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September 20, 2012

Enbridge Tar Sands Pipeline Would be Bigger than Keystone XL

By Lena Moffit

Massive tar sands pipeline quietly being brought to a state near you

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark—or more accurately, the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. As we speak, energy giant Enbridge, the nefarious energy corporation responsible for the Kalamazoo spill two years ago, is quietly and quickly pushing forward an $8.8 billion piecemeal pipeline plan to import a tidal wave of Canadian tar sands.


Enbridge clearly learned a lesson from TransCanada's politically-mired Keystone XL pipeline fiasco. Rather than a single huge project, this time the company is employing a connect-the-dots approach, proposing to expand old lines, revive formerly mothballed pipelines, and connect them to new interstate projects. But the end result, which would deliver toxic tar sands sludge all the way from Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast, would ultimately create a massive tar sands highway that would be even bigger than Keystone XL. If completed, this pipeline would deliver 850,000 barrels per day from Alberta to Houston.

Enbridge proposes to link four major pieces of pipeline. The plan would connect Enbridge's expanded Alberta Clipper to its expanded Southern Access Line 61 (part of the Lakehead system that spewed nearly 1 million gallons of tar sands into the Kalamazoo River in 2010), to its new Flanagan South pipeline, and then to the reversed and expanded Seaway pipeline. And BAM!—Enbridge has its own Keystone XL that would transport 850,000 barrels per day of dirty, dangerous tar sands crude from Alberta, Canada, to Houston, Texas.

Enbridge's tar sands expansion plan doesn't stop there. The company plans to dramatically increase capacity on the infamous Line 6B that spilled into the Kalamazoo River, and is quietly backing Exxon's plans to reverse the flow on a line that would deliver tar sands through Vermont, New Hampshire, and out for export through the ports of Maine. All told, Enbridge plans to expand their capacity to import tar sands by more than two million barrels per day.

As if this weren't bad enough, Enbridge has a notoriously poor spill and safety record. The National Transportation and Safety Board recently excoriated Enbridge for its negligence and ineptitude that resulted in the massive 2010 spill in Marshall, Michigan. Doesn't ring a bell? On July 25, 2010, Line 6B of Enbridge's Lakehead system (which runs through parts of North Dakota, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Michigan) burst into the Kalamazoo River, spilling more than a million gallons—20,100 barrels—of heavy, toxic tar sands and creating the country's largest and costliest onshore spill ever. The NTSB cited Enbridge's "pattern of failures," coupled with inadequate pipeline safety regulations, as the root of the disaster. The report noted that this spill occurred only after Enbridge ignored a problem they'd known about for five years. Today, after more than two years and $800 million in cleanup costs, parts of the Kalamazoo River remain contaminated with sunken, toxic tar sands.

Then, just days after the two-year anniversary of the disastrous Kalamazoo spill—and the same week NTSB released their damning report—yet another Enbridge pipeline failed. On July 27, 2012, Enbridge's Line 14 burst, in Wisconsin this time, spilling more than 1,200 barrels of oil. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who oversees the agency responsible for pipeline safety, weighed, stating that "accidents like the one in Wisconsin are absolutely unacceptable."

At that point, pipeline regulators became so concerned about the extent of Enbridge's pipeline  failures that they ordered the entire Line 14 to be shut down. On August 1, 2012, regulators issued  a Corrective Action Order, asserting that operating the pipeline would prove "hazardous to life, property or the environment" without "immediate corrective action."

Unfortunately, these incidents represent only a small proportion of Enbridge's extensive pipeline failures. In fact, between 1990 and 2010, Enbridge pipelines leaked 161,475 barrels of oil in 804 spills. Is this the company you want building a tar sands pipeline through your backyard?

And yet that is exactly what Enbridge is planning. So what can we do about it?

First, Americans need to know about Enbridge's plans and its history of failures. We need to educate ourselves and our neighbors about how one of the worst pipeline companies in the world is pushing one of the largest tar sands pipeline projects ever contemplated.

Second, call your senators and governors and tell them you don't want Enbridge building or expanding tar sands pipelines through your state.

Third, we have to fight the specific legs of the project. Two major pieces of Enbridge's plan are particularly vulnerable to public opposition:

1. The Alberta Clipper pipeline should not be expanded without a new Presidential Permit and environmental impact statement. This section of the project runs from Alberta, Canada, to Superior, Wisconsin. Although Enbridge received a Presidential Permit for this massive tar sands pipeline in 2008, the permit was for the project to run 450,000 barrels per day—not 570,000 barrels per day as Enbridge proposes. Pumping 120,000 more barrels per day presents significant additional risks that must be examined. The current permit does not stipulate that the company is allowed to expand the project, and the State Department must conduct a new environmental assessment of the potential impacts of such an expansion on the climate, the local ecosystems, and public health.

2. Enbridge should not receive permits to construct the new Flanagan South Pipeline through Illinois, Missouri, and Kansas. In March, Enbridge formally announced plans to build the new 600-mile, 36-inch-diameter Flanagan South pipeline along the current route of their 24-inch-diameter Spearhead pipeline. This project is the crucial middle link in Enbridge's plan, connecting its northern pipelines to its southern pipeline and allowing the industry to deliver tar sands all the way to the Gulf Coast. Because this is a new pipeline proposal, Enbridge will have to apply for and receive all the requisite state-level permits, such as construction permits and water permits. Illinois, Missouri, and Kansas governors can and should say no to these at every step.

The company responsible for the  largest on-shore oil spill in U.S. history should not be allowed to construct the largest pipeline network ever to carry the world's dirtiest oil. We must not let this happen.


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