Biden Administration Accepting Comments on Enbridge’s Proposal

In January, the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE), a part of the Biden Administration, announced plans to take public comments on Enbridge’s plans to fill wetlands and drill under the White River in order to expand the Line 5 pipeline.  This was a HUGE victory; usually the Army Corps doesn’t study pipeline projects. If you have done anything to tell decision makers what a dangerous and climate-killing project the Line 5 expansion would be, or if you have spread that message, you can congratulate yourself!  

We’ve proven that we can create controversy – now we need to follow through with a huge response to the ACOE’s request for input. 

Protect our Northwoods from frac outs and aquifer breaches

The ACOE has authority over what happens in the navigable waters of the U.S., and that includes the White River, which flows north through Ashland County and into Lake Superior.  In their application, Enbridge announced that they intend to drill beneath the White River, using HDD, horizontal directional drilling.  Have you read about the ecological devastation they caused while using HDD in the installation of Line 3 in Minnesota?  They breached an artesian aquifer which is still unrepaired and gushing around 100,000 gallons of water a day, plus they created 28 frac outs, where toxic drilling fluid leaks into groundwater, surface waters, or land.

If you don’t want to see that happen in lovely Northern Wisconsin, tell the ACOE! 

Thank you for all you’ve done to shine a light on the imminent danger that the Line 5 expansion poses! 

Read Enbridge’s Application and the Army Corps Notice here.

The Army Corps is accepting comments through March 22.

Comments can be sent to:

  • Electronic comments may be submitted via email: OR
  • St. Paul District Corps of Engineers, CEMVP-RD, 180 Fifth Street East, Suite 700, Saint Paul, MN 55101 1678.

They have not announced a public hearing, but a number of people and organizations are requesting one, so we’re hopeful we’ll have that opportunity later.

Talking Points

  1. A serious rupture of Line 5 into Lake Superior would cause economic and environmental devastation. The report by professors at Michigan State University titled “Estimates of the Economic Damages of an Oil Spill in the Straits of Mackinac in Michigan,” is a good example of the depth of rigorous investigation that you should make regarding an Enbridge oil spill from the proposed Line 5 expansion into Lake Superior.
  1. Would shipping in the Great Lakes be impacted by an oil spill into Lake Superior?  Considering the supply chain problems that already exist, what might a stoppage of ships out of Duluth and Superior mean for our regional and national economy?
  1. To avoid climate catastrophes much worse that what we suffered in 2021, we need to stop burning fossil fuels.  It makes no sense to approve any new pipelines or pipeline reroutes.  The Army Corps must see the bigger picture and do its part to bring its rulings into alignment with Pres. Biden’s goals to drastically reduce carbon emissions.
  1. The construction of the Line 5 expansion would damage water quality. All of the 186 water bodies that would be crossed flow into the navigable waters of Lake Superior. Trout Unlimited’s 2019 report concluded that detrimental effects of laying pipelines “include increased sedimentation and erosion; inadvertent returns of drilling fluid at river crossings; and reduction of important aquatic life habitat through the removal of vegetation, disturbance to substrates, sedimentation, and placement of structures.” This would result in fewer fish and the loss of nutrition and economic opportunities for the surrounding area.  Given Enbridge’s recent record of apparent indifference to the ecological harm it has caused in MN, the Army Corps should deny its permit application.
  1. Enbridge proposes temporary discharge of dredged fill material into over 100 acres of wetlands and waters. While the storage of fill material may be temporary, the resulting damage may be long-lasting or permanent. We urge you to analyze the potential long-term and permanent storage of fill in these vulnerable ecosystems.
  1. Enbridge breached an aquifer in MN in a violation of their permit. Near Clearwater, MN, Enbridge, given a permit to dig a trench 8 to 10 ft. deep, dug a trench 18 ft. deep, and then drove pilings down to a depth of 28 ft., which breached the aquifer.  Since that time in January 2021 until it was fixed on Jan. 18, 2022, about 100,000 gallons of groundwater per day gushed out of it.

Sample Comment to the Army Corps of Engineers

Thanks for deciding to evaluate Enbridge’s proposed Line 5 expansion in WI under the individual CWA 404 permit program. Adding a virtual public hearing and a comment period for a draft EA would be even better.  A project that endangers the Great Lakes deserves an extremely thorough review.

Given the welcome steps that Pres. Biden took to restore the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations, I hope that your review will consider, at least: (1) the direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts, (2) all connected actions, including the proposed Line 5 tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac; (3) the GHG emissions projections for the continued use of the entire Line 5, which this new segment would allow, and (4) alternative approaches – including a decommissioning alternative – that would minimize environmental and public health costs.

I urge you to review Line 5 in its entirety, since no EIS was prepared in 1953. Please ensure that tribes and local communities can meaningfully engage with the Line 5 permitting process and that climate change and environmental justice goals are fully considered.

Regarding the navigable waters of the U. S., the Corps should consider potential impacts to the White River, where Enbridge plans to use horizontal directional drilling (HDD). Using it in the recent installation of the new Line 3 in MN, Enbridge caused at least 28 frac-outs, where drilling fluid, mixed with fine-grained bentonite clay, escapes onto land, into surface waters and underground spaces. These releases of drilling fluids cause a host of adverse impacts to waterways, including the smothering of aquatic organisms and the reduction of food availability and fish spawning and refuge sites. 

The Corps should investigate the cause of the frac-outs, and whether there are any mitigation measures that might prevent frac-outs or reduce the severity of the impacts, before blindly approving a project that could cause the same irreparable damage. Regardless, the risk is too dangerous to take. The 2018 Greenpeace report “Dangerous Pipelines” concluded that an Enbridge pipeline leaks or ruptures every 20 days on the average. Based on the numbers of frac-outs, spills, and aquifer breaches on the recently built Line 3 pipeline in MN, Enbridge has proven that it cannot be trusted to protect WI’s precious water resources. 

The Corps should consider climate change. Pres. Biden has a goal of cutting our C02 emissions in half by 2030, but they’re still rising!  If you grant a permit for this expansion, you’ll be locking in an aging fossil fuel pipeline for decades to come, just as we need to drastically cut back on fossil fuel combustion. The WI DNR’s draft EIS claims that since this project is a reroute, it won’t affect the amount of fossil fuels burned.  But if you accept that logic, Enbridge can replace an entire line, section by section, resulting in decades more of fossil fuel use.

Line 5 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)

On December 16, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) released a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for Enbridge Energy’s plan to construct a new segment of the Line 5 oil pipeline in northern Wisconsin. Under state law, the draft EIS must contain information about how the project would impact people, natural resources, and the economy. 

The DNR is taking comments on the draft EIS through March 18 and held a virtual hearing on February 2 that lasted 10 hours, with 147 people speaking in opposition to Line 5. You can find the draft EIS and more information here

This is a critical time period to demonstrate the broad range of concerns around the pipeline.

Here are some resources that may be useful to you as you prepare your testimony and public comments:

What is an EIS?
Physicians for Social Responsibility
Pipeline Permitting Toolkit
Midwest Environmental Advocates

The DNR is accepting public comments through March 18, 2022.

Written comments are due by March 18, 2022 and you can submit them by emailing them to DNROEEACOMMENTS@WI.GOV or by
Mail to “Line 5 EIS Comments, DNR (EA/7),” 101 South Webster Street, Madison, WI 53707 (must be postmarked by March 18)

Tips for Written Comments

All of the tips for testifying apply when writing your comments- don’t be intimidated, be kind, and be clear in what you’re asking for.  Here are some tools to help you put your written comments together:

Talking points

Use these suggested talking points for composing your comment or testimony:

  • The draft EIS claims that the Line 5 expansion would have no effect on climate change because this is a reroute of an existing line.  But a whole new pipeline could be built one section at a time, resulting in decades more of fossil fuel use.  Also, they did not consider emissions associated with workers’ commuting, the transportation and on-site use of equipment, and the creation of the pipes and other materials.
  • There are some places that are uniquely inappropriate for a pipeline carrying toxic oil, and this is one of them. No stricter permit conditions could ever make the risks acceptable in the Bad River Watershed.  Yet the draft EIS (DEIS) says, “The proposed Project is not novel, nothing is uniquely different about it or the proposed environmental effects.”
  • The frac outs and aquifer breaches during construction of Line 3 in Minnesota, the former caused by Enbridge’s willful flouting of its permit, are a dire warning to Wisconsin. Stricter permit conditions that the WI DNR might apply will have no effect on a company that breaks rules willfully. Enbridge is willing to risk breaches and ruptures because they can lead to faster completion of construction, or a whole new line (as when the ruptured Line 6b was replaced with the larger Line 78). Our environment and economy cannot afford the damage that Enbridge will likely cause.
  • The 1842 U.S. treaty with Chippewa Tribes guarantees them the right to hunt, fish, and gather in ceded territory, through which the Line 5 expansion is routed. This right is nullified if a spill results in contamination of the resources there. The DEIS did not realistically consider the consequences of a (very possible) spill into the Kakagon Sloughs (home of wild rice) and Lake Superior, and it lists only 3 out of 10 tribes granted these rights!
  • TRC, the company contracted by the DNR to create the dEIS, states on its website, “TRC already has strong relationships with a number of large Canadian firms, including TransCanada, Enbridge, Kinder Morgan and Canadian National Railway.”  DNR needs to thoroughly review all of the information that TRC included in the EIS, question the assumptions made, and provide its own analysis backed up by evidence.  TRC made many errors, including using outdated data, showing an incorrect route, and completely omitting sections on cumulative effects and water quality.  The DNR has an obligation to change, update, and improve this information.
  • This draft EIS is an inadequate portrait of all the potential impacts of the Line 5 expansion.  It needs to be reworked with our current global situation in mind.

Intro to Sample Comment

To sign onto our commnet and to add your own, brief personal message, click here.  However, the most effective comments are based on your experience or knowledge, but if you are rushed, you can use our sample.  Please start with at least a sentence or two about why you care about this issue. You could tell about a special place that you fear will be ruined, your knowledge of a resource that will be impacted, the urgency of stopping climate chaos, or experiences with clean or dirty drinking water, for example.

Sample comment:

I’m writing about the draft Line 5 Relocation EIS describing the impacts of Enbridge’s proposed new 41-mile section of the pipeline through the Bad River Watershed.

Why doesn’t the draft EIS (DEIS) address how updating an existing line enables oil to flow and be burned for many more years, ensuring that the climate-enhanced disasters of 2021 (the wildfires, droughts, heatwaves, hurricanes, flooding, and severe weather), will continue and intensify? The DEIS also neglected the additional carbon emissions that would be caused by workers’ commuting, the transportation and on-site use of equipment, and the creation of the pipes and materials.

The DEIS states, “there is nothing uniquely different about [the project] or the proposed environmental effects.” In reality, the area is incredibly watery, fragile, and treasured. Both construction and spills of a new Line 5 segment could cause devastation to Copper Falls State Park; the Kakagon Sloughs, aka “the Everglades of the North” where the Bad River Band harvests wild rice; the entire Bad River Reservation (the Band’s only home); Lake Superior and the Apostle Islands. The damage to wildlife, clean water, humans, and the tourism economy would be severe and probably not fixable, and it’s not properly described in the DEIS.

The DEIS doesn’t mention the ecological devastation that Enbridge caused while constructing the new Line 3 through MN. Its worst artesian aquifer breach (Jan. 2021) caused water to gush out at about 100,000 gallons per day, with no fix yet. They caused the breach by willfully digging deeper than permitted. There were also 28 frac outs (releases of toxic drilling liquids into waterways) during horizontal directional drilling under bodies of water. Enbridge plans to use the same technology here, so the impacts of similar disasters here must be considered.

The DEIS describes the Chippewa Tribes’ treaty rights to hunt, fish and harvest wild rice, etc. in the area, but doesn’t recognize how a potential spill or a construction accident could ruin these resources, negating the tribes’ ability to use their rights. The DEIS is nonchalant about the impacts of a spill which would contaminate Lake Superior: “While it could be possible for spilled oil to reach Lake Superior, it is unlikely that a large volume of oil would reach area (sic)…”. The DNR shouldn’t rely on such unproven statements, but rather ask area first responders if they could stop oil spilled upstream of Copper Falls State Park from reaching Lake Superior.

Unproven statements minimizing grave threats seem to be the norm for TRC, contracted by the DNR to write the DEIS, including: “Given the volume of Lake Superior, it is unlikely that a release into a river or estuary would result in significant long-term impacts to its water quality and its aquatic resources” and “Given the size and volume of Lake Superior the impacts of construction on [it] would likely be very minor compared to existing sediment and pollutant loading.” These aren’t the result of scientific research and should have no place in a report released by the DNR. But these statements aren’t surprising, considering that their website states, “TRC already has strong relationships with a number of large Canadian firms, including TransCanada, Enbridge, Kinder Morgan and Canadian National Railway.” 

In summary, the WI DNR needs to update the DEIS to acknowledge the severity of the pipeline’s impacts on the water, wetlands, and climate of Wisconsin, and to replace incorrect data, do its own analysis, and add sections on cumulative effects and water quality before moving forward.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide comments on the draft EIS. Please continue to offer many public input opportunities before moving forward with a decision on permits.