Enbridge: worse than Keystone XL, worse than TransCanada, bigger than both of them

Posted March 12th, 2014 in Blog, Featured Comments Off on Enbridge: worse than Keystone XL, worse than TransCanada, bigger than both of them

Fostering Ecological Hope
Reflections on Culture and Meaning

by Margaret Swedish

Yesterday (March 11) I did a presentation for the annual Tuesdays in March lecture series, a program offered by the Peace & International Issues Committee of the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee. It was entitled, “Crude Comes to Wisconsin.” In some ways, it was a continuation of the work that kicked off last year with my trip to Alberta, the Athabasca River Pilgrimage that took me from Jasper National Park to the tar sands industrial site around Ft. McMurray.

The point was to bring home the direct and intimate connections that our region of the world has with the tar sands industry. Beyond the obvious connections with global warming, CO2 emissions, deforestation, habitat destruction, and more [see: “Forecasting the Impacts of Oilsands Expansion“], it was to make the tar sands a local issue – because it is.

Credit: Margaret Swedish

Credit: Margaret Swedish

And in recent months, because of the upsurge in pipeline expansion through my state and transit of crude by rail right through my hometown, it was also to connect this with what’s going on in the Bakken oil play in North Dakota.

Presenting this program to a very aware audience from the wider interfaith community still elicited gasps at times over the assault on our region, the breadth and scope of the plans to expand pipeline capacity, the connections among these pipeline plans and the network expanding south to refineries in Flanagan IL and Cushing OK and east across MI, eastern Canada, Montreal, and eventually, if the corporation has its way, to the deep ports of Maine.

And TransCanada and Keystone aren’t even in this picture that is far bigger in planned capacity and danger than the Keystone XL.

It made me realize how much work is needed to raise the level of attention toward Enbridge that the corporation truly deserves. It is time to make this company’s name as ubiquitous in our movement as that of TransCanada. It is time we start looking at the bigger picture because whether or not KXL is ever approved, what the industry and its network of pipelines, railroads, barges, trucks, and more has in mind is to move as much dilbit (what becomes synthetic crude from tar sands bitumen) and crude oil fracked in Bakken as fast as it can to our North American refineries and to our ports. I hate to think of the possibility of holding victory parties should President Obama reject the KXL northern portion while tar sands oil continues to flow around what can only be described as an industry speed bump.

tar sands actionIt will be a victory for local landowners and the High Plains Aquifer, and that would be a good thing. But saving a few trees while the forest is being destroyed everywhere else would hardly be victory. Instead, the challenge will be how to channel all the opposition to KXL into the essential struggle to save us from a dreadful future if we don’t stop the industry from consuming the planet by its voracious appetite for natural resources and profits. The destruction is accelerating rapidly now with a frenzy to get as much oil and gas out of the ground as our new technology and the global markets and transportation systems make possible –

…before the entire fossil fuel house of cards collapses in the midst of climate chaos, habitat breakdowns, and a host of ecological and economic crises unlike anything humans have seen before.

Let’s remember that the essential threat to the High Plains aquifer arrived long before this era of the super-exploitation of Alberta’s tar sands. Beyond the possibility of contamination, the aquifer is in trouble because of prolonged drought (these drought periods getting longer with climate change), overuse by industrial agriculture which is also wrecking the soil, human development, and habitat destruction because of that population growth. The aquifer is being depleted as the region becomes drier, the climate heats up, and demand on it grows.

Those problems will all be worsened with the growth of these fossil fuel industries, whether or not KXL is ever completed.

So, what does Enbridge have in mind? Well, they’ve been around a long time, which is part of the problem – decades-old pipelines being retrofitted and expanded to carry the much heavier, more corrosive dilbit across the Midwest, and the crude from Bakken, which, as we know now from several train explosions, is highly flammable. While my presentation’s title speaks of crude coming to my state, it’s actually been flowing through for some time now. Because of that, Enbridge has a track record – and it’s a scary one.

Enbridge Pipeline Map. Credit: EcoNews

Enbridge Pipeline Map. Credit: EcoNews

The Enbridge Lakehead System runs 1,900 miles and we are right in the middle of it. In 2009 some 68% of western Canada’s crude was shipped through this system. It made up 70-75% of refining capacity in MN, IL, and Ontario.

Remember the 2o1o Kalamazoo River spill? More than 1.1 million gallons of tar sands oil spilled into Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo after a pipeline break. Nearly four years later, it is still not entirely cleaned up.

That pipeline is part of the Lakehead System.

On July 27, 2012, oil suddenly gushed 1,000 ft into the air near the town of Grand Marsh in Adams County here in WI. This time 50,000 gallons spilled out in the countryside. Right, it was the same pipeline system.

After the Adams County spill, coming so close on the heals of the Kalamazoo disaster, Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, declared, “Enbridge is fast becoming to the Midwest what BP was to the Gulf of Mexico.” (I rather like that quote as a theme for a national campaign.).

Now here’s another little factoid to ponder. According to the Polaris Institute, a Canadian think tank,  Enbridge pipelines have spilled 804 times since 1999 and leaked 6.8 million gallons of oil.

This is not future damage to be feared and protested. This is what has already occurred.

Now let’s look briefly at Enbridge’s pipeline expansion plans, shall we?

This article appeared in Common Dreams on March 7, about plans to reverse the flow of line 9, which receives oil via tankers in the port of Montreal and transports it west to refineries in Sarnia, Ontario. Enbridge wants to reverse the flow.

The tar sands oil industry scored a regulatory victory on Thursday when the Canadian National Energy Board approved a plan by energy giant Enbridge to reverse the flow of Canada’s ‘Line 9′ oil pipeline eastward from Ontario to Montreal.

The decision has regional environmental groups sounding the alarm, warning the industry is now one step closer to being able to transport tar sands and other corrosive crude oil from the west, through Ontario and Quebec, over the border into Vermont, and then to the Maine coast for export.

Credit: Maine Insights

Credit: Maine Insights

All nature-lovers of New England are in a state of high alert. As reported in DeSmog Canada: “If approved, the reversed pipeline would ship 300,000 barrels per day of Canadian-sourced oil from Sarnia to Montreal for international export.” People in New England have already been loudly protesting these plans.

Then there’s the Line 3 replacement (LR3) project. Line 3 runs from Hardisty, Alberta, to the refineries in Superior WI. It connects with line 61 which cuts through my state to Flanagan IL and east across MI. LR3 is described as the largest project in Enbridge’s history, replacing a 46-year-old pipeline, a project worth $7 billion. The replacement pipeline would double capacity from 390,000 barrels of tar sands oil per day to 760,000.” By comparison, the KXL would have a capacity of 860,000 barrels of oil per day. Line 3 will connect with the new pipeline between IL and OK. In other words, there will be another way to get tar sands oil to the existing segments of the Keystone Pipeline.

I checked out Enbridge’s webpage to see what it has to say about Line 3. They call it “the most timely and reliable transportation solution for transporting Western Canadian crude oil to refinery markets in Chicago, the U.S. Gulf Coast, and the Eastern U.S. and Canada.” And what about presidential approval, since it is a pipeline crossing international borders multiple times? They say they won’t need it because they are operating under an old presidential permit. “What we’re doing here is restoring Line 3 to its original condition.” Really? They compare this to widening an already existing highway from two lanes to four.

There ya’ go. Enough space around the KXL speed bump to keep things moving at high speed.

Meanwhile, expansion plans are also underway for Line 61 which runs right through Wisconsin from Superior to Illinois. Here’s what they say about it on their website: “As part of our ongoing efforts to meet North America’s needs for reliable and secure transportation of petroleum energy supplies, Enbridge is proposing to expand the average annual capacity of Line 61 from 560,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 1.2 million bpd. Enbridge Energy, Limited Partnership (“Enbridge”) is proposing to expand in phases the average annual capacity of our Line 61 Pipeline to an ultimate 1.2 million barrel per day (bpd) design capacity. Line 61 is a 42-inch-diameter crude oil pipeline that spans from Enbridge’s terminal in Superior, Wisconsin, to our Flanagan Terminal near Pontiac, Illinois.” Right, who needs KXL at that point?!

To help boost capacity to the maximum, pump stations will be constructed or modified along its route in 16 locations, 13 of them in Wisconsin.

Enbridge warning sign

Credit: Adam Scott/Environmental Defense

In addition to all of this, Enbridge is also proposing a new pipeline to bring Bakken oil to refineries in Superior. Right now, Bakken oil suffers from not having pipelines for transport, so its crude mostly travels by rail. After the tanker car explosions in Lac Megantic, Alabama, and Casselton ND last year, it occurred to people that rail is not the safest way to transport Bakken’s highly flammable version of crude. Also, the oil is being fracked so aggressively that, as in Alberta, the oil is coming out of the ground faster than the available transport networks can carry it. Thus, pipeline and railroad companies are moving full speed ahead to increase capacity.

It all feels breathtakingly reckless, and, as you may have noticed, except for KXL, no one in industry or state and federal government seems all that interested in public awareness of what’s coming through our communities, much less inviting publc comment.

This is getting long, and there is more I could write about all of these plans. But what I am inviting us all to do is to start thinking beyond KXL to the whole of the industry, to the intentions of this industry (get it out of the ground as fast as possible, get it refined as fast as possible, and then shipped onto the global market as fast as possible) and what it means for our planet, the only place I can think of to live. Same for the generations to come after us – there just is no other place to live. We either ruin this one and cause a terrible present and future, or we stop the ruin as fast as we can so that healing and regeneration to some new form of abundant, diverse life, becomes possible.

There is a fragmented movement that has done wonderful work and now needs to get its act together. This is a from-the-ground-up kind of movement by necessity, not one centralized in a few organizations but rather where national groups are responsive to what emerges from below – from those fighting petcoke piles and power plant pollution in poor neighborhoods (ecological justice), to those in communities impacted by tanker car transport and pipeline expansion, to those facing pressure to give up their land to the fracking and frac sand mining industries, and especially to First Nation peoples of Canada and the tribes of South Dakota and Nebraska who are “Idle No More,” taking a leadership role in recovering and renewing their relationship with Mother Earth and creating cultures of resistance to Big Oil & Gas.

We need to encourage a movement in which people stand on the ground of their threatened places and from those vantage points start seeing the whole of the threat to our futures on this planet. From there, we start seeing what can bring us together into a broad movement that takes us as quickly as possible into a post-carbon world.

Like Nature, the movement requires multiple expressions, languages, symbols, lots of diversity. But there are central themes that can bring us together. And there are some names that need to be out there to unite our energies. One of those is: Enbridge.


For a map of Canada’s crude oil pipeline network, click here.


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