Monday, January 16, 2017

Wisconsin Tribe Votes to Evict Oil Pipeline From Its Reservation

Bad River Band of Chippewa Indians cites successful Dakota Access opposition for decision to end right-of-way lease for Enbridge Line 5 pipeline.

Bad River Reservation (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
The Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians in northern Wisconsin voted not to renew an easement for a major oil and gas pipeline that passes through its reservation. In the wake of the successful protest against the Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota, this decision is the latest example of Native American tribes using sovereignty rights to oppose fossil fuel projects.

The Bad River tribal council voted unanimously in early January to revoke rights-of-way that pass through the roughly 200-square-mile reservation and the decision could prove difficult to overturn. Pipeline companies often take ownership of private land through the use of eminent domain. But using Native American land typically requires tribal consent and easements are negotiated for a fixed period.

The pipeline in question, Line 5, spans 645 miles and is owned by Canadian pipeline giant Enbridge. It is used to ship as much as 540,000 barrels of fossil fuels, including crude oil and propane, per day from Superior, Wisc. to Sarnia, Ontario and is part of Canada's largest export oil pipeline network. The resolution passed by the tribe calls for the decommissioning and removal of the pipeline from all Bad River lands and its watershed, which flows into Lake Superior.

Robert Blanchard, chairman of the Bad River band said the 64-year-old pipeline is "an accident waiting to happen." A spill from the pipeline could affect land and water that the tribal members rely on for hunting, fishing, and gathering wild rice, Blanchard said.
If the pipeline is rerouted, it wouldn't be the first time that a Native American tribe succeeded in pushing a pipeline off its reservation. In 1995, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of Montana fought and won a similar battle with Yellowstone Pipeline Co.

That pipeline leaked 10,000 gallons of gasoline in 1993, just as the 20-year permit to cross the Flathead Indian Reservation was up for renewal. When the tribes declined to renew the lease, the pipeline company had to use tanker cars to ship the fuel around the reservation, something it continues to do two decades later.

Similarly, the easement for a gasoline pipeline that passed through the town of Bellingham, Wash. had expired when the pipeline exploded in 1999, killing three people. As with tribal land, municipal land in Washington State cannot be taken through eminent domain.

"The Olympic Pipeline folks came to an agreement with the city that added in a whole lot more safety than what the federal government would have required, including different types of valves and different types of inspections," said Carl Weimer, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust, a nonprofit watchdog organization based in Bellingham.

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