Although environmental hazards are often viewed as distant futuristic prospects, students and community members met in the basement of the Portage County library for a presentation and discussion of what the Wisconsin Sierra Club feels is a pressing concern.
The discussion was led by the Wisconsin Safe Energy Alliance.
“WISE is a coalition of community members, leaders and organizations,” said conservation programs manager Elizabeth Ward. “We are concerned about the safety, land and environmental threats posed by proposals to expand tar sands throughout Wisconsin.”
Ward said their main focus was on the Enbridge pipeline and its proposed expansion.
“Enbridge wants to expand to as much as 1.2 million barrels per day of oil pumped through this pipeline,” Ward said. “That is the largest pipeline in the world by a longshot.”
While the Keystone pipeline garnered national attention, an expansion of this magnitude would make the Enbridge pipeline 50 percent larger than its Keystone counterpart.
The Enbridge pipeline carries Alberta Zipper tar sands from Canada through Wisconsin and Michigan with a hub on Lake Superior. From Superior, the pipeline has five branches; four of which go through Wisconsin.
“This is especially dangerous, because we are in the Great Lakes region,” Ward said. “It’s the largest freshwater resource in the world and supplies clean drinking water for over 40 million people.”
Line 61 runs through the center of Wisconsin and presenters cited Enbridge’s poor safety record as reason to stop the expansion.
“We have learned from the Kalamazoo spills that these sands are even worse when spilled,” said fellow presenter Carl Whiting. “Enbridge has spent $1.2 billion dollars cleaning up the damage from their last spill, and they are not even close to finished.”
Whiting, schoolteacher and recipient of a Ph.D. in Education from UW-Madison, joined Sierra Club and started presenting in communities statewide as he became aware of environmental issues.
His portion of the talk was largely about the Kalamazoo tar sands oil spill.
The Kalamazoo spill was from a pipeline pumping 400,000 barrels per day, one-third capacity of the proposed expansion.
Tar sands oil is denser than general oil so the remediation projects have been more challenging. The density was also making the spills hard to recognize, evidenced by findings of a Natural Resources Defense Council who found leak detection systems missed over 90 percent of spills.
Information provided at the Sierra Club website revealed that these spills are 3.6 times more likely with tar sand pipelines as they are with traditional pipelines. To extract the oil, chemicals must be added to the sands. This culminates in an acidic, corrosive mixture that causes the increase in damage.
“Even if the pipeline does not rupture, tar sands still contain twice the heat,” Whiting said. “Driving a Civic would become equivalent to driving a Tahoe.”
Tar sands make it into the United States near Lake Superior through an ambiguous process which Ward and company believe will be nullified once it goes to court.
Once the oil makes it to Wisconsin, Enbridge is able to circumvent environmental regulations by relying on a Department of Natural Resources environmental impact statement from 2006. This document was generated to account for impacts of the creation of the pipeline and its associated facilities, all at 400,000 barrels per day.
The proposed 1.2 million barrels per day are operating under the same environmental impact statement, with minimal reporting of the effects of burning those sands or the potential hazards.
Ward and Whiting had given a similar presentation a week prior at UW-Whitewater, and were optimistic about the student connections being made.
“It is especially important for young people to get involved,” Whiting said. “Yours is the most important generation in the history of humankind.”