The Bad River Band of Chippewa in northern Wisconsin has called for a major oil pipeline that crosses its land to be shut down and removed by its owner, Enbridge Inc.
Although protests against new pipelines seem to be growing in the U.S. — witness the outcry over the Dakota Access Pipeline — a decision to pull out an existing pipeline is unusual. And it could prove to be a major headache for Enbridge, one of the largest North American pipeline operators.
The pipeline in question has been operating on the Bad River reservation since 1953, running from Superior, Wis., to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and eventually to Sarnia, Ontario.
Last week, the Bad River Tribal Council passed a resolution not to renew certain right-of-way easements. The band and Enbridge had been negotiating the easement renewals since their expiration in 2013.
The 645-mile Enbridge pipeline — known as Line 5 — crosses about 12 miles of the Bad River reservation, which covers more than 124,000 acres on Lake Superior’s South Shore. The Bad River Band, which has 7,000 members, says fears of oil spills spurred its decision.
“As many other communities have experienced, even a minor spill could prove to be disastrous for our people,” Bad River Tribal Chairman Robert Blanchard said in a news release. “We depend upon everything that the creator put here before us to live mino-bimaadiziwin, a good healthy life.”
Enbridge was caught off guard by the decision, saying it was not directly contacted by the band. The band announced it to local media Thursday.
“This comes as a surprise to us certainly, and we will be taking time to review it before we take the next steps,” said Brad Shamla, the Edina-based vice president of U.S. liquid pipeline operations for Enbridge, which is headquartered in Calgary, Alberta.
“Our hope is that we can sit down with them and better understand why this is coming forward,” Shamla said. “We have had a very good relationship with the Bad River band.”
Shamla said he’s been with Enbridge since 1991, and at least since then there have been no leaks from Line 5 on Chippewa lands.
Shamla declined to speculate on any action Enbridge could take, but the decommissioning of Line 5 on the reservation would create a huge disruption for the company.
Light crude oil originating in North Dakota and Alberta flows across Enbridge pipelines in northern Minnesota to Superior. From there, Line 5 daily transports up to 540,000 barrels of light crude oil and liquid natural gas. The latter is refined into propane in northern Wisconsin, and Enbridge reportedly meets 55 percent of Michigan’s propane demand.
Opposition from Indians and environmentalists to new pipelines has made a lot of headlines lately.
In September, Enbridge pulled the plug on its proposed $2.6 billion Sandpiper pipeline that would have transported North Dakota crude across northern Minnesota to Superior. The pipeline would have crossed through pristine lake country, including wild rice waters.
After opposition to Sandpiper stalled the pipeline’s progress, Enbridge agreed to buy a 28 percent stake in the Dakota Access Pipeline, which runs from North Dakota to central Illinois. But last fall, opposition to Dakota Access — led by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe — resulted in large, tense demonstrations in North Dakota. That pipeline is essentially on hold.
“We stand in solidarity with the Standing Rock community, but this is a decision made by and for our community,” Dylan Jennings, a Bad River tribal council member, told the Star Tribune.
“It’s been in the works, and it’s long overdue. Our community members and our tribal council have taken a very firm stand on what we believe is a ticking time bomb,” Jennings said, and then referred to a large Enbridge pipeline rupture in 2010 that spilled petroleum product into a Michigan river. (That pipeline was not Line 5.)
Enbridge’s Shamla said that while its Line 5 crosses 12.3 miles of the Bad River reservation, the easements in question cover about 20 percent of that terrain. The other 80 percent of the easements are in perpetuity or run through at least 2040, and the Bad River band has interests in some of them.