Five years ago this month residents of Marshall, Mich. fell victim to the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history. This wasn’t your typical crude oil; this was thick, heavy tar sands oil mined from deforested lands in Canada and pumped through Enbridge’s Line 6b. More than 840,000 gallons spewed from the ruptured pipeline for over 17 hours before Enbridge was told by local authorities that they had a leak flowing into the Kalamazoo River. Cleanup took more than four years at cost of $1.21 billion.
Fast forward to present day, now near Marshall, Wis. Enbridge’s plans to triple the flow of tar sands through Line 61 to 1.2 million barrels per day. Line 61 travels 322 miles from Superior through southeast Rock County and to a terminal not far from Chicago. Eleven miles of the pipeline travels through northeast Dane County. Enbridge sought a conditional use permit from Dane County to build a pumping facility in the Town of Medina.
Understandably, area residents are concerned for their health, their property and the wellbeing of the wetlands and water resources. A rupture at that flow rate for one hour would spill 2.1 million gallons, far dwarfing the Marshall, Mich. spill. To visualize that, that would fill my quarter acre property and three of my neighbors’ yards six feet deep in tar sands oil. Even if stopped in one minute, enough tar sands would spill to fill nearly four fuel tanker trucks you see at the gas station.
My colleagues on the Zoning and Land Regulation Committee and I diligently explored avenues of action we could take to address residents’ concerns. We, at the local level are prohibited by federal law from taking action to address safety and the prevention of a spill. We received valuable information from organizations like 350-Madison, the Environmental Law and Policy Center and the Pipeline Safety Trust.
While we could not take action to prevent a spill, the least we could do was make certain resources are available to clean up after a spill does occur. To be certain that financial means are available, we required Enbridge to carry sufficient insurance to cover spill cleanup, something that is potentially lacking in their commercial liability insurance. Enbridge had pushed back on this reasonable compromise and appealed our decision to the County Board.
But that appeal is moot, because Enbridge’s did an end-run-around and got the State legislature to usurp our efforts to protect Dane County residents. Documents released last week show that an 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. In an act of political cowardice, the provisions were amended to the state budget with no legislator’s name and no opportunity for public notice or debate.
We made every effort to find a compromise that allowed the project while protecting those we represent. In a perversion of representative democracy, the legislature and governor protected the interests of a foreign company The end result could be that Wisconsin residents could be left holding the bill to cleanup Enbridge’s next environmental disaster.
Patrick Miles is a Dane County Board Supervisor and Chair of the Zoning and Land Regulation Committee.