INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A coalition of environmental groups has pressed Indiana regulators to impose tough conditions on Enbridge Energy's plans to replace 50 miles of crude oil pipeline near Lake Michigan, warning the company's history of oil spills and other problems requires strong steps to protect the lake's ecosystem.
The new pipeline will run underground through four northern Indiana counties, skirting the lake's southern shoreline, and carry twice the volume of oil as the decades-old pipeline it will replace.
Six groups that include the Hoosier Environmental Council, Save the Dunes and the Sierra Club's Hoosier Chapter want Indiana to require Enbridge to install leak detection sensors along the pipeline and hire an independent monitor to ensure the pipeline's installation complies with state and federal water quality rules.
Those steps are needed because an oil spill along the pipeline could devastate the lake's ecosystem, including tributaries used by trout and salmon, and harm the region's lake-dependent economy, said Kim Ferraro, director of agricultural and water policy for the Hoosier Environmental Council.
"This is a real concern, this isn't just a possibility. We've just seen time and again that this company has had major spills, so we'd like to see them take the appropriate steps upfront to make sure those same things don't happen here," she said.
In 2010, an Enbridge pipeline ruptured in southwestern Michigan, fouling more than 35 miles of the Kalamazoo River and other waterways and wetlands with more than 800,000 gallons of heavy crude oil. Federal agencies ordered Enbridge to pay a $3.7 million penalty after that spill, saying the company failed to deal adequately with structural problems detected years earlier.
Enbridge also agreed to pay a $1.1 million fine in 2009 for violating Wisconsin permits designed to protect water quality during construction of a 321-mile, $2 billion oil pipeline across that state.
The environmental groups scrutinizing the Indiana pipeline say Enbridge has a "dismal track record" of maintaining its pipeline networks in other states.
Nathan Pavlovic, the land and advocacy specialist with Michigan City-based Save the Dunes, said the Indiana pipeline will cross 145 wetlands and more than 80 streams, rivers and lakes that could be fouled with sediment runoff as crews excavate trenches and bury the pipeline. The project will come as close as 10 miles from Lake Michigan.
"If construction is done property those resources can be protected, but if it's a rush job, it has the potential to really negatively impact them," he said.
The Indiana pipeline project is part of Enbridge's $1.6 billion project to replace the entirety of a 286-mile-long pipeline that runs from Griffith, Ind., to Sarnia, Ontario, to supply expanding refineries with more crude. When complete, the pipeline will have an initial capacity of 500,000 barrels per day, more than double the current pipeline's capacity.
Enbridge said in a statement that it will have environmental inspectors assigned to the Indiana project to ensure compliance with its permit conditions and that it's not opposed to being required to hire independent environmental monitors.
Enbridge also said its new pipeline will have leak-detecting pressure transmitters at every valve.
Last week, Michigan regulators approved the final permit Enbridge needed to replace a total of 160 miles of oil pipeline in Michigan.
But Indiana regulators and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are still reviewing Enbridge's requests for Clean Water Act permits to install the new 36-inch diameter pipeline in Indiana. The old 30-inch pipeline, installed in the late 1960s, will be shut down, drained and sealed.
The Army Corps hasn't made a final decision on a permit or the conditions for the Indiana project, said Andrew Blackburn, a regulatory specialist with the Corps.
Marty Maupin, a wetlands specialist with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, said the agency is mindful of Enbridge's past spills as it considers the company's request for water quality certification for the project.
"We're certainly aware that Enbridge has had some issues in the past, especially in Michigan. And we are reviewing their project to the best of our ability to ensure it will not cause problems in Indiana," he said.