Local view: Oil-shipping plan for Great Lakes raises big concernsWill a dock project in Superior be the next front in the global fossil-fuel war?
By: Andrew Slade, Duluth News Tribune
Will a dock project in Superior be the next front in the global fossil-fuel war?
It’s like trying to stop lava flowing from a volcano. Tar sands oil from Alberta and natural gas from North Dakota are flowing out in all directions. Oil companies want their product to get to the world market. And despite recent news to the contrary, the industry still is hoping that flow of fuel might fill barges in the
Duluth-Superior harbor and journey across Lake Superior.
Alberta tar sands are associated with boreal forest habitat destruction, and the North Dakota shale gas comes with air- and water-quality concerns. Globally, these fuels feed a worldwide hunger for fossil-fuel energy — and a worldwide problem of greenhouse gases and climate change.
Here in the center of the continent, we see a series of tragic incidents from oil transportation. The pipelines that carry the fuels crack and spill on a regular basis, most recently this fall in a North Dakota wheat field. Train cars loaded with western fuel exploded in Quebec this July, killing 47 people.
In January, Calumet Specialty Products announced it was considering an oil-shipping terminal on the harbor in Superior. The facility would be able to load one oil tanker or barge every four days for shipment to eastern markets through the Great Lakes. The same week, Elkhorn Industries submitted a permit application to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for rehabilitation of its dock at the former Georgia Pacific site at Connors Point. An old 6-inch pipeline connects the refinery and the dock and runs north along Superior’s Hill Avenue and past the Mariner Mall, the YMCA, and 10 residential blocks.
The oil-shipping proposal raised much concern in the Great Lakes water-protection world. Would there be adequate protections to prevent or mitigate spills? Should the high quality of Lake Superior water be threatened by the global oil market? Are we prepared to see the gales of November threaten a floating tank of oil? Elkhorn’s dock-rehabilitation project in Superior could have significant environmental effects.
In September, the manager of Calumet’s Superior refinery told Wisconsin Public Radio that without a partner refinery on the East Coast, the terminal project was “on hold.” A sigh of relief went through the local environmental community.
Those concerned about shipping oil on Lake Superior should not rest.
A project “on hold” is a lot different than a project abandoned. When you are put on hold in a phone call, you’re just waiting for someone at the other end to pick up the phone. Calumet just needs a partner refinery on the East Coast to receive the shipments.
While it continues to look for a partner, Elkhorn and Calumet appear to be all-systems-go for the dock project in Superior. The pipeline system from the west can bring more oil into Superior than the pipelines going further east can handle. The pressure to ship on Lake Superior is not going away. Elkhorn is still seeking approval from the Wisconsin DNR to rehabilitate their dock at Connors Point.
Citizens concerned about shipping oil on Lake Superior have an excellent opportunity to learn more about the Connors Point dock proposal and to share their concerns and opinions. The Wisconsin DNR will hold a public informational hearing Tuesday afternoon at the Superior Public Library. Wisconsin DNR officials are expected to explain the permitting process and a representative of Elkhorn is expected to explain the project. Then the public will have a chance to be heard.
Should a dock in Superior be rebuilt so Lake Superior can be reopened to oil shipping? You have a chance to speak up on this important question.
Andrew Slade of Duluth is a program coordinator for Minnesota Environmental Partnership (mepartnership.org).