Enbridge to Let 30 Million Gallons of Treated Waste Water into the Nemadji River

(Part 1)

Paul Whyte

On October 3, a small group formed at the very south end of 31st Avenue East in Superior at a tucked away boat landing that lies right between the Enbridge oil refinery and the Nemadji River that flows out to Lake Superior. The group included members of the Fond du Lac tribe among other activists. The group had assembled at the location to protest the decision of Enbridge releasing 30 million or more gallons of treated waste water into the Nemadji. A few months ago, there were discussions about the move, but for the most part the news was rather down played by both the DNR and Enbridge.
According to Enbridge the water comes from hydrostatic testing on the Line 2B coming from North Dakota. The reason for the test is to follow federal regulations. According to Lorraine Little, the Senior Manager of Public Affairs for Enbridge in the Liquids Operations department, “A hydrostatic test elevates pressure intentionally on a section of the pipeline to well above normal maximum operating pressures and holds that pressure to meet and comply with federal regulatory standards. It is done with colored water after the oil is removed from the pipe and after the pipe is flushed with water.” We are uncertain what happens with the water that initially flushes the pipelines out at this point.  
Those against the dumping of the waste water question not only the safety of the treated water, but also question the amount of regulations that will look over the dumping of the water. “The DNR could not comment that they have any kind of feet on the ground presence on the discharge by the Enbridge facility in Superior, Wisconsin,” said Jesse Peterson, a local activist. “So to the best of my understanding, Enbridge will send water samples of their own selection to the DNR for analysis and the DNR never sees where those samples come from…this to me presents a huge problem.” Peterson alleged that the water that was used in the tests  could contain benzene, grease and other products used in association with oil extraction. Perhaps it is possible to make water passed through pipelines that have been transporting some fairly filthy oil, but we figured it might be worth looking into.
Enbridge spokes person, Little, asserts that, “The test water is being treated through a series of filters and activated carbon vessels before discharge.  We anticipate a total of 15-20 days will be required to treat all the test water. The water will be tested and treated, as appropriate, to ensure that it meets quality standards set by regulatory guidelines before being discharged at Superior Terminal in accordance with regulatory requirements. The water will be released from an existing stormwater outfall at Superior terminal and will end up in the Nemadji River, in accordance with our WI DNR permits,” in a response to our email.
The group gathered by the river and Jim Northrup III spoke and handed tobacco to those attending. A group of Native women played drums and sang after Northrup’s comments about the discharge. They sang two songs together; both were water blessings. Liz Jaakola, a member of the group, translated for us a part of the songs, “water we love you, water we respect you, water we love you.” The members of the group handed off one by one the small amounts of tobacco into the river and then set out to the drainage site.
Several hundred yards away, down a narrow rutted up trail, there is an outlet that had just a very small and shallow stream flowing out. Behind a chain link fence lied various buildings on the Enbridge land. While there was no indication that the discharge had started yet, a member collected a water sample. We did not observe anything particularly unusual with the water collected by just looking at it, but it seemed that whatever drainage that there might be probably hadn’t started.
The Reader on deadline attempted to contact the DNR and did not receive an immediate response from someone who could answer the questions that revolve around this issue. Is Enbridge really regulating themselves on this? They only said that they went through a process to get the permits, but did not indicate how things would be looked over. From the people we talked with so far on the issue, this seems to be the case. While we would like to believe Enbridge will be as safe as possible and not impact the environment of the Nemadji river, considering their track record, it does seem worth looking into more. This is the first part of a short series on this issue. We would like to get the official word from the DNR, see the environmental impact report presented by Enbridge, see if the EPA is or has been involved in this decision, find out what exactly was in the pipelines and eventually have the water tested once it is discharged on several occasions and also knowing when the discharge might happen are all relevant things to look at.