(photo courtesy of www.savethedunes.org)
A permit application submitted by Enbridge Energy for expansion of the company’s crude oil pipeline through Northwest Indiana has been approved, marking the next step toward completion of Enbridge’s pipeline plans. The Section 401 Water Quality certification issued to Enbridge by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) sets conditions the company must meet during construction of a new 60-mile pipeline through Lake, Porter, LaPorte, and St. Joseph Counties. The pipeline will transport up to 800,000 barrels per day of Canadian tar sands oil. According to environmental groups, the permit is a mixed bag for the environment.
“The permit includes several significant steps to protect natural resources during and after construction of the pipeline, and we applaud IDEM and Enbridge for including these measures,” says Nicole Barker, executive director for Save the Dunes. “However, it is by no means a grand slam.”
Among the positive measures identified by Save the Dunes is a provision that will see Enbridge hire Independent Environmental Monitors (IEMs) to monitor construction and report environmental concerns directly to IDEM. The measure, which was voluntarily undertaken by Enbridge after concerns were expressed by environmentalists, is intended to ensure that any harm to water bodies or permit violations are quickly brought to the attention of the agency during construction.
“To our knowledge, this is the first time IDEM has ever included IEMs in a permit document for a construction project. While there are kinks that must be worked out to ensure the effectiveness and independence of the monitors, a positive precedent has been set,” said Nathan Pavlovic, Land and Advocacy Specialist for Save the Dunes. “We hope this type of oversight is strengthened and expanded for future projects in Indiana, especially in cases such as Enbridge where a company has an established track record of environmental harm.”
Enbridge expects to impact large areas of natural land during construction staging. Under the permit issued by IDEM, the company will be responsible for restoring impacted areas and demonstrating the success of the restoration after 10 years. This is another step in the right direction, says Barker.
However, the groups are not entirely satisfied. “We believe that further steps are needed to ensure this project is safe for our region’s environment and communities,” says Kim Ferraro, staff attorney at Hoosier Environmental Council. “IDEM, through its certification, is allowing Enbridge to disregard alternate pipeline routes and other opportunities to reduce and eliminate water quality impacts, in likely violation of the Clean Water Act. Furthermore, the IEM provision of the permit does not apply to the entire project, exposing sensitive areas in the Lake Michigan watershed to significant harm.”
More broadly, Pavlovic points out that Enbridge does not plan to use state-of-the-art safety measures because of weak federal safety regulations, a fact he describes as “worrying” in light of Enbridge’s history of large pipeline spills. The company also has yet to confirm that they will use American-made steel and products in the line, as well as local labor.
To comply with the Clean Water Act, Enbridge must still gain the approval of the Army Corps of Engineers and address zoning ordinance concerns raised in LaPorte County. The groups say they will closely monitor the status of these issues and take “necessary action to protect the environment and impacted communities.”