All Risk, No Reward: Enbridge’s dirty fuels pipeline system threatens the Great Lakes

 Catherine Collentine

Growing up near the Great Lakes in Wisconsin, protecting our freshwater resources was not just a topic of conversation, but a way of life for me and my family. As the daughter of a groundwater geologist and a lawyer who worked on storm water permitting for the state department of natural resources, it was ingrained in me at an early age that living in a unique environment carries a responsibility to protect our lakes, rivers, streams, and waterways. This responsibility means recognizing threats to these resources – such as the giant pipeline system Enbridge is installing, putting the Great Lakes region in jeopardy.

Enbridge Over Troubled Water – The Enbridge GXL System’s Threat to the Great Lakes details the risks Enbridge’s pipelines poses to the Great Lakes region.  This system puts water and communities in the pipeline networks’ path at risk, but also poses threats upstream at the point of extraction, the Athabascan region of Alberta, Canada, where the syncrude from destructive tar sands mining is found.

Enbridge is the world’s largest transporter of carbon disruptive tar sands oil (about 20% more carbon polluting than non-tar sands oil on a well to wheel basis), and it is actively seeking ways to circumvent public review processes in order to more than double the amount of nearly impossible to clean up tar sands oil flowing under and near the Great Lakes and other waterways throughout the region.

Among the major pipeline companies, Enbridge has one of the worst safety records and was responsible for upwards of 800 spills from its pipelines between 1999 and 2010, dumping 6.8 million gallons of oil.  Among those spills is the July 2010 Kalamazoo River disaster in Michigan, which was the largest inland pipeline disaster in U.S. history, and caused the National Transportation Safety Board to label Enbridge incompetent for its role.

In a recent study, the National Academy of Science confirmed the extreme risks of tar sands, finding that when transported as largely unrefined diluted bitumen, as is this case with Enbridge’s pipelines, it’s spills are nearly impossible to clean up.

People across the region are joining together to call for an end to these dirty pipeline expansions and cleaner transportation options.  In June of 2015, more than 5,000 people took to the streets for the Tar Sands Resistance March, a demonstration calling on the Obama Administration, governors in the Great Lakes region, and other decision makers to put a stop to the Enbridge pipeline system expansion.  These efforts continue as hundreds turn out across the region to comment and testify before local Public Utilities Commissions and at local meetings.  This growing movement will not stop until Enbridge’s dirty oil and tar sands pipelines are no longer threatening our way of life and precious water resources.

In November 2015, President Obama rightly rejected the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.  Similarly, the Enbridge GXL tar sands expansion must be stopped. The Great Lakes region does not need, nor does it want this 1.1. million barrel per day – substantially more oil than was proposed for the rejected Keystone XL – pipeline.

In order to meet the carbon reduction goals laid out by world leaders in Paris, and in order to protect the Great Lakes region’s water resources and people, we need to keep tar sands and other dirty oil in the ground where it belongs.

Catherine Collentine is a tar sands campaign representative for the Sierra Club.

Cross-posted from the Sierra Club’s Lay of the Land blog.


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