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Line 61: Tar Sands Pathway through Wisconsin

Line 61 MapEnbridge Energy has announced plans to expand their pipeline, Line 61, which cuts through Wisconsin, carrying  a mixture of oil, including toxic tar sands oil, making the risks much greater. 

The expansion could triple the capacity and includes 3 new storage tanks on Lake Superior, modifying the two existing storage tanks, increasing pumping pressure at 3 stations and installing 9 new pump stations. In 2014, capacity would become 560,000 bpd (barrels per day) and by 2015 could be near 1.2 million bpd-an almost unprecedented amount of pressure. 

This pipeline will be an avenue to export dirty tar sands oil from Alberta Canada to outside the United States.  While the overseas oil markets see the benefits, Wisconsinites are expected to take all the risks.

Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) is considering an air permit for this project.  Click here to tell the DNR to complete a full Environmental Impact Statement of the Line 61 expansion! This project could lead to more tar sands spills, water pollution, increased demand for tar sands oil, and more climate change pollution. 

Line 61 crosses through Wisconsin from Superior to Flanagan, IL and will include new pumping stations (in Hawthorne, Ladysmith, Owen, Marshfield, Minong, Stone Lake, Adams, Portage, and Waterloo) and increased pumping pressure at existing stations (Sheldon, Vesper, and Delavan).  This puts a number of our water bodies at risk, from Castle Rock Lake, the Rock River, Lake Koshkonong, the Flambeau River, and most importantly, Lake Superior and the Great Lakes, which provide drinking water for 42 million people.  A spill could devastate these waterways, and the jobs and economy that depend on them.

Worse, is the carbon pollution that will be caused by this pipeline.  Tar sands oil is more carbon intensive than traditional oil—greenhouse gas emissions of tar sands oil are about 17% greater than the average barrel of oil on a life-cycle basis.  We are already seeing the effects of climate change in Wisconsin.  The drought and heat wave in 2012, followed by relentless rain and flooding last year give us a glimpse of what climate change could cost Wisconsin in the future, from our farms to our forests to our cold-water fisheries.  More tar sands oil is the last thing our climate needs.

Our lakes, rivers, and climate are too valuable to sacrifice in the name of corporate profits.  Tell the DNR to do a full environmental assessment of the pipeline today.

Click here to take action and read Sierra Club's official comments to the WDNR related to the air permit.

Additional Talking Points:

  • Tars sands oil means more spilled oil: in order to extract the oil, it is mixed with chemicals, this makes it more acidic and leads to more ruptures and spills.  Tar sands pipelines in the Midwest spill 3.6 times more per mile than traditional pipelines. 

  • Enbridge’s track record is terrible: Since 1999, Enbridge has had 800 spills, including the very severe, very significant spill in the Kalamazoo River.  The pipeline spewed tar sands oil for over 17 hours, before Enbridge realized it was leaking.  The environmental damage to the wetlands, Kalamazoo River, and Talmadge Creek will likely never fully remedied. The full extent of public health effects will possibly never be known, but 320 homes had to be evacuated.

  • Enbridge is responsible for a number of spills in Wisconsin as well:  In January 2007, an Enbridge pipeline ruptured, pouring more than 29,000 gallons of crude oil onto a farm field in the town of Curtis in Clark County.  A month later, another Enbridge pipeline rupture dumped 176,000 gallons of heavy crude oil in a Rusk County farm field.  In January 2009, Enbridge Energy Partners paid the State of Wisconsin $1.1 million to settle claims under Wisconsin’s waterway and wetland protection and storm water control laws.  In July 2012 a farm field in Grand Marsh, Wisconsin was covered by at least 1,200 barrels of oil after an Enbridge pipeline ruptured there.  Enbridge had to purchase a nearby home that a local resident described as being “covered in oil.” 

  • Tar Sands oil poses a greater threat to our water resources: unlike traditional oil, tar sands oil is dense and does not float, so proper clean-up of a spill is unknown.  Four years later, the Kalamazoo spill is still not cleaned up and the Environmental Protection Agency ordered Enbridge dredge the river.  Clean-up costs will exceed $1 Billion.

  • Technology cannot properly detect or prevent a spill: a Natural Resources Defense Council investigation found that leak detection systems missed 19 out of 20 spills and 4 out of 5 of the larger spills

  • The climate cannot afford tar sands oil: Tar sands oil is the dirtiest and most carbon intensive form of oil.  The extraction process is incredibly carbon intensive and requires destroying the Canadian boreal forest, one of the largest carbon sequestration sources in the world, capturing twice as much carbon as the tropical forests.  As a result, greenhouse gas emissions of tar sands oil are about 17% greater than the average barrel of oil on a life-cycle basis.  This is one of the reasons climate change expert and former NASA scientist, James Hansen said that tar sands oil development means ‘game over for the climate’.

“Earth’s finest collection of fresh water—Lake Superior and the Upper Great Lakes—is not a reasonable location for a major transportation corridor designed to carry tar sands crude oil to the overseas market.  If these proposals move forward, our region will be locked into a future of oil-impacted water, air quality and public health.”