News Articles | Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel | by Lee Bergquist | February 16, 2007
The accident is one of two resulting in the release of at least 176,000 gallons of Canadian crude oil in northern Wisconsin since the beginning of the year.
Both are under investigation by the U.S. Office of Pipeline Safety and being reviewed by the state Department of Natural Resources.
The spills took place during construction of a 320-mile pipeline by Enbridge Inc. of Calgary, Canada, alongside its existing pipeline from Superior to near Whitewater.
The expansion has drawn criticism, and a lawsuit, from environmental groups including the Wisconsin Wetlands Association and the River Alliance of Wisconsin. The groups say the massive undertaking should have required a highly detailed environmental impact statement, instead of a less rigorous environmental assessment.
The DNR, which reviews such projects for effects on streams and wetlands, said the pipeline expansion did not rise to the level at which Enbridge needed to complete the more thorough analysis.
The operations in Wisconsin owned by Enbridge were formerly known as Lakehead Pipeline.
Enbridge is expected to seek permission shortly for construction of another pipeline – this time along private land where a pipeline doesn’t currently exist.
The new pipeline would run through 23 miles of Rock County into Illinois, where the company also plans to add more capacity.
“Obviously, it does not make us feel very comfortable to trust Enbridge to do the right thing,” said Lori Grant, policy program manager for the River Alliance.
“I think they are in a hurry to move forward with the project. It makes you wonder if these spills are a part of their M.O.”
But Enbridge spokeswoman Denise Hamsher said, “We greatly regret what happened – and it’s a spill we just won’t accept.”
She said the two spills are the first breaks in more than four years along the company’s more than 8,000 miles of pipeline right of way in North America.
Enbridge says it operates the largest pipeline system in the world.
The company moves crude oil from northwest Canada to terminal locations, including Chicago, Detroit and Montreal.
Enbridge said the expansions are needed because of growing demand for Canadian crude – an alternative to Mideast oil.
Oil moved through Wisconsin is refined in Chicago.
The first of the two spills took place Jan. 1 in Clark County when 50,000 gallons of crude leaked onto farmland and into a drainage ditch.
Hamsher said the pipeline inexplicably cracked open and released crude until an operator could shut down the line from an operations center in Canada.
The oil was removed and returned to the pipeline, she said.
Crews will use equipment that runs the length of the pipeline to look for explanations for why the pipeline cracked, Hamsher said.
In the second accident, Feb. 2 near Exeland in Rusk County, crews mistakenly struck the existing pipeline while preparing to extend the new pipeline beneath a roadway.
Oil filled a large hole more than 20 feet deep before the flow was again shut down. But in this case, Enbridge and the DNR confirmed oil that was not removed seeped into the water table, a finding that could potentially affect local private water supplies.
But state officials and the company say the spill is in a remote locale where only one seasonal home lies within the immediate area.
Monitoring wells will be constructed around the accident site to determine the spread of the oil.
A spokesman for the Office of Pipeline Safety said it was premature to draw conclusions about the accidents.
DNR records show that the 1973 Lakehead Pipeline break in Jefferson County was the largest such break in Wisconsin.
The Feb. 2 spill appears to be the fourth biggest pipeline spill, according to DNR records, though officials at the agency said computerized records could be incomplete.
There have been other larger spills from bulk tanks, the DNR said.
In 2005, Enbridge reported 412,650 gallons of oil were spilled in its North American operations and largely contained within its operational facilities.
The two spills in Wisconsin this year would represent 43% of that figure.