Judge: Pipeline Can Operate On Reservation Amid Reroute Work

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A federal judge will allow an oil and gas pipeline to continue to flow on a northern Wisconsin American Indian reservation while its operators work to reroute the line around the tribal land.

The Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa sued Enbridge in 2019 demanding it remove the section of line that runs across the tribe’s reservation in Ashland County. The tribe is concerned the pipeline could rupture and contaminate its drinking water.

Enbridge has been working on a 40-mile reroute around the reservation.

Western District Judge William Conley ruled Wednesday the company can continue to operate the line on the reservation until its relocation project is finished.

The Line 5 pipeline carries oil and natural gas liquids from Superior to Sarnia, Ontario. Enbridge said agreements have been reached with all private landowners along the new route for the pipeline.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is currently finalizing an environmental impact statement for the project. The agency’s draft environmental impact statement drew intense criticism from environmental groups, tribal members and activists who argued it didn’t adequately evaluate impacts, including the risk of spills.

Last month, the DNR investigated a possible spill near the Bad River Reservation after a contractor reported some contaminated soil south of Ashland.

Enbridge officials said they couldn’t find a leak in the pipeline and believe the contamination was from a past discharge, according to the DNR.

Enbridge spokeswoman Juli Kellner said “only a trace amount of product” was found during scheduled system maintenance. She said the line was shut down as a precaution.