(MintPress) – The oil boom in North Dakota and Canada are having far-reaching consequences. Aside from the extraction process that has transformed the environmental and economic landscapes, suppliers are juggling with how — and where — to transport that oil.
The most recent proposal is to construct a pipeline connecting the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota to ports in Superior, Wis., allowing access to refineries located near the shores of the Great Lakes.
The Bakken oil fields’ production rose 3.6 percent from July to August 2012, generating more than 700,000 barrels a day, according to the state’s Industrial Commission. It’s more than the North Dakota industry can handle, at least at this point.
But that’s not all that’s in store for Superior, Wis.
Enbridge, the same company moving ahead with its construction, is also planning on increasing the flow of oil from Canada through its 60-year-old pipeline to the same port.
David Podratz, plant manager at Calumet Refinery in Superior, said in an interview with Mint Press News that his company is looking into potential customers that would arise from the pipeline expansion. Those stationed on the Great Lakes, including refineries in Chicago, Cleveland and Ontario would be optimal.
And while this would give a temporary boost to business, there’s always concern that comes along with transporting exorbitant amount of oil across bodies of land and water.
“Anytime you’re moving something hazardous, there is a potential for risk,” Podratz said. “But this is nothing new. This is really nothing new. The Coast Guard is going to be very involved in operation of the terminal.”
Enbridge’s record when it comes to oil spills is anything but clean. It was responsible for the 2010 Michigan oil spill, considered the largest inland spill in the nation’s history. In August 2012, the federal government ordered the company to cease plans to reopen a Wisconsin pipeline, pointing to the company’s past, specifically highlighting a June spill near Grand Marsh, Wis., that leaked 1,000 barrels of oil into a field.
Enbridge announced its plans in December to construct a pipeline from the Bakken oil fields to the ports of Superior, Wis. The Sandpiper pipeline would have the ability to carry 200,000 barrels of oil a day across North Dakota and Minnesota.
The Sandpiper would serve as one more pipeline to the Superior port. Its current Enbridge pipelines connecting Superior, Wis. to Sarnia, Ontario was constructed more than 60 years ago, running under the waters of the Straits of Mackinac, located in northern Michigan. Combined, the two pipelines transport 20 million gallons of crude oil and natural gas every day.
As early back as May, Enbridge announced plans to increase the flow of oil from the Alberta Clipper pipeline to the Superior, Wis. terminal to 570,000 barrels per day. The pipeline that connects Superior, Wis. to Pontiac, Ill. would also be expanded to handle 560,000 barrels a day.
“These projects require only the addition of pumping horsepower and crude oil tanks at existing sites with no pipeline construction, at a cost of approximately $350 million,” Enbridge said in its May press release.
Environmental organizations see a few potential problems resulting from this.
Pipeline expansion: environmental concerns
The National Wildlife Federation (NFW) issued a report detailing the aging pipelines under the Straits of Mackinac as “time bombs” that could cause extreme environmental devastation for the Great Lakes.
“If either of those pipelines leaked, the resulting oil slick would likely devastate some of the lakes’ most bountiful fisheries, wildlife refuges, municipal drinking water supplies and one of the region’s most popular tourist attractions: Mackinac Island,” The NWF report states. “A significant rupture would cause an Exxon-Valdez scale oil spill spreading through Lakes Huron and Michigan, the heart of the largest freshwater seas in the world.”
This could seem like a cautionary statement without footing, but NWF argues that, based on the age of the pipelines and history of the the company, it’s a cause for major concern.
In 2010, Enbridge was at the forefront of the largest inland oil spill America has ever seen. The spill dumped more than 1.1 million of crude oil into the Kalamazoo River of Michigan. It was considered the most costly pipeline incident, costing $765 million in cleanup.
Aside from the environmental degradation, it impacted the nearby small town of Marshall and forcing permanent evacuation of more than 150 families.
The cleanup in that incident also was criticized, prompting the phrase “Keystone Kops” to be used when referring to the company’s employees who, according to a U.S. safety regulators report, didn’t act swift enough to contain the damage.
“Enbridge is fast becoming to the Midwest what BP was to the Gulf of Mexico, posing troubling risks to the environment,” U.S. Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said in a statement. “The company must be forthcoming about the entire incident, and deserves a top-to-bottom review of their safety culture, procedures and standards.”
The Grand Marsh oil spill of June 2012 was the nail in the coffin for some environmentalists, even prompting the federal government to halt the reopening of the Wisconsin line that transported 318,000 barrels a day. A month prior to the Wisconsin spill, there was a leak in Alberta, Canada.
The Great Lakes are a national gem — not only for beauty, but for practical purposes. As water becomes a sought after resource, the Great Lakes is increasingly heralded as a haven of fresh water, providing drinking water for more than 30 million people in the U.S. and Canada. Its fishing industry is worth $7 billion and its recreational value stands at $16 billion, at least in terms of boating.
“We should take whatever precautions necessary to protect the Great Lakes from an oil spill that would rival the BP spill,” NWF Great Lakes Regional Executive Director said in an October press conference.
Feeding the North Dakota oil boom
Aside from pipeline concerns, the Superior, Wis. oil port is seen by environmental organizations as fueling a firestorm of a problem in North Dakota.
The oil boom in North Dakota has spurred job growth equated to the great American gold rush. Thousands of (primarily) men have flocked to the region for high-paying jobs. New technology and investments has allowed widespread fracking practices, a process by which water and chemicals are injected deep into the earth to break up and allow extraction of oil.
According to a report by ProPublica, 1,000 releases of oil and drilling “wastewater” were documented in 2011 alone. “Many more illicit releases were unreported, state regulators acknowledge, when companies dumped truckloads of toxic fluid along the road or drained waste pits illegally,” reported Nicholas Kusnetz.
Regulations to halt the practices have been absent. In the three years of the boom, the state of North Dakota has only issued 50 disciplinary actions for drilling violations. Its focus, instead, is on the economy — jobs, jobs, jobs. Between 2010 and 2011, more than 12,000 jobs were created.
The state’s tax base has also been injected with a healthy dose of money, as North Dakota is set to gain $5.2 billion in oil-based tax payments for the 2013 budget cycle, according to the Associated Press.
Of the spills that were documented, the impacts were devastating. Wastewater is far from pure, containing carcinogenic chemicals necessary for successful fracking. Aquatic life and now-unusable farmlands have been impacted, causing concern among environmentalists and farmers alike.
Now, with an increase in oil leaving the Bakken, there’s likely to be even more oil spills. As Ron Ness, president of the Dakota Petroleum Council told ProPublica: “You’re going to have spills when you have more activity.”
And more Enbridge pipelines running under precious resources.
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