Wisconsin oil spill fuels Northern Gateway concerns
Published Sunday, July 29, 2012 12:30PM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, July 31, 2012 1:13PM EDT
Alberta-based oil giant Enbridge Energy Partners is facing renewed scrutiny after an estimated 1,200 barrels of oil spilled into a field near Grand Marsh, Wisconsin, fuelling concerns about the company’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline.
The pipeline leak, detected Friday at about 2:45 p.m. local time, prompted the shutdown of a line transporting light crude from Canada to refineries in the Chicago area. The leak was contained to a rural field, the company reported in a statement issued the same day.
For some, the Friday leak in Wisconsin has rattled confidence in Enbridge and its Northern Gateway plan, which would involve building a twin pipeline from Alberta to British Columbia.
Adrian Dix, leader of the New Democratic Party in British Columbia, said he views the Wisconsin spill as a true-to-life example of how a pipeline can malfunction.
“What it tells us is that these spills are real, they’re not theoretical.”
In regards to the Wisconsin leak, Enbridge spokesperson Graham White said the spill has not affected the area's water supply or wildlife.
"There is no flowing water here, there's no river or streams," he told CTV News on Saturday.
The U.S. Department of Transport confirmed in its own statement Saturday that the Wisconsin leak is under investigation in a probe involving representatives from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
The spill occurred just after environmental groups across the United States marked the second anniversary of the Kalamazoo River spill.
An estimated 843,000 gallons of crude oil gushed into Michigan's Kalamazoo River on July 25, 2010 after a pipeline operated by Enbridge ruptured due to cracks and corrosion.
More than 56 kilometres of wetlands and waterways were affected and about 320 people reported symptoms related to crude oil exposure. Clean up costs for the spill have been pegged at about $800 million so far.
Though Enbridge has been criticized for its response to the Michigan spill, White noted that the company reacted to the recent leak in Wisconsin within minutes of discovering it by shutting down the problematic line. In a telephone interview with CTV News, he referred to the reaction as "very indicative of the considerable improvements we’ve made. Not just in the past two years, but even in the past year."
However, the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) said Enbridge’s prompt response to the Wisconsin spill offers little assurance about the company’s ability to protect environmentally sensitive lands.
“What this latest incident shows is that spills are bound to happen,” WWF’s Pacific Director Linda Nowlan told CTV News Channel on Sunday.
Nowlan said the majority of B.C. residents are opposed to the Northern Gateway project and she hopes that Premier Christy Clark will follow suit.
“We’re on the right path right now where our greenhouse gas emission and our energy consumption is down,” said Nowlan. “What we need is an economy that runs on energy that doesn’t harm the environment.”
She said if a spill were to occur, the ecosystems of salmon, bears, wolves and the surrounding waters in B.C.’s coastal mountain range would be put in jeopardy.
Much like the Kalamazoo River spill, the recent leak in Wisconsin has Enbridge representatives doing public relations damage control.
Public hearings are currently taking place in Canada over Enbridge's proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, which would see oilsands bitumen from Alberta being shipped to British Columbia for eventual transport to Asia. Stakeholders are locked into a tense debate pitting economic benefits against possible environmental consequences.
In Calgary, a public hearing on Enbridge's proposed Northern Gateway pipeline has been cancelled due to lack of interest. The hearing was scheduled to take place on Wednesday, but officials said less than 15 people registered to make statements.
More than 4,000 people in British Columbia have signed up to weigh in on the proposed pipeline.
Line 14, the line involved in the Wisconsin leak, is a 24-inch pipeline which can carry 317,600 barrels of oil per day. According to Enbridge, the line was installed in 1998.
B.C.’s Environment Minister Terry Lake notes that while Enbridge appeared to have reacted quickly, the spill in Wisconsin highlights the importance of taking extra care to ensure pipelines are safe against the threat of leaks.
"It does point to the need to ensure that there are measures in place to absolutely reduce the possibility of a spill and that we have the capacity to deal with any adverse event,” said Lake.
Enbridge said it’s unclear when officials will finish cleaning up the site of the Wisconsin spill.
"We are bringing all necessary resources to bear. Our immediate focus is on keeping our workers and the public safe as we work to remove the oil and clean up the site," the company said in a news release issued Friday.
With files from CTV Edmonton's Amanda Anderson, CTV British Columbia's Michele Brunoro and The Canadian Press