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Wisconsin DNR investigating oil spill on contested Enbridge Line 5

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The state Department of Natural Resources is investigating an oil spill near a Native American reservation in northern Wisconsin.

Enbridge Energy reported Wednesday that a contractor had encountered contaminated soil along the Canadian company’s Line 5 pipeline south of Ashland and about a mile from the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa reservation, according to the DNR.

Enbridge said they could not find a leak and believe the contamination was from a past spill, according to the DNR, which said agency staff have visited the site and not found evidence of an ongoing leak.

Enbridge spokesperson Juli Kellner said crews found “a trace amount of product” near a valve and shut down the line as a precaution while they investigate the source.

Enbridge has excavated and stored the contaminated soil, according to the DNR, and will be required to document all actions taken to address the suspected spill, the amount of contaminated soil and how it is disposed of.

The DNR says the investigation is ongoing and the agency declined to provide additional information, which it said will be posted once available on the agency’s publicly accessible spills database.

The 645-mile line runs from Superior to Ontario, Canada, moving about 540,000 barrels of petroleum products per day.

As a result of a lawsuit filed by the Bad River band, Enbridge is seeking to bypass the reservation with about 41 miles of new pipe through Ashland, Bayfield and Iron counties.

Enbridge Line 5 reroute map

The DNR is working to complete an environmental review of the project before deciding whether to grant construction permits. According to the draft review, the $450 million project would cross some 185 waterways, including the Bad River, and temporarily disturb about 135 acres of wetlands.

Opponents, including Madison and Dane County governments, say the project endangers waters, including Lake Superior, and goes against warnings from international scientists to halt new investments in fossil fuel infrastructure in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

The project has support from Republican lawmakers, labor unions and the state’s business lobby, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce.

Last year, the DNR cited Enbridge for waiting more than 15 months to report a leak in Jefferson County that contaminated soil and groundwater with petroleum products and toxic chemicals.


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