Officials in three counties and an environmental conservation organization support the plan to replace Enbridge Energy Partners LP's aging Line 6B oil pipeline with a new state-of-the-art system.
However, many of them said it was important to get assurances that environmental and economic interests will not be compromised.
The new Line 6B will have a transmission capacity of 500,000 barrels per day, which is up from the current 243,000 barrel-per-day capacity. The original pipeline was completed in 1969. The increased capacity will help send more diluted bitumen from Canada to Midwest oil refineries.
"Our focus is to make sure Enbridge complies with environmental regulations," said Nathan Pavlovic, land and advocacy specialist for Save the Dunes, a Michigan City-based nonprofit organization.
Enbridge spokeswoman Jennifer Smith said the company has had open lines of communication with community leaders and has incorporated information from the public into the overall project design.
Lake County Surveyor George Van Til said his top concern is stop-valves on the line to shut off the flow of oil in the pipes if a leak occurs. Enbridge currently has two in place in Lake County: one at the origin of the line at the company's Griffith facility, and the other near Broadway in Merrillville's Glen Park area.
"If you get anything in the waterway there at Deep River, that goes right into Lake Michigan," Van Til said. "It would have a detrimental effect on Hobart, Lake George and on Lake Michigan. ... Our view is let's have a shut-off valve so those areas would not be affected."
Enbridge's Smith said in a statement the company plans to install 36 electric, remotely operated valves on the new pipeline, which she said exceeds federal standards. Four valves will be in Indiana, including two near pump stations in Griffith and Coolspring Township in LaPorte County.
In the discussions between his office and Enbridge representatives, Van Til said he has found them to be “very receptive and very concerned.”
"This is going to be a little bit of a hassle for people, but the bottom line is to have a new pipeline with modern technology in place is really going to be a positive thing," Van Til said. "Let's just make sure it has all the possible safeguards put into place."
Douglas Biege, attorney for the LaPorte County Council, said it's difficult to determine what action officials in his county will take because Enbridge hasn't provided a final construction and engineering plan. He said there's an open line of communication between the two parties, and the county intends to monitor the project to ensure it meets LaPorte County ordinances.
Like his counterpart in Lake County, Porter County Surveyor Kevin Breitzke supports the project. Breitzke said he believes the amount of maintenance required on the line in recent years proves the new line is needed.
"It's very clear it needs to be replaced," Breitzke said, touting the plans for new pipes with thicker walls.
"I think for our best interest and the economic and environmental interests in Northwest Indiana, that line needs to be replaced," he said.
Although Breitzke said stop-valves need to be positioned so oil won't reach critical areas after a leak or failure, "there is potential for leakage from the valves themselves."
Shadow of Michigan spill looms for residents
At local public meetings in recent months about the projects, residents said they remain concerned about leaks and spills into local waterways after the well-publicized break on Line 6B in July 2010 in Michigan that caused more than 1 million gallons of oil to spill into and near the Kalamazoo River.
The cleanup took more than two years, cost more than $767 million and closed the waterway to recreation until this summer. The Environmental Protection Agency told Enbridge on Oct. 3 that although more than 187,000 cubic yards of oil-contaminated sediment and debris was disposed of during the cleanup, more remediation was needed in sections of the river.
The National Transportation Safety Board said the spill near Marshall, Mich., was only a symptom of larger problems with Enbridge. In a report issued in July, the NTSB scolded the company for "pervasive organizational failures” that led to the critical failure of Line 6B and diluted bitumen spill.
Following the release of the report, former Enbridge CEO Patrick Daniel said it made "numerous enhancements to their processes, procedures and training," including in its control center, as a result of the findings in the investigation. Enbridge also said safety is core to the company's operations, and Daniel said the company's intent is to learn from the incident.
Pavlovic said a construction performance bond would provide some assurance that Enbridge will do its best not to harm the environment, and if there is harm, there would be funds available to remedy that damage. With the fiscal conditions many states find themselves in, Pipeline Safety Trust Executive Director Carl Weimer said the ideal scenario would be for pipeline companies to fund the cost of environmental inspectors.
Smith said Enbridge obtains necessary bonds and insurance as required by governing bodies for construction projects.