Seven Dane County landowners filed suit in Dane County Circuit Court the afternoon of February 8 to force the Enbridge pipeline company to provide $25 million in cleanup insurance before increasing capacity of the largest tar sands oil pipeline in the US. “Enbridge’s bullying tactics met their match today, as seven Dane County citizens took their safety into their own hands,” said 350 Madison’s Ben Peterson.

Enbridge is intent on tripling the capacity of Line 61 to 1.2 million barrels of tar sands oil per day by upgrading pumping stations along its route across Wisconsin from Superior to refineries in Texas. As previously reported in this blog, last spring we successfully argued for inclusion of the $25 million insurance provision in arguments before the Dane County Zoning and Land Regulation Committee. In July, the GOP-controlled legislature passed a law prohibiting counties from requiring pipeline insurance. Tripling the capacity of Enbridge’s dirty tar sands pipeline through Dane County poses substantial risks to taxpayers and the environment. But the GOP legislature’s statute nullified Dane County’s efforts to protect local citizens and the environment.

“That gut punch to the integrity of our political institutions occurred in the dark of night when the company, or someone acting on its behalf, lobbied key legislators to include an 11th-hour budget amendment that sought to override the county’s insurance requirement,” said Peterson. “Fortunately, the lobbyists involved were in such a hurry to avoid public scrutiny of their actions that the language they inserted failed to address a key point. Even though the bill prevents the county from enforcing its zoning requirements, concerned citizens are still able to protect themselves by demanding the enforcement of the zoning regulations. Today, seven citizens stood up and made that demand.”

The seven Dane County plaintiffs live within 350 yards of the pipeline and are near neighbors to the pumping station in the Town of Medina. The upgraded Waterloo Pump Station will increase the capacity of the underlying 42-inch diameter pipeline, which is larger than any other oil pipeline in the U.S., from an original 400,000 to 1.2 million barrels per day of hazardous bitumen from the Alberta tar sands through the Midwest to Gulf Coast refineries for export.

For tar sands oil to flow through a pipe, it must be combined with toxic and volatile diluents, heated and forced under pressure, which the new pump station will increase to 1,200 pounds per square inch. That creates additional abrasive and corrosive stresses on the pipeline, through which 2.1 million gallons will flow each hour, increasing the risk of major oil spills. When a tar sands oil spill occurs in waterways, the volatile diluents have been observed to evaporate, and, unlike conventional oil that floats in water, the bitumen sinks, making cleanups extraordinarily difficult and expensive.

Enbridge has been responsible for 800 oil spills, including the worst inland oil spill in U.S. history in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in 2010. That spill continued for 17 hours before the pipeline was finally shut down, causing $1.2 billion in damages. The chair of the National Transportation Safety Board that reviewed the accident likened Enbridge’s poor handling of the spill to the Keystone Kops, pointing to the extreme length of time it took to shut down the pipeline and the fact that the company knew the pipe was cracked and corroding five years earlier when 15,000 defects in the pipe had been observed, yet nothing had been done to repair the pipe.