Chippewa Tribe Kicking Enbridge, and Great Lakes Underwater Tar Sands Pipeline, Off Reservation

(EnviroNews USA Headline News) — Odanah, Bad River Reservation, Wisconsin — On January 4, 2016, the tribal council of The Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians, a federally recognized tribe of the Ojibwe, voted not to renew an easement that allowed an Enbridge pipeline to pass through its reservation. Enbridge is a Canadian energy delivery company that focuses on operating pipelines in Canada and North America, and its easement on the contested 11 parcels of land expired in 2013.

Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline has been in operation for 64 years and carries over 500,000 barrels of tar sands oil and propane daily between Wisconsin and Ontario. The tribe’s resolution declares the pipeline must be shut down and removed. Twin Cities Pioneer Press reports, “The resolution also directs tribal staff to prepare recycling, disposal and surface restoration work that would come with removal.” Inside Climate News explains that while other pipelines through Native American Lands have been closed or updated through negotiations with tribes, a re-routing would be unprecedented.

Much like the protestors who led the powerful and largely successful campaign against the Dakota Access Pipeline Project (DAPL), The Bad River Band cites environmental concerns as a central factor to their stance against this pipeline.

“[Line 5 is] an accident waiting to happen. A spill from the pipeline could affect land and water that the tribal members rely on for hunting, fishing, and gathering wild rice,” said Robert Blanchard, Chairman of the Bad River band. “If something were to happen, no matter how big or how small, it’s going to have an effect on us,” Blanchard continued. “We figure that now is the time to do something about it.”

Enbridge spokesman Michael Barnes said the company had been doing its best to reach a deal with the tribe since the easements expired four years ago. “In addition to working toward a mutually beneficial agreement, Enbridge also worked with the band’s cultural resources, natural resources, and legal departmental staff to maintain safe pipeline operations within the boundaries of the reservation.” The tribe denies it has been negotiating with Enbridge about renewing the easements and says it is determined to remove the pipeline without further ado. Bad River council member Dylan Jennings said, “No amount of compensation or negotiation will change [the tribe’s] position.”

Line 5 is vulnerable to rust and corrosion because it travels underwater through the Straits of Mackinac, a narrow waterway that connects Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. If a leak or other pipeline disruption occurred, it could contaminate the Great Lakes, which hold one-fifth of the planet’s fresh surface water. For this reason, Representatives Dave Trott (R-Michigan) and Debbie Dingell (D-Michigan) have asked for a “comprehensive study” of the environmental risks of Line 5, calling for its possible shutdown, pending results.

Enbridge Line 5 Pipeline Beneath Straights of Mackinac

Enbridge Line 5 Pipeline Beneath Straights of Mackinac

In a press release, Chairman Blanchard said, “These environmental threats not only threaten our health, but they threaten our very way of life as [Chippewa].” The tribe called for community input in December of 2016 before the vote on the easement. Blanchard also said they “will reach out to federal, state and local officials to evaluate how to remove Line 5.”

Enbridge has far from a clean record when it comes to keeping oil contained in its pipes. In July 2010, the company suffered a massive blowout on Line 6B, another tar sands pipeline in Michigan. In the devastating event, an estimated one million gallons of extra-viscous toxic bitumen crude were dumped into the Kalamazoo River. The disaster sent a community reeling with health, environmental and economic problems. What has since transpired is an approximately $1.3 billion cleanup operation and a community still impacted by the poisonous spill today.

Building pipelines through Native American land requires easements approved by the tribe. In 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) enacted a rule that protects tribal land-use decisions; it “promotes “tribal self-determination and self-governance by providing greater deference to tribes on decisions affecting tribal land.”

In 2016, now-retired Senator Barbara Boxer (D-California) introduced S. 3498, a.k.a., the “Protect Our Drinking Water Act of 2016,” to the Committee on Environment and Public Works – a bill that would require the Army Corps of Engineers to gain written permission from federally recognized tribes and municipalities before beginning a project that could threaten local water supplies.

TransCanada and Northern Natural Gas also own pipelines running through the approximately 200-square-mile Wisconsin reservation.

Enbridge Line 5 Pipeline Beneath Straits of Mackinac — Photo: National Wildlife Federation (NWF)

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