This would seem to be a banner week for those seeking to fight global climate change. The Pope brought his message of stewardship of the earth to the President, the Congress, and American citizens. And Hillary Clinton joined Bernie Sanders in opposition to the Keystone pipeline.
I don’t want to bring anybody down. These are fantastic developments. But I do want to put the Keystone pipeline issue in perspective. That issue is not quite full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Not quite. It is more like the little Dutch boy, his finger in the dike, who looks up and sees another leak just out of reach. And it would appear that neither Hillary Clinton nor Bernie Sanders is aware of that second leak. If this little entry is to have any effect, I would hope it puts this new leak on the radar of their campaigns.
This is a tale of the Enbridge Line 61, which will carry more bitumen extracted from Canada’s oil sands than would the proposed Keystone pipeline. It is a tale of the fight against it and of how a foreign company wrote the law that Wisconsin passed to squash that fight. It is a tale of a pipeline that nobody knows about - a pipeline whose expansion is almost complete.
Magic is the art of deception. The corporate politician, like the magician, directs your attention away from where the trick is actually being done. While Keystone garners all the headlines, the expansion of Enbridge Line 61 has quietly flown under the radar. By increasing pipeline pressures, a potentially dangerous procedure, Line 61 will carry 40% more bitumen than the Keystone would.
A major expansion of Enbridge Energy oil pipeline capacity would quietly send more tar sands crude through Wisconsin than the higher profile Keystone XL line… The company’s Wisconsin plans would increase the flow through Line 61 to 1.2 million barrels per day, far more than the 860,000 barrels TransCanada Corp. wants to push through Keystone XL.
Public relations professionals, lobbyists, and supportive politicians may beat their chests and rail against those who would block Keystone. Some may even cry. But their tears are crocodile tears. Because of a patchwork regulatory framework full of loopholes, Enbridge’s expansion does not require the same federal approval as would the Keystone. So, the sluices will be opened. Indeed, work on the Line 61 expansion is already well underway
Construction for Phase 2 began in spring 2014 and, subject to permit and regulatory approvals, the pipeline will be operating at a capacity of 1.2 million bpd in 2015.
Wisconsin activists were concerned about the safety of the pipeline as well as the global climate change implications. They feared another incident like the 2010 spill into the Kalamazoo River
near Marshall, Michigan. Oil-sand-derived bitumen is much more difficult, some would say impossible, to clean up even than a spill of conventional crude oil.
Enbridge’s largest spill, in July 2010, flooded the Kalamazoo River near Marshall with more than 840,000 gallons of tar sands crude... The Marshall spill demonstrated how much more destructive tar sands crude spills are compared with spills of lighter crude. To move through a pipeline, tar sands ore needs to be mixed with chemical solvents. When the spilled mixture was exposed to air, the chemical components, including carcinogenic benzene, separated and released toxic gases, which forced many people to evacuate their homes. Meanwhile, the heavier tar sands sank, which required a destructive dredging of the Kalamazoo River.
Because the regulatory framework did not allow localities to raise safety as an issue, officials in Dane County, Wisconsin used the only available legal avenue available to them to address the pipeline expansion in their community. Using their zoning authority, they made approval for a new high-capacity pump station contingent upon Enbridge obtaining liability insurance
to cover the costs should a spill occur.
[T]he Dane County Zoning and Land Regulation Committee slapped additional insurance requirements on Enbridge before letting it build a new high-capacity pump station along its Line 61… Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, said the county was careful not to impose conditions on the pipeline itself, which would have infringed on federal regulations. "Dane County isn't seeking to regulate pipeline integrity or shut off valves. Dane County is seeking to...make sure there are sufficient insurance funds to clean up if there is an oil spill." Damon Hill, a spokesman for the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, said a requirement for pollution insurance would not cross the line into the areas governed by his agency.
As noted by Zoning Committee Chair Patrick Miles
, because of the higher pressures and volume involved, a Line 61 spill would likely dwarf the catastrophic Marshall, Michigan spill of 2010. Enbridge threatened to sue over the requirement. However, the Canadian company found it a better strategy to use its connections with Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature. A provision was drafted by lawyers working for Enbridge and slipped into the state budget a few days before its passage to prohibit counties from requiring liability insurance to cover spills.
A rupture at that flow rate for one hour would spill 2.1 million gallons, far dwarfing the Marshall, Mich., spill… [A]n Enbridge lobbyist and a locally hired attorney basically wrote a statutory provision prohibiting counties from requiring insurance to ensure the cleanup of a spill. Not only that, they also wrote a provision that gives Enbridge the power to condemn people's property... The provisions were amended to the state budget.
The Wisconsin budget passed on July 9. On July 15, Enbridge’s sister Canadian company, Nexen, experienced a failure
of the kind of “fail-safe” detection systems that were among the reasons Enbridge had argued that made insurance unnecessary.
[Oil sands giant Nexen] said its pipeline near its Nexen Long Lake operation released five million litres of “emulsion” — a mixture of bitumen oil, water and sand, starting [July 15]. Its "fail safe" spill-detection system didn't work, he said. The volume released is equivalent to 31,000 barrels — a volume greater than the 27,000 barrels of oil spilled by Enbridge in Kalamazoo Michigan in 2010, in the worst land spill in U.S. history.
Those who think the Koch Brothers made a bad investment in financing the ambitions of intellectual lightweight Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker may want to think again. Koch Industries is the biggest lease holder
of Canadian oil sands. With the friendly provisions slipped into the Wisconsin budget by Walker’s Republican colleagues, their increasing profits are ensured.
An oil industry official with direct knowledge of Koch’s lease holdings [says that] Koch Industries ranks as the largest leaseholder in [Canada’s oil sands].
As serious as the issues of safety and accountability for spills are, the seriousness of the effects of the Line 61 expansion on global climate change may be even greater. What does this expansion mean for global climate change? NASA climate scientist James Hansen’s assertion that it would be “game over” if the Keystone pipeline were built is often quoted
. However, Line 61 teaches us there are other ways in which the game may be lost.
In her recent announcement of opposition to the Keystone pipeline, Hillary Clinton cited global climate change. Bernie Sanders has long opposed the Keystone pipeline, also because of concerns about global climate change. In a July press release, he stated:
We must make significant reductions in carbon emissions and break our dependency on fossil fuels. That is why I have helped lead the fight in the Senate against the Keystone pipeline which would transport some of the dirtiest fossil fuel in the world.
In closing this entry, I have two questions for these two candidates for the presidency. First, what is your position on the expansion of Enbridge Line 61? And second, what do you plan to do about it?