As Bad River heads to Federal Court for emergency shut down of Line 5, area is woefully underprepared for a pipeline rupture

May 17, 2023

Barbara With

The Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa head to Federal Court tomorrow to ask the judge to shut down Enbridge Line 5 in the face of the deteriorating conditions of the pipeline and the urgent emergency an imminent pipeline rupture presents to the area.

On November 28, 2022, after finding Enbridge guilty of trespassing, US District Court Judge William Conley issued an order for Bad River and Enbridge to come to an agreement about shutting down the aging pipeline after years of unsuccessful mediation and litigation. Stopping short of ordering the pipeline decommissioned, Judge Conley based his ruling on idea that “the risk of a catastrophic failure of the pipeline at the meander remains thankfully at least a year away.” The opinion was based on “26 or 27 feet of riverbank between the Bad River shoreline and Line 5 at its nearest point.”

Drone shots taken on April 11 and May 1 showed erosion due to flooding has swept away the banks, and the shortest distance between the pipeline and the River was roughly 17–18 feet, only four months later. On May 5, the river has rapidly eroded the shorelines to within 10 feet of the pipeline.

A meeting at the Bad River meander on May 5, 2023 with with Enbridge, two engineering firms, Region 5 EPA and Mashkiiziibii Department of Natural Resources. The river bank is now approximately 10-12 feet from the pipeline. Photo: David Joe Bates

In July 2016, record flooding in the Bad River watershed did extensive damage, rupturing gas lines and creating power outages, washing out roads and culverts, and detouring traffic for hours around broken highways. With the meander now only 10 feet from the pipeline, the fears of another major flood event in an already declared flooding emergency could potentially sweep the pipeline away and cause far more damage than Enbridge, the state, or the federal government could contain.

The Lake Superior basin and the Apostle Islands would be devastated by a Line 5 rupture. A breach of the pipeline would pollute local waters, kill wildlife, fish and agriculture, destroy the local economy, and create a public health crisis. As the Bad River feeds directly into Lake Superior, a rupture would mean contamination throughout the lake and genocide for the Bad River Band as the oil destroys the Kakagon Sloughs, home of their wild rice beds.

What ordinary citizens should do to prevent a devastating rupture
WCMC has been seeking answers to what the public can do to protect ourselves from this devastation and demand that … someone … shut down Line 5 before it ruptures. So who has the authority to protect people and public resources from the danger of Enbridge, a multi-national foreign corporation that is already operating illegally in Wisconsin and Michigan, with a known track record of millions of gallons of spills, lies, regulatory capture, and blatant disregard for the communities they run their pipelines through?

Across the area that would be devastated by a pipeline rupture, communities not only do not have emergency plans in place to deal with the scope of that disaster, they do not have the resources needed to face what a pipeline rupture requires to contain the damages.

At the 2023 Wisconsin Budget hearings this spring, Ashland Fire Chief Stuart Matthias spoke specifically about the lack of funding to support emergency response to chemical spills. When WCMC contacted Matthias to find out if Ashland County has a plan, he confirmed that there is not enough money in the current budget the Wisconsin Republicans are rewriting to deal with a spill. He then told us that Ashland County does not have an Emergency Manager at the moment and directed us to the interim Emergency Manager Dan Grady. WCMC has emailed Grady to ask for the plan and is still waiting for a response.

The Town of La Pointe on Madeline Island, also in the danger zone, has no confirmed emergency plan in place.

According to Jacob Pancratz, Senior Policy Advisor for Governor Evers, the Wisconsin Emergency Response Plan (WERP) is managed by Wisconsin Emergency Management (WEM), the department who would be contacted in case of the discovery of a rupture. They, in turn, would reach out to the Federal Emergency Response Commission (FERC), who Pancratz thought would have the power to tell Enbridge to turn off the flow.

Part of Chapter 10 of the WERP states that a “flooding emergency” also means “potential” danger.

However, in conversations with Teresa Erler, WEM Northwest Region Manager, we were told we should actually call the Duty Officer at the DNR Spill Line. When inquiring with the Duty Officer, we were told to first call 911, then the DNR Spill Line. When asked what happens after the DNR spill line receives a report of a rupture and who would be responsible for shutting down the line, we were referred to the State Emergency Operations Center, where we left a message asking who had the power to shut the line down.

To that we received an email from Sean Quinlan of the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA):

Your question was forwarded to me regarding whether an Enbridge Pipeline was required to have an emergency plan in place near an eroded river in case a release should occur? According to the Federal Code of Regulation (CFR), both natural gas and hazardous materials operators are required to have an emergency response plan in place that is in accordance with sections 194.121; 192.615 (Natural Gas); and 195.402 and 195.403 (Hazardous Materials). I have attached below the relevant CFR sections for our review.

After emailing Mr. Quinlan back correcting our question, we received a call back from an official at FERC who told us they are not the agency responsible for shutting down the line. She directed us back to PHMSA.

According to the DOT PHMSA website, in case of a pipeline rupture:

Anyone witnessing an oil spill or hazardous material discharge should call 911 from a safe location. If known, notify the pipeline company and or your local emergency response number. Incidents should also be reported to the National Response Center (NRC) hotline at 1-800-424-8802.

The website also stated:

Pipeline Company Communication on Public Awareness
Pipeline companies are required to conduct public awareness programs to regularly educate and communicate with the people who live and work around pipelines on the possible hazards associated with a pipeline leak and the steps that should be taken for public safety. If you live near a pipeline and have not received any public awareness information from the pipeline company, consider calling them to discuss good safety habits for you and your family including the use of home gas detectors.

When calling the National Response Center, we asked who had the power to shut down the line, and they referred us back to the Region 5 EPA. WCMC sources at Bad River tell us that according to the Region 5 EPA representative, Enbridge’s “safety plan” is to boom the river at Government Bridge. “That’s the last I heard. There was supposed to be an emergency practice drill with Enbridge, Bad River, and Wisconsin DNR that hasn’t happened.”

When calling the NPIC Hotline, we were told to contact PHMSA community liaison Angela Tickett.

Clearly, there is no real preparedness for an Enbridge Line 5 rupture. Even the Governor’s office does not fully understand who is in charge of Line 5, nor are there resources in place to deal with the magnitude of the damage.

Hopefully, the court will shut down Line 5 tomorrow before this disaster takes place. If not, it will be up to concerned citizens to demand protection.

The question is, how?

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One Comment on “As Bad River heads to Federal Court for emergency shut down of Line 5, area is woefully underprepared for a pipeline rupture”

  1. Laurie Longtine May 18, 2023 at 10:12 pm #

    Thanks for your good work on tracking this down and writing the run-around in an understandable way. This is appalling, as is the fact that this dangerous situation continues to threaten woodlands, wildlife, waterways and people. Is there anything one can do–such as writing to Judge Conley, the DNR, the EPA, WERC, WEM, FERC and any other letters of the alphabet that will all deny any responsibility for the pending disaster?

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