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Court Mandates Partial Closure of Enbridge's Wisconsin Pipeline Within 3 Years

A US judge's landmark ruling compels Canadian energy titan Enbridge to halt operations on parts of its oil pipeline in Wisconsin.

Enbridge building
Enbridge building

A U.S. District Judge, William Conley, has commanded Canadian energy powerhouse Enbridge to cease operations on sections of its oil pipeline transiting through tribal territories in Wisconsin within a three-year timeframe. In addition, the company has been ordered to compensate the tribe nearly $5.2 million for trespassing and share a portion of its profits until the mandated shutdown is fully enacted.

Environmental Concerns Prompt Urgent Measures

The judicial decree, delivered on Friday in Madison, followed a plea from the Bad River Band, made a month earlier, urging an immediate shutdown due to increased erosion of the riverbank safeguarding the pipeline after intense spring rains. The conduit transports around 540,000 barrels of crude oil per day, extending from Canada into the Great Lakes region.

Enbridge Challenges Court Ruling

A spokesperson for Enbridge revealed on Saturday that the firm intends to challenge the court's directive. The energy giant had previously insisted in court documents that an abrupt halt of the pipeline operations was unwarranted, and would precipitate "extreme market turmoil."

The Balance Between Economic Impact and Environmental Safety

While acknowledging the potential for oil shortages and price escalations resulting from an abrupt shutdown, Judge Conley emphasized the need for a more measured approach to protect the environment from associated risks. Enbridge had suggested a possible reroute of the pipeline to bypass the tribal reservation, although this proposal lacks federal approval.

Tribal Representatives Await Federal Approval

Tribal representatives have yet to comment on the ruling. They have voiced fears that a rupture in the 12-mile pipeline segment running through their reservation could contaminate critical fishing waters, wild rice habitats, and potentially subterranean aquifers.

The tribe initiated legal action against Enbridge in 2019, maintaining that riverbank erosion was on the brink of causing a disaster that necessitated the pipeline's removal. They argued that Enbridge had lost its legal operating rights on the property after the pipeline's land usage easements expired in 2013. Judge Conley concurred with the trespassing allegations last year but refrained from ordering an immediate shutdown due to public and foreign policy implications.