November 30, 2015
A Canadian oil company that has paid more than a billion dollars for environmental law violations and oil spill cleanups is considering a new pipeline to expand the amount of crude oil it pumps the length of Wisconsin.
Enbridge Energy’s pipeline project was made easier by a new law that was approved last summer by the GOP-controlled legislature and Republican Gov. Scott Walker. The new state law, which was approved in the 2015-17 state budget, allows Wisconsin regulators to condemn land for pipeline projects. In addition, the budget also contained a provision that prohibits local governments from requiring pipeline companies to carry additional insurance beyond their general liability coverage to pay for oil spills.
The company spent about $6,700 lobbying legislators during the first six months of 2015 when the land condemnation and insurance provisions were inserted in the state budget.
In addition, Enbridge employees contributed $1,150 between January 2010 and June 2015, including $850 to Walker and $100 each to GOP Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, of Juneau; Republican Sen. Alberta Darling, of River Hills; and Republican Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, of River Falls. Darling and Harsdorf are members of the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee, which inserted the insurance and condemnation measures into the budget.
The Enbridge employees who contributed to Walker and the legislative leaders were Todd Vinopal, of Hayward, Wis., an electrical technician, and his wife, Gwen, $800; Michael Stanford, of The Woodlands, Tex., an accountant, $250; and Steven Ott, of Fort Atkinson, Wis., a supervisor, $100.
The new pipeline would carry 800,000 barrels of crude oil a day from Superior to refiners in Chicago, and then to the Gulf Coast. Enbridge is already expanding the pumping capacity of an existing pipeline through Wisconsin from a current 400,000 barrels, to 1.2 million barrels a day.
Environmentalists, which are opposing pipeline projects in Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota, are concerned about Enbridge’s environmental record. The company paid $1.1 million to settle state claims for numerous environmental violations when it expanded its pipeline system in Wisconsin in 2007 and 2008. In 2010, an Enbridge pipeline burst in Michigan and spewed more than 840,000 gallons of tar sands crude – the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history. The incident polluted 35 miles of the Kalamazoo River, required residential evacuations and cost the company $1.2 billion to clean up.