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Home > Issues > Beyond Fossil Fuels to Clean Energy > Beyond Oil --> Tar Sands --> Tar Sands Network in Wisconsin

Tar Sands Network in Wisconsin:

The Tar Sands Right Under our Nose…and Lake

While we are fighting the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, an entire tar sands network in our own backyard.  This network severely threatens the climate and our Great Lakes and is sneaking in under the radar.

Enbridge 67, or the Alberta Clipper Pipeline

The Keystone Pipeline will pump 800,000 barrels of oil per day if permitted.  Enbridge Energy has proposed expanding their pipeline, the Alberta Clipper Pipeline or Enbridge Line 67Click here to read the John Muir Chapter's official comments to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.

The Line:

  • Extends from Alberta, Canada to Superior, Wisconsin. 
  • If expanded, will double the capacity of the pipeline and pump 800,000 barrels of oil per day.
  • will be 36 inches in diameter
  • threatens Lake Superior

Check out this GREAT report on the Alberta-Clipper Pipeline, All Risk, No Reward: The Alberta Clipper Tar Sands Pipeline Expansion

In addition to the concerns of additional pipeline capacity, Enbridge 67 will lead to other tar sands pipelines, projects, and refinery stations. 

  1. More Pumping Units: in order to get more tar sands oil through the pipeline, the project will require additional pumping units and more horsepower at current pumping stations in Minnesota.
  2. Storage Tanks on Lake Superior: Enbridge plans to build two additional storage tanks in Superior.   This means that thousands of gallons of this crude oil will be resting on the shores of our most precious water resource.

  3. Additional pipelines: Enbridge is proposing to expand or is currently expanding a few additional lines.  Lines 5, 6B, and 61 are all being expanded and are part of the Lakehead System, the pipeline system that runs through the Great Lakes region.  Line 6B is the line that ruptured and resulted in the devastating Kalamazoo spill.

    Line 5 is a 60-year old pipeline that connects Lake Michigan and Lake Huron through four miles of the Straights of Mackinac.  With the connection of the two lakes, the water oscillates back and forth; sometimes getting as fast as three feet per second.  The expansion will allow 50,000 more barrels per day to be transported.

    According to the National Wildlife Federation, Enbridge has estimated that with a shut-off time of eight minutes, as much as 1.5 million gallons could spill from Line 5 into the Straights of Mackinac.  Additionally, since the Straights of Mackinac are in such a distant location, it could take responders three hours to get to the spill.  Any spill, no matter how small, could be devastating to both lakes, the deep water canyons, and the pristine shorelines.

    Line 6B is the line that ruptured and spilled 840,000 gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River. Clean-up is expected to reach $1 Billion, and the EPA believes it is still (2 1/2 years later) a threat and has asked Enbridge to begin dredging the river.

  4. Tar Sands Network: Enbridge would also like to extend the tar sands network throughout the country by adding an additional line to Oklahoma for export in the Gulf Coast.  The line would cross the Ozarks and the Mississippi River, the other enormous source of freshwater for the country.

  5. Lake Superior Oil Shipping: Calumet Specialty Products Partner LLC, who currently own and run a refinery in Superior, have announced they are contemplating a venture to ship oil over Lake Superior via barge.  They are considering a crude oil dock to allow this, as long as there seems to be enough demand, which could likely exist. 

    As Calumet manager, Dave Podratz said to the Superior Telegram, “The Upper Midwest is awash in oil.  They have more oil than capacity to move it.”  He explained Enbridge import 500,000 more barrels of oil a day than it can send out. 

    Currently, the excess oil gets shipped on the rail lines.  However, shipping by barge is much cheaper than rail and is therefore very attractive.  The dock would allow the shipment of 13 million barrels of crude oil per year and store 150,000 barrels of oil in two tanks.  Ironically, lake levels have been so low that current barges have had to lighten their loads.  

    Calumet hopes to begin construction and be operating by 2015.  Fortunately, however, the shipping dock needs to be permitted by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the United States Coast Guard—they would be required to provide proof that they could respond to spills and the ships are now required to be double-hulled as a result of the Exxon Valdez spill.


Could Enbridge Stop and Properly Clean Up a Spill?

Since tar sands oil is a sludgy form of oil, it needs to be mixed with multiple chemicals in order to move it through the line.  This makes it much harder to figure out how to clean it up—the reason for the continuing dredging of the Kalamazoo River.  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stated that because the oil is different than conventional in water, it “may require different response actions or equipment”.

Kalamazoo River Closed due to oil spill

Many remember the Kalamazoo spill in 2010.  An Enbridge pipeline erupted and spilled 840,000 gallons of tar sands oil into a wetland that leaked into the Kalamazoo River during a planned shutdown.  The environmental damage to the wetlands, Kalamazoo River, and Talmadge Creek continues and will likely never fully be erased.  Enbridge is still funding clean-up.  In March (over two years after the spill), the EPA ordered river dredging as the river is still contaminated.  The total clean-up is expected to exceed $1 billion.

Last year, Wisconsin had its own, much smaller, spill in Grand Marsh (Adams County).  According to the Wisconsin State Journal, the rupture spilled an estimated 50,000 gallons of oil and contaminated 17,000 tons of soil.

After the Grand Marsh spill, and multiple other failures, the United States Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHSMA) ordered Enbridge to submit plans to improve the safety of the entire Lakeland System.  Also, Canada’s National energy Board has stated that Enbridge is not complying with safety standards at 117 of its pumping stations and is analyzing the concerns and solutions.

Until Enbridge can get its act together, we cannot entrust it to run a tar sands network through our precious Great Lakes without affecting the vulvernable ecosystem. 

To learn more about tar sands oil, click here.

To get involved fighting the Wisconsin Tar Sands network, contact Elizabeth Ward.