 2002 at the Superior terminal, with most of the spilled oil recovered.
The two Superior terminal leaks released a total of 17 barrels of oil, but an earlier release in Saxon, in Iron County in 1972, released 350 barrels of oil, according to the database.
Both those totals are dwarfed by releases reported on Line 5 in Michigan, the largest in 1968 in Gogebic County in which 6,800 barrels of oil were spilled due to a “material, weld, equipment failure.” A second spill in Gogebic County that same year totaled 2,300 gallons and was give a cause of “other” in the database. A third Gogebic County spill in 1976 totaled about 5,000 barrels, and was also given “other” as a cause.
Other major Michigan incidents included a 1999 spill of 5,300 barrels in Crystal Falls, listed as damage by natural causes, and 6,000 barrels in Iron River, Mich., in 1972, listed as a weld failure. Other spills ranged from just a trace of oil to 500 barrels.
A barrel of oil contains 42 gallons, and Line 5 carries 540,000 barrels of oil and liquefied natural gas daily from western Canada through the environmentally important Mackinac Straights and to Sarnia, Ontario.
Kellner said Enbridge has not yet determined a route it might use to bypass the Bad River reservation. She said the survey currently being undertaken by Enbridge is a preliminary move not intended to determine the route itself.
Enbridge Energy right-of-way agent Paul Halverson told Mellen officials last week that the proposed reroute would take the pipeline off tribal lands and reroute it south.
Kellner outlined the differences between the survey and a route determination effort.
“The survey corridor is typically much wider than any proposed route. Our survey basically helps us determine what the route will be. We are looking at what is constructible, and if there are impediments or barriers to construction. There is no actual route until we file an application,” Kellner said. “At that point is when there will be an actual route.”
Kellner also disputed comments by Bad River Tribal Chairman Mike Wiggins, Jr. who called the requested permission to access private property “the tip of the spear,” asserting that once permission was granted for a survey, it would be almost impossible to keep Enbridge personnel from those properties.
Kellner said that getting permission for the initial survey was only the beginning in a long process that would need to be followed in order to establish a pipeline route.
“We want to emphasize that there is no project at this point. If a re-route was to move forward there would be further permissions needed from landowners and numerous opportunities for public input during the regulatory and permitting processes,” she said.
Kellner also responded to allegations that Enbridge was attempting to coerce landowners into signing permission papers to enter their lands for the survey. She said it was against company policy for any employee “to act in a derogatory manner” against any landowner.
The statement came after landowner Vincent Mattson said representatives of Enbridge Energy who want access to survey his land were harassing him.
Kellner said the company’s land agents are told that if a landowner says no to a request to cross their property, they are simply to move on.
“If a landowner is mistreated we would really appreciate it if they would let us know directly,” Kellner said.