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Enbridge Pushes for a Tar-Sands Pipeline in McLean County: Background and Update

by Anne McGowan

We in McLean County have our own tar-sands pipeline, similar to the contested Keystone XL. The Enbridge Southern Access Extension Pipeline Project (Flanagan-to-Patoka) has been in the planning stages for years, scheduled to be built in 2009, but was delayed by the slumping economy and a class-action lawsuit brought by a group of landowners who did not want an oil pipeline going through their land.

The up to 36″ diameter steel pipeline will run north-south through central eastern McLean County and cross the Mackinaw River and Money Creek, the chief tributary of Lake Bloomington, the city’s water supply. (Mackinaw River water is also pumped into Lake Evergreen when conditions are right.) The Mackinaw River runs through the Park Lands Foundation’s Merwin Nature Preserve.

The pipeline will be carrying tar-sands crude oil, diluted with various volatile chemicals (called bitumen) so that the sludge-like material can be forced under high pressure through the pipe, from Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf of Mexico, through much of the Midwest. Already there have been leaks and spills in northern states as the pipeline has been built southward from Alberta. News of leaks started reaching our newspapers in the summer of 2010 when an Enbridge pipeline near Marshall Michigan leaked into the Kalamazoo River, and one a few months later near Romeoville, IL.

According to a July 30, 2010 article in The Pantagraph:

A Canadian company whose pipeline leaked hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil into a Michigan river has experienced leaks, an explosion and dozens of regulatory violations in the past decade throughout the Great Lakes region and elsewhere in the United States. Enbridge Inc. or its affiliates have been cited for 30 enforcement actions since 2002 by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration – the U. S. Department of Transportation’s regulatory arm. They include a warning letter sent Jan. 21 in which the agency told the company it may have violated safety codes by improperly monitoring corrosion in the pipeline responsible for the massive spill Monday in Talmadge Creek, a waterway in Calhoun County’s Marshall Township that flows into the Kalamazoo River. The Environmental Protection Agency estimated the spill at more than 1 million gallons of oil, saying it had traveled 25 miles downstream.

The Company subsequently offered to buy up to 200 homes in the 30-mile long spill zone. If a spill like that happened here, Bloomington’s water supply would remain unusable for a long, long time.

In 2008, concerned about possible damage to water quality in the rivers it would cross, I addressed the McLean County Board to voice my concerns about possible spills here, and see if there were contingency plans in place in case a spill or leak should happen. The Board did get staff to look into the matter at the time. I also circulated a petition asking Enbridge to treat the crossings of the Mackinaw River and Money Creek as High Consequence Areas, which require thicker pipe, more concrete reinforcement, and more frequent monitoring. The Company did agree to treat those stream crossings with the appropriate care, and the McLean County Board received notice of that promise, too.

The Illinois Commerce Commission was asked by Enbridge to allow it to use the right of Eminent Domain to cross properties of owners who did not want to allow the Company to put a pipeline on their land. The use of Eminent Domain is highly unpopular, and no government agency wants to deal with the huge waves of outrage that ensue when people’s property rights are taken away by force. In 2009, the ICC told Enbridge no, not yet, not until they have tried to get the landowners into agreement with their project.

And then the hiatus came.

Now, once again, Enbridge is getting ready to start digging, hoping to finish in 2014. The Army Corps of Engineers already permitted the project in 2008. The Company has held several open houses in cities along the proposed pipeline for questions. One took place at the Chateau in Bloomington on February 28, 2013, and many landowners, managers, and other concerned citizens came with questions. I was one of them. I wanted to see if the maps at the river crossings were marked as High Consequence Areas, and if the promise the Company gave us in 2009 would be honored.

The Ballroom was set up with many tables around the room devoted to different aspects of the project, and a cordial expert at each table. There were cookies, handouts, maps and aerial photos. One table was manned by a Public Relations person (Kevin O’Connor,, another by the Environmental Lead, another station had a Safety Expert with charts about the process of drilling and laying the pipe. There was a very popular table of aerial photos which you could pour over to see where the pipe would cross your land. A helpful lady could tell you which number on the photo corresponded with each owner’s name. And there was a Legal Expert.

Enbridge runs pipelines all over the Midwest. It’s a big company. The possibility still exists that Enbridge may re-petition the ICC for the ability to use Eminent Domain if some landowners hold out. At a Fall meeting at the McLean County Farm Bureau, those landowners said they would continue to refuse access to the Company.

And I’m still waiting for an answer about our promised High Consequence Areas.

Anne McGowan

More Resources

A Monster Arises: Embridge’s Tar Sands Frankenstein, from Wildlife Promise
“How can a repeat offender sneak a tar sands megaproject through the U.S. without raising an eyebrow? That’s the question being asked in light of Enbridge, Inc.’s ongoing attempts to construct a route from Canada to Texas, a “Keystone XL on steroids” that has only recently started attracting attention.”

Keystone XL rival Enbridge avoids scrutiny of oil pipeline plans, by Matt Pearce and Neela Banerjee (Los Angeles Times: August 18, 2012)
“A major rival to the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline project is vastly boosting its U.S. pipeline system, but it’s avoiding the same scrutiny that federal regulators, environmentalists and landowners are giving Keystone owner TransCanada Corp.”

Keystone Pipeline will happen – Enbridge CEO (Reuteres, via YouTube Video)
Enbridge CEO Al Monaco discusses plans to bring tar sands from Canada using Enbridge’s already existing network of pipelines. Mr. Monaco cites environmentalist opposition to Enbridge plans as a significant obstacle that they plan to overcome.

Source: Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers

Source: Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers


3 thoughts on “Enbridge Pushes for a Tar-Sands Pipeline in McLean County: Background and Update

  1. Anne,

    Excellent writeup. Note how this pipeline skirts the edge of the Wabash Valley seismic zone and then runs smack dab through the New Madrid seismic zone. The fossil fuel execs really are dinos. Lots of brute force, not much grey matter.

    Posted by Bill Rau | March 13, 2013, 6:23 pm
  2. No fracking way!

    Posted by Kathy Eckert | March 13, 2013, 10:15 pm


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