Attorneys for a Wisconsin Native American tribe argued Thursday that a federal judge should order an energy company to shut down an oil pipeline the tribe says is at immediate risk of being exposed by erosion and rupturing on reservation land.
The Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa asked U.S. District Judge William Conley last week to issue an emergency ruling forcing Enbridge to shut down the Line 5 pipeline after large chunks of riverbank running alongside it were washed away by the river in northern Wisconsin.
Judge Conley signaled frustration with the tribe’s lack of action as Thursday’s hearing began.
“The band has not helped itself by refusing to take any steps to prevent a catastrophic failure at the meander,” Conley said. “You haven’t even allowed simple steps that would have prevented some of this erosion.”
The Bad River tribe sued Enbridge in 2019 to force the company to remove the roughly 12-mile (19-kilometer) section of Line 5 that crosses tribal lands, saying the 70-year-old pipeline is dangerous and that land agreements allowing Enbridge to operate on the reservation expired in 2013.
Conley sided with the tribe last September, saying Enbridge was trespassing on the reservation and must compensate the tribe for illegally using its land. But he would not order Enbridge to remove the pipeline due to concerns about what a shutdown might do to the economy of the Great Lakes region. Instead, Conley ordered Enbridge and tribal leaders to create an emergency shutoff plan for the pipeline last November, saying there was a significant risk it could burst and cause “catastrophic” damage to the reservation and its water supply.
Line 5 transports up to 23 million gallons (about 87 million liters) of oil and liquid natural gas each day and stretches 645 miles (1,038 kilometers) from the city of Superior through northern Wisconsin and Michigan to Sarnia, Ontario. If the pipeline were shut down, gas prices would likely increase, refineries would shut down, workers would be laid off and the upper Midwest could see years of propane shortages, according to reports Enbridge submitted in court.