Letter to the Editor: Pipeline easement terms protection needed for landowners
Canadian oil pipeline company Enbridge, Inc. is currently awaiting approvals from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to begin replacement of its Line 3, which is so badly deteriorated that it is currently operating at only about half its 760,000 barrels per day (bpd) capacity. Construction on the new line is underway in Canada and a 12 mile segment from the Minnesota border to Superior, WI was constructed last year. Once completed, the new line would have a maximum capacity of 844,000 bpd, meaning that more oil would be coming into Wisconsin than the current pipeline system can transport out.
The decisions in Minnesota have direct implications for Wisconsin landowners, as over 1,000 families are affected by the pipelines crossing their properties. The current 80’ wide easements these families have already given to Enbridge now contain four pipelines, with no room for any more. If the Minnesota PUC allows Enbridge to proceed, Wisconsin landowners can expect to be hearing from Enbridge land agents seeking new easements shortly thereafter. The PUC is expected to issue its decision by the end of June.
New easements- possibly with troubling and long-lasting terms- mean that these families will be giving up even more of their land and property rights to Enbridge. In the 1960s, when these easements were first acquired by the Lakehead Pipeline Company, most people probably did not consider or even understand what long-term consequences they were signing on for. Those original terms are still in effect today, haunting and controlling how landowners can use their properties, as well as decreasing their property values.
Among those terms are such oppressive conditions as the easements being perpetual- meaning they last forever. This is unrealistic- easements should expire after the pipes are no longer being used. Additionally, the easements may simply be transferred to another company- without the opportunity for landowners to negotiate new conditions for use. Alarmingly, the pipes can simply be abandoned in place after being taken out of commission, to eventually leak any residual oil left in the pipes and potentially polluting our ground and surface waters. Again, this is unrealistic. Future generations should not be held liable for cleaning up after a huge, multi-billion dollar foreign corporation. Enbridge should be required to remove these pipes and properly clean up any spilled oil as a condition of operating in the state. We require this step for abandoned underground gas tanks- it should be no different for oil pipelines.
Fortunately for landowners, there is an organization working to protect their interests. The Wisconsin Easement Action Team (WEAT) is working to join landowners together to negotiate new easements as a group through their attorney so that individual families do not have to try to negotiate with Enbridge on their own. WEAT is operated solely by concerned individuals volunteering their time and efforts, in the interest of helping all Wisconsin families living next to the pipeline system. You can learn more about them at wisconsineasementactionteam.org.