What’s missing from Enbridge’s Line 5 proposal

Apr 19, 2022 | DNR, Groundwater

Last week the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources concluded its open comment period on a draft environmental impact statement on a proposed reroute of an oil pipeline that would run through northern Wisconsin and the Bad River Reservation.

River Alliance of Wisconsin began talking about this pipeline proposal in 2020 when we participated in an early DNR public comment process on Enbridge’s application for a waterway and wetland permit, as well as finalizing the scope of the Environmental Impact Statement for the overall project. In response to the draft EIS, we submitted our comments to the agency on April 13. 

In our comments, we outlined some of what we felt were critically important points of context for this process. 

First, we reminded the agency that Ashland County supervisors passed two resolutions in opposition to the Line 5 reroute before the EIS was even started. They voted 16 – 4 to oppose the water permit and 19 – 1 to oppose granting Enbridge eminent domain authority back in 2020.

We also said that a similar Enbridge pipeline project in Minnesota to replace sections of Line 3 resulted in multiple “frac-out” events potentially resulting in thousands of gallons of toxic chemicals released into water crossings at multiple horizontal directional drilling locations. A Minnesota lawmaker is working to get more information from Enbridge to learn the extent of the damage it caused.

Enbridge also violated its permits after making at least three breeches of the aquifer while replacing sections of Line 3 in Minnesota. It took a year for the company to stop the flow of water. 

In light of the fact that the draft EIS being considered by the Wisconsin DNR contains 186 individual stream crossings all within the Bad River watershed, these breeches are relevant for any proposed Enbridge project here in our state.

The comments we shared with the DNR on the draft EIS and the proposed pipeline reroute included:

  • Bad River tribal members who spoke at the WI DNR Draft Line 5 EIS Public Hearing clearly expressed that they feel they were not properly consulted. They also expressed a shared belief that they feel Enbridge did not make any true and real effort to rectify this lack of consultation, even after tribal representatives shared the concern with them. Given that this pipeline directly impacts the Tribe, we believe that until the Bad River Tribe states it has been properly consulted by Enbridge, that this draft EIS should be deemed inadequate and disapproved.


  • The other major tribal consideration which we once again believe is significant enough on its own to warrant not passing this draft EIS, is, according to Bad River Tribal Chairman Mike Wiggins, a “complete failure on the part of Enbridge to honor the Tribe’s request to get the pipeline out of their watershed. This is not about moving the pipeline off our reservation footprint – it’s about assuring the safety of our community by having the pipeline moved outside of our WATERSHED.” The proposed new section is barely outside the Bad River Reservation, and still within the Bad River watershed, which means that any rupture would contaminate the reservation. The proposed Line 5 extension is actually even more of a threat to the Bad River than the current route. A pipeline spill would devastate the watershed and pollute the Bad River and its myriad of rich wetlands, killing fish, waterfowl, and wild rice beds. The resulting contamination could make the Bad River tribal members’ way of life impossible, which also triggers the issue of whether Treaty Rights are potentially under threat should the proposed pipeline fail.


  • Large gaps in the technical specifications related to boring, blasting, and tunneling processes make it impossible to accurately gauge the environmental harm of those processes, especially given the massive number of river crossings needed for this particular reroute plan. 186 river crossings is far too many to not have completed due diligence on the specific processes they intend to use, by location, along with known standards for such processes. The draft EIS is, once again, simply not complete and should not be approved in this form.


  • As a note of general objection to the idea of continuing to keep this pipeline in service past its standard safe age – Enbridge’s 67-year-old Line 5 poses an imminent danger to Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, Lake Huron and all the Great Lakes, having already been kept in service PAST its project life expectancy, and with a horrible spill and accident history. The potential for disaster is high and the public could end up having to pay for the cleanup. Line 5 needs to be decommissioned immediately, not recreated one section at a time by approving this draft EIS and allowing this project idea to move forward. Again, we firmly believe both the project, and the draft EIS document, are incomplete and do not properly address nor summarize the full scope of impacts that poses a real threat to cause serious harm to the people of Bad River and all others located in the Bad River watershed.


With our comments and the many hundreds of comments of opposition from Wisconsinites, clean water advocacy organizations and Tribal leaders, we hope the DNR will deny the approval of the draft EIS statement and send Enbridge back to the planning table.


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