View from around the state: Pipeline improvements could benefit Wisconsin
Just as roads have to be widened and transmission lines have to be added to maintain the infrastructure necessary to a healthy economy, pipelines that carry oil and other substances also need to be replaced and expanded when demand requires it. That’s the case with a series of projects that Enbridge Inc. has proposed, including improvements in a Wisconsin pipeline that would result in a 40 percent increase in the amount of oil flowing through it.
State regulators should make sure the improvements meet state requirements and don’t put the state at greater hazard of a spill such as occurred in an Enbridge pipeline in Michigan nearly two years ago. That’s paramount; Michigan is still suffering from that mess.
But if the changes can be done safely — and we think they can — Enbridge should be allowed to do what it needs to move more oil from Canadian sources to the Midwest and beyond. The result would be good for Wisconsin jobs and reducing the reliance on sources of oil in less stable areas of the world.
Enbridge has announced a series of projects that total about $3.2 billion, all designed to expand the flow of oil between North Dakota and Chicago, as well as between Canada’s tar sands region and the United States and eastern Canada.
The most high-profile of the projects will see an expansion of its pipeline in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, the same pipeline that ruptured, spilling 819,000 gallons of crude into the Kalamazoo River. Parts of the river remain closed because of the spill, which was contained about 80 miles from Lake Michigan.
The Canadian firm’s plan also includes work on its crude oil pipeline in Wisconsin, which runs from Superior southeast through the state and into Illinois. The Wisconsin work would not involve expanding the pipeline or building a new line but, rather, changes at pump stations that would help increase the flow of oil through the line.
“The majority of the work will be done at existing, Enbridge-owned facilities,” company spokeswoman Lorraine Little told Journal Sentinel reporter Thomas Content. “The scope of the project includes modifications at three existing pump stations, the addition of one new pump station, and additional tankage at our Superior and Flanagan terminals.” The Flanagan terminal is near Pontiac, Ill.
The Wisconsin component is part of a $400 million upgrade of its Southern Access pipeline between Superior and Flanagan that would increase the flow of oil from 400,000 barrels per day to 560,000 barrels.
The pipeline in Michigan would be expanded from 30 inches to 36 inches. Replacing the pipe that leaked is a good thing, and the expansion makes sense, too. Little told the Editorial Board that the project was driven by maintenance needs, and that the company would prefer to add capacity now in anticipation of future demand rather than add it later. Makes sense to us, too. And by building within Enbridge’s current rights of way, the company can avoid disturbing nearby landowners.
The Michigan work is expected to involve 2,000 new jobs. The numbers aren’t out yet for the other projects, but the Wisconsin work could involve a significant number of jobs, an Enbridge spokesman said. And some Wisconsin companies should benefit from helping with the other projects.
Critics argue that the separate projects should all be considered as one and that the federal government should be brought into the oversight and regulatory process. We’re not convinced that’s necessary. We think the states might actually do a better job of watching over their domains; certainly, Michigan won’t be a pushover in the wake of the 2010 spill. And we trust Wisconsin regulators to do their job right.
Critics also worry about the use of tar sands oil, but we agree with those who argue that the oil can be extracted without too much damage to the environment, and that increasing Canada’s supply has benefits for American consumers.
– Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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