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Explosion at Calumet refinery prompts concern about extreme energy and Lake Superior

The Council of Canadians has been opposing a plan by Calumet Specialty Products to build a $25 million oil shipping terminal on the western tip of Lake Superior in Superior, Wisconsin. The company had wanted to ship 13 million barrels per year of crude oil across Lake Superior and through the Great Lakes on barges. On April 2, we received word that Calumet has withdrawn all of its applications for the dock project.

Less than four weeks later, there was a major fire at the Calumet oil refinery in Superior.

The Duluth News Tribune recently reported, “An empty asphalt tank caught fire at the Calumet oil refinery in Superior on [April 28], prompting the evacuation of nonessential personnel at the facility and creating a dark plume of smoke visible for miles. …The first Superior fire crews on the scene reported a 30-foot-tall asphalt tank on fire. The tank was empty and the fire was fueled by residual material, [Superior Fire Chief Steve] Panger reported. …The refinery and fire department jointly performed air monitoring and found ‘no hazardous air impact to the community’, [refinery manager Kollin] Schade said.”

A local letter to the editor now responds, “The incident was a call to discuss the role of oil companies in our community. …There is a lack of dialogue about the dangers of these facilities and their proximity to our homes and Lake Superior. Next time an explosion could start more than an empty tank on fire.”

The letter adds, “Now Enbridge wants to increase the processing of oil by building a new pipeline, known as the Sandpiper, which would carry oil into Superior. The company also is working to expand another pipeline into Superior, the Alberta Clipper — without a new environmental assessment or public-comment period.”

Sandpiper is a proposed 982-kilometre pipeline that would move 600,000 barrels (or more) a day of crude oil from Tioga, North Dakota through northern Minnesota to Superior. The pipeline is expected to be in service in 2017. Alberta Clipper (also known as Line 67) is an existing pipeline from the Edmonton area to Superior that Enbridge wants to expand from its current 450,000 barrels per day to over 800,000 barrels per day.

The letter concludes, “Our role as concerned citizens is to demand greater media coverage of accidents like the one April 28 in Superior and greater discussion on the impacts from reckless oil-processing expansion in our community. We also can demand greater public oversight of oil companies and local transparency from businesses like Enbridge and Calumet. As Northlanders, do we treasure our pristine waters and our forests enough to ask ourselves if we are willing to risk our families, our neighborhoods and our lake for these companies? If we wait, they will answer for us.”

We agree.

Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow wrote in her Liquid Pipeline: Extreme energy’s threat to the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River report, “To protect the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River we must ban all transport of tar sands bitumen on, under and near the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River.” She writes we must also “ban all transport of fracked oil and gas on, under, and near the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River.”