HAMMOND — Highland resident Sue Eleuterio often rides a bicycle around the Region, but until recently she had not noticed signs showing oil pipelines running through neighborhoods and near schools.
Eleuterio said she began to notice just how many pipelines crisscross the Region after participating in the Walk the Line protest last fall, when residents and activists walked from the Enbridge pipeline terminal in Griffith to a terminal in Hammond's Hessville neighborhood.
Eleuterio on Saturday joined about 40 people to walk the second leg of an Enbridge pipeline from the Purdue University Northwest campus in Hammond to New Life Outreach Church in East Chicago's Calumet neighborhood.
Speakers before the walk said it's time to phase out fossil fuels and transition to a renewable energy economy.
John Halstead, one of the march organizers, said an Enbridge pipeline leaked nearly a million gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan in 2010. Smaller leaks have occurred in Romeoville, Illinois, and closer to home in Hammond and Highland, he said.
"It's not a question of if these pipelines will spill, it's a question of when," he said.
The technology to transition to renewable energy exists, he said.
"We are at a point in our society where we do not have to choose between jobs and our health," he said.
Eleuterio first learned of tar sands oil, which flows through Enbridge's Line 6B/78 pipeline, during a $3.8 billion expansion project at the BP Whiting Refinery. The expansion allowed the refinery to process more crude oil from the Canadian tar sands.
Eleuterio and her husband were part of a 2008 lawsuit filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council against BP for Clean Air Act violations. In 2012, a BP subsidiary agreed to spend more than $400 million to upgrade environmental controls and pay $8 million in civil fines in a settlement agreement.
"This idea we're pitting the environment against jobs isn't fair," Eleuterio said.
If companies committed to putting proper environmental controls in place, there would be more jobs for longer lengths of time, she said.
Activists said tar sands extraction has decimated parts of Canada's boreal forest and contaminated nearby water, threatening the health and livelihood of First Nations people.
That same oil flows through the Enbridge pipeline from Griffith to BP Whiting Refinery and beyond, they said.
Enbridge said the 6B/78 pipeline "is an integral part of the region's critical energy infrastructure, providing a safe and efficient supply of crude oil to numerous regional refineries in both the U.S. and Canada."
The company said it has replaced about 285 miles of the pipeline, mostly between Lake County, Indiana, and Marysville, Michigan. It's also spent more than $4.9 billion during the last four years, including $925.5 million in 2015 to maintain systems and detect leaks.
Clamae Bullock, of East Chicago's Calumet neighborhood, read a poem reflecting the struggle residents of the city's USS Lead Superfund site are facing.
Afterward, Bullock said she lives with her family — including four children — in zone 2 of the Superfund site. They are still waiting for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to excavate soil on their property.
Bullock wasn't living in East Chicago when news about the lead crisis first broke in 2016, but returned after graduating from Ball State University in 2017.
"We're stuck," she said. "My mom can't even sell her home and buy a car with what she would get for the house."