PORTAGE | Representatives from Enbridge Energy Partners LP told a group of about 100 people Thursday morning the company has learned from past oil spills and will be safer because of them going forward.
Stakeholders in the company's plan to build 60 miles of pipeline to carry Canadian crude through Northwest Indiana said they want more concrete evidence of safeguards to protect Lake Michigan and its tributaries. The project was discussed at the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission's Environmental Management Policy Committee.
"What you are asking us to do is give up our reliance in the science and believe in the political structure," Dr. Erin Argyilan, associate professor of geosciences at Indiana University Northwest, said to applause. "It is your job to explain the risks and help people understand what they truly have to deal with."
Houston-based Enbridge is planning a $1.6 billion, two-phase project to decommission the Canadian crude oil pipeline running from Griffith to Sarnia, Ontario, with 285 miles of new pipe adjacent to it. Some 60 miles of the pipe, originally constructed in 1969, run through Northwest Indiana.
The plan, referred to as the Line 6B project, could be complete by year's end.
Jennifer Smith, Enbridge spokeswoman, said the new pipeline will have thicker walls than the existing line, increasing from .25 inches to .625 inches. The pipe also will be X-ray monitored, Smith said.
Nicole Barker, executive director of Save the Dunes, on Thursday said she would like to see increased safety standards for underground pipelines and for Enbridge to pay the state to fund daily inspections on the line.
In July 2010, a rupture on the line caused crude oil to spill into wetlands near Marshall, Mich., with much of the oil ending up in the Kalamazoo River. Enbridge estimated the amount of oil spilled was 843,000 gallons but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said the amount was 1.1 million gallons.
The spill forced 34 miles of the Kalamazoo River to be closed for nearly two years. Most of the river reopened to recreation this June.
"The Marshall incident was very unfortunate," Smith said. "There's no way to say it wasn't. It was horrible ... We have been apologizing and trying to make it right ever since."
Smith said organizational and procedural changes were implemented after the Michigan spill in an effort to keep such a disaster from reoccurring.
"We have taken that as a learning incident and we absolutely don't ever want to see that happen again and we have taken actions to prove that," Smith said.
But some at the meeting pointed out another spill on an Enbridge line in Wisconsin this past summer, two years after the Michigan incident.
"You may want to say you've made all these improvements from the Kalamazoo, but you're still demonstrating all these dramatic failures," said Michael Hollcraft of Hudson Township in LaPorte County. The project is slated to run through Hollcraft's property.
Lake County Surveyor George Van Til said his office has two engineers scrutinizing the Enbridge project.
"We made a point to look at safety issues even though it's not our role, our task, because of the importance of it," Van Til said.
Van Til said he planned to immediately inspect the Enbridge plans submitted to his office to see if stop valves are in place in the four to five places where the project intersects Turkey Creek.
Porter County Surveyor Kevin Breitzke said the new pipeline will be "a great improvement" over the existing one.
"We really need to get this pipeline replaced across these three counties," Breitzke said.