While the ire of environmental activists remains fixed on the Keystone XL pipeline, a potentially greater threat looms in the proposed expansion of Line 61, a pipeline running the length of Wisconsin carrying tar sands crude. The pipeline is owned by Enbridge, a $40 billion Canadian company, which has been responsible for several hundred spills in the past decade, including one in 2010 near Marshall, Mich., reportedly the largest and most expensive inland oil spill in American history.
Enbridge is seeking to increase Line 61’s capacity threefold, making it a third larger than the projected Keystone XL. The last real line of defense against this expansion is an obscure zoning committee in Dane County, Wis., which is scheduled to meet on Jan. 27 to decide whether to attach conditions to Enbridge’s permit for a new pump station. Voting to do so would risk a lawsuit from Enbridge, which maintains that the county has no legal right to impose such conditions.
While the fight over Keystone XL has involved millions of dollars in advertising, the arrests of many activists outside the White House and the direct engagement of President Obama, Enbridge’s plans have received little national attention. This is a glaring example of how environmental policy with transnational impacts can be pushed at the state level without attracting great scrutiny.
Line 61, built in 2007, moves 400,000 barrels of tar sands and lighter conventional crude oil a day from Superior, Wis., in the state’s far north, to refineries in Metropolitan Chicago or, through a network of connecting pipelines, to the Gulf Coast. Enbridge wants to increase that, in stages, to 1.2 million barrels per day.