Enbridge Energy spokeswoman Jennifer Smith said that her oil pipeline company works very hard to maintain a high level of safety in its oil pipeline infrastructure, and strives to maintain good relationships with all stakeholders along the paths of their lines.
“Absolutely; the line is operating safely. We have a very aggressive maintenance and integrity program,” she said in an Interview with the Daily Press last Friday. “As with our landowners, the tribes, all of our impacted stakeholders, we are regularly communicating with them. We want to be responsive and work with them. It is a partnership and a relationship that is ongoing. Even here on Line #5 for decades we have had a partnership with regards to the ongoing maintenance that has to take place with the existing line, and that is across our entire system.”
That is a claim that is challenged by anti-pipeline activist John Bolenbaugh, who has developed a national reputation as an unremitting critic of oil pipeline safety in general and a foe of Enbridge Energy’s operations in particular.
Bolenbaugh is a decorated Navy veteran who holds the Bronze Star, and was an employee of SET Environmental, Inc., a Wheeling, Ill., headquartered oil cleanup firm. SET was hired by Enbridge in 2010 to clean up an oil spill that contaminated Michigan’s Kalamazoo River with a million gallons of heavy synthetic crude oil originating in the tar sands of Alberta and Saskatchewan. Bolenbaugh blew the whistle on what he said were efforts to cheat on the cleanup, leaving areas still heavily contaminated with oil, but pronouncing them clean.
Bolenbaugh also has a checkered past; he has revealed that at the age of 26, he had to register as a sex offender after having relationships with a pair of teens whom he said had lied about their ages. He said he made the information public as a preemptive move in order to keep opponents from using the information against him.
Bolenbaugh says he was fired from SET in retaliation after he made the cleanup deception public. Company officials assert that he was terminated after he violated company rules not to speak to members of the media.
Whatever the reason, the firing has not stopped Bolenbaugh from speaking out about what he says are rampant safety violations by Enbridge, as well as personal attacks on himself, efforts at intimidation and death threats. Despite this, Bolenbaugh says he is not anti-oil.
“I’m in the union, I drive a car like everybody else,” he said. “I am pro oil, except that we have to change things and start going wind and solar.”
Bolenbaugh maintains that oil companies are loath to shut down oil pipelines because of the cost of not shipping crude oil.
“”They actually profit from oil spills,” he said. “They don’t want to fix pipes because if they do, they lose eight to 10 million dollars a day in lost revenue. In a three- or four-month period to fix that they can lose hundreds of millions of dollars.”
Bolenbaugh plans on bringing his anti-pipeline crusade to the Chequamegon Bay area this week, where he plans to hold a series of seven events on Monday and Tuesday. These events are a welcome luncheon from 12-3 p.m. Monday at the Bad River Lodge and Casino followed by a “Community Conversation from 4-5 p.m. at the Black Cat Coffee House, and a pot luck and conversation from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at the Bad River Lodge and Casino.
On Tuesday he is slated to have a “Brunch with John” at the Blue Wave on the Bay Inn in Ashland, followed by conversations at Big Water Coffee Roasters in Bayfield from 1:30-2:30 p.m. More conversation and a movie presentation will follow at Good Thyme Catering at 77180 State Highway 13 north of Washburn. Another presentation will occur at the Ashland City Council meeting at Ashland City Hall at 6:15 p.m.
A final presentation and Bolenbaugh-produced movie will occur at Legendary Waters Lodge at the Red Cliff Indian reservation north of Bayfield from 7-9 p.m.
“I want to educate people about what happens when an oil spill occurs,” Bolenbaugh said. “I want to tell them about the chemicals and the fact that people have to be evacuated so they aren’t affected by that.
“What I am honestly trying to do is to save lives,” he said, asserting that often it was not the oil spill itself that was most toxic, it is the chemicals used to disperse the spill that were more dangerous. “It’s all these chemicals that kill people.”
Bolenbaugh is harsh in his assessment of how pipeline firms like Enbridge operate.
“They are not ethical. They don’t care about the environment, they don’t care about humanity they don’t care if your kids get leukemia or cancer,” he said. “All they care about is how much money can they profit this year.”
Bolenbaugh said oil-related companies realized they were involved in an industry with a limited future.
“They realize that solar and wind are coming,” he said. “They have 80 trillion dollars of oil that they are just trying to squeeze out every drop. Once they make their money they don’t care what happens.”
Bolenbaugh said he believed Enbridge pipeline #5 should be dismantled not only because of its environmental hazards but because it posed a vulnerable target for terrorists, particularly the stretch running under the Mackinac Straits between the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan.
“In one day they could blow up two pipelines and pollute 90 percent of our water,” he said. “This is a national security threat. This is serious.”
Bolenbaugh praised last week’s action by the Bad River Tribal Council in refusing to grant a new easement for the Enbridge #5 pipeline, as well as their call to dismantle the pipeline where it crosses reservation land.
“That would be impressive if they could get that done,” he said.
Bolenbaugh said the conflict over the Dakota Access pipeline, of which Enbridge is a partner, has gotten serious. He said he visited the protest site to witness the goings-on.
“I got shot with a rubber bullet,” he said. “In 20 degree weather I got sprayed with a fire hose, and I was just standing there with a camera and a press pass.”
He called the conduct of pipeline security personnel “criminal.”
“The thing is, they were on the opposite side of barbed wire,” he said. “There was no threat to these police at all. For them to be tear gassing people and shooting them with rubber bullets, it’s a wow.”
The video to be shown by Bolenbaugh will include these scenes, he said.
“Its so plain and simple,” he said. “It’s crazy, I can’t believe our government is doing this, allowing this to happen right under our noses. It’s corporate greed and corruption at the highest levels. What they are doing is 100 percent illegal.”