Wisconsin oil pipeline to triple capacity with little public inp - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Wisconsin oil pipeline to triple capacity with little public input

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MADISON (WKOW) -- A Wisconsin oil pipeline will triple its capacity from 400,000 barrels per day to 1.2 million barrels per day by 2016, but environmentalists say the expansion was approved without the public having a true chance to give input on the plan.    

The pipeline is owned by Houston-based Enbridge Energy Partners and runs from Superior all the way south to Illinois.  The pipeline was built in 2007 and has been carrying the same amount of crude oil since then.

"Seven years later the economy is getting stronger and our customers are wanting to ship an additional quantities of crude oil from points in Canada and North Dakota," said Becky Haase, a stakeholder relations specialist with Enbridge.

Enbridge wants to do whatever it can to accommodate that growing demand, but environmentalists say the company and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) should have been equally accommodating to Wisconsin residents.

"They've done the absolute bare minimum in notifying people," said Anne Sayers, program director for the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters. "They have obeyed the law, but its been the absolute bare minimum."

Enbridge only needed a wetlands permit from the DNR and got it without a single public comment being filed.  There were only two public notices posted regarding the permitting process, in newspapers in Marshfield and Spooner.

But the pipeline runs through dozens of Wisconsin communities, including Portage, Waterloo and Delavan.

"And Enbridge has had over 800 spills since 1999," said Elizabeth Ward, conservation programs coordinator with the John Muir Chapter of the Sierra Club.

A few of those spills happened in Wisconsin, costing Enbridge more than $1 million in fines here.  But the most publicized Enbridge spill came from a leak in its Michigan pipeline, which dumped 834,000 barrels of Canadian tar sand oil into the Kalamazoo River in 2010.

"Leaks do happen.  Spills do happen, but at the end of the day, we're there to first design our pipelines to prevent leaks," said Haase.  "Should that worse case event happen, then we respond quickly and clean it up."

"Tar sands is much heavier - that oil, and so if it was to spill into a waterway it would be much more difficult to clean up, it requires many more chemicals and sometimes it can't be cleaned up," said Sayers.

There are sixteen pumping stations along the pipeline, several of which are already being upgraded to handle the greater capacity.  That includes the station in Portage.

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