The Bad River Tribal Council voted on Jan. 5 not to renew easements for 11 of 15 parcels that had expired in 2013 for Enbridge Energy Line 5, a crude oil pipeline running from Superior to Sarnia, Ontario. The line passes through the Bad River Reservation.
The move initially caught Enbridge off guard.
“We are surprised to learn of the Bad River Band’s decision not to renew individual easements within the reservation for Line 5 after negotiating in good faith for the past several years,” said Enbridge Community Relations Manager Jennifer Smith.
The next Wisconsin tribe facing the question of renewing Enbridge easements will be the Lac Courte Oreilles (LCO) Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe.
Smith confirmed that easements for two pipelines — 6A and 14 — that cross 3.5 miles of LCO reservation will expire in late 2018.
Four Enbridge pipelines – 61, 13, 6A and 14 – are laid across the southwest corner of Sawyer County, entering the Town of Bass Lake on the west and exiting south of the Village of Exeland.
Three of the pipelines — 61, 6A and 14 — carry crude oil (mostly Canadian tar sands oil) south. Line 13 carries a diluent (a thinner used to make crude oil more viscous) north.
In the current easements, the four lines from the west are in close proximity to one another, but where the towns of Sand Lake and Edgewater meet, two of the lines — 61 and 13 — veer to the west, off the LCO Reservation on the west side of Summit Lake Road. The other two lines, 6A and 14, go through the reservation and cross Summit Creek at Right of Way Road, roughly 1.5 miles east of where Summit Lake Road intersects with Right of Way Road.
The reason lines 61 and 13 are not on reservation land is in the late 1990s LCO refused Enbridge’s request to widen the existing 6A and 14 easement corridor for Line 61 built in 2009 and Line 13 built in 2010.
Line 6A is a 34 inch-line built in 1968 with a capacity of 667,000 barrels per day (BPD); Line 14 is a 24-inch line built in 1998 with a capacity of 318,000 BPD.
At full capacity, the two lines crossing LCO carry nearly 1 million BPD of crude oil.
In a Jan. 5 press release from Bad River’s Tribal Council, the tribe, which also called for the decommissioning and removal of Line 5, cited the prospect of an oil spill as the reason for rejecting the easement renewal.
“As many other communities have experienced, even a minor spill could prove to be disastrous for our people,” said Bad River Tribal Chairman Robert Blanchard.
Concern of a pipeline oil spill affecting water supplies drove the recent opposition to the Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. There a pipeline meant to carry Bakken oil from North Dakota to Illinois has been temporarily shut down since early December after the Army Corps of Engineers denied a permit for the line to pass under the Missouri River.
As if to manifest Dakota Access fears, a few days after the Corps’ decision a large oil spill occurred 200 miles away from Standing Rock from an existing six-inch pipeline in a tributary of the Little Missouri River.
Enbridge has had its share of oil spills. Mostly notably in 2010 at Line 6B on the Kalamazoo River at Marshall, Michigan, an estimated 800,000 gallons spilled into the river costing Enbridge over $1 billion in cleanup and $61 million in fines.
Closer to home, the largest oil spill in Wisconsin occurred in February 2007 just over the border in Rusk County, four miles south of Sawyer County in the Town of Murry east of Reichel Road when an Enbridge pipeline spilled 176,000 gallons of tar sands oil. Becky Haase, an Enbridge community relation’s specialist, told the Record that Enbridge is nearing the end of remediation of that 2007 spill.
LCO Tribal Chairman Mic Isham said the tribal council has scheduled a meeting with Enbridge later in January to discuss renewing easements for lines 6A and 14. As part of the discussion, he said, the tribe has asked Enbridge for maintenance records of the two pipelines.
In November, Haase was asked at a Sawyer County committee meeting how many anomalies are in Line 6A, built the same year, 1968, as Line 3 (a pipeline across Minnesota into Superior). Enbridge is seeking to replace that line because of 800 documented anomalies noted in the permitting papers to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
To the anomalies question, Haase provided no answer at the November meeting and later emailed the Record that Enbridge wouldn’t publicly release that information for Line 6A. She noted Line 3 anomalies were public record as part of the regulatory permitting process, but there is no condition requiring the release of that same information for Line 6A.
Isham said “water is life” is the only position the LCO Tribal Council has officially taken. It is a refrain that was repeated continually at Standing Rock and by local water protecters.
With the recent Bad River decision not to renew Line 5 easements, coupled with the facts that the LCO Tribal Council and many LCO members supported the resistance to the Dakota Access Line (of which Enbridge is 28 percent minority owner), easement renewal of lines 6A and 14 across the LCO reservation might be a tough sell.
On the other hand, if LCO decides to negotiate with Enbridge it could be lucrative. In 2015, the Red Lake Tribe in Minnesota agreed to an $18.5 million settlement with Enbridge over a half-acre of land for four pipelines that Enbridge had used for 65 years without tribal permission.
“We are just gathering information at this point,” said Isham of negotiating with Enbridge. He emphasized the tribal council has taken no position at this time to either support or reject easement renewals.