There are serious risks to the environment and quality of life associated with pipeline construction and operation, according to the presenters of the Think Pipeline speaking tour.
The Sea to Sands Conservation Alliance hosted the Think Pipeline event on Monday, which featured speakers from Wisconsin and Michigan speaking about their experience with Enbridge pipelines from 2007 to 2010. Sea to Sands Conservation Alliance is a Prince George-based organization formed to oppose construction of the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline.
Wisconsin Wetlands Association policy director Erin O’Brien said her organization was involved in oversight of the Enbridge Southern Lights Project. The Southern Lights Project was a 515-kilometre expansion to Enbridge’s Lakehead System built in 2007-08.
“My organization has been involved in pipeline oversight for eight years,” O’Brien said. “Pipeline construction is inherently messy. It’s a big job and it’s very hard to control and adhere to these (environmental) measures. (And) the ecological effects of pipeline construction are just not well studied.”
Building a pipeline starts by clearing and levelling the pipeline right of way, she said, along with a 20m to 42m wide temporary work corridor for equipment.
“There is lots of concerns related to soil composition, altered hydrology, soil compaction … and any time you cut a swath through an area, it is easy for invasive plant species to enter an area,” O’Brien said. “Like here, we did hear a lot from the company about how they planned to mitigate those impacts.”
Wisconsin state law requires project developers to pay for third-party, independent environmental oversight during construction.
During 2007 and 2008, third-party consultants and Enbridge’s environmental staff reported or self-reported, “more than 500 violations, including 282 wetland violations and 172 violations related to erosion control,” O’Brien said.
“There were numerous and widespread violations. We had a very widespread lack of erosion control,” she said. “This isn’t rocket science. It’s a couple hay bales along a road to prevent erosion.”
In one case a stream was filled with mud for 100m because of lack of proper erosion control, she said. Silt and mud can have a serious affect on fish spawning grounds.
Topsoil was supposed to be kept separate from other soils and replaced once the construction was done, she said. There were repeated incidents where the topsoil was heaped together with other soils, changing and losing much of its biological value.
Wisconsin state officials issued their first non-compliance notice to Enbridge on Jan. 26, 2007 and met with company officials on Feb. 5, 2007. A second non-compliance notice was issued on March 16, 2007 and a second meeting, this time including contractors, was held on March 26, 2007.
On Sept. 14, 2007 state officials issued a notice of violation to Enbridge and in May, 2008 the case was referred to the Wisconsin Department of Justice.
In Jan. 2, 2009 Enbridge settled its case with the state for $1.1 million, in addition to remedial work to correct violations.
O’Brien said she doesn’t believe Enbridge intentionally violated state regulations, but in a project with four different contractors and approximately 2,000 workers directives from the top didn’t always reach the ground level.
“I don’t think it was wilful, but this is just the state of the industry.”
Beth Wallace works at the Great Lakes Centre of the National Wildlife Federation in Ann Arbour, Michigan. And was on the scene at the Kalamazoo River on July 26, shortly after the Enbridge Lakehead Pipeline spilled approximately one million gallons of crude oil into Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River.
“The river is a major source of recreation: hunting, fishing, kayaking, boating. We’ve put a lot of money into restoring it and getting the fish populations up,” Wallace said. “The river is completely closed to recreation and that’ll probably be the way it is for a couple years. I don’t think it’ll ever be where it was, pre-oil.”
Oil spread about 35 miles down the Kalamazoo River before being contained east of Battle Creek, Michigan.
From the first indication something was wrong with the pipeline at approximately 6 p.m. on July 25, it took until 11:15 a.m. on July 26 to confirm there was oil spilling into the river. The first confirmation of an oil spill came from a local utility company employee who was working in the area looking for the source of the “natural gas smell” which had permeated the area overnight.
“There was no level of preparedness that could get us to where we needed to be that day,” Wallace said. “They couldn’t get workers where they needed, equipment where they needed. It was a hodgepodge response. It was a challenge for them to get to an area I think is pretty accessible.”
The strong odour which residents first noticed was the benzene created when crude oil breaks down in water, she said.
“We literally smelled the benzene from the highway, which was three miles away,” Wallace said. “It burned your eyes, it burned your nose. You got an immediate headache.”
Over the course of the clean up over 2,570 animals were treated for oil contamination, she said, including large numbers of turtles. Efforts to locate and report affected animals were haphazard and often calls to the wildlife hotline were sent to voicemail, she said.
Residents were frequently left in the dark about what was happening, Wallace added.
“In the plan they decided to leave sections of the river contaminated because they thought it would be too intrusive to rip out the wetlands,” she said. “They say up to 75 per cent of the oil was recovered. But I can’t see how that is.”
Wallace said boats operating on the river still end up stained with oil, months after the spill has been officially cleaned up.
Enbridge officials weren’t available for comment as of press time to respond.