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MADISON, Wisc.—On Friday, June 16, U.S. District Judge William Conley ordered Enbridge to end operations of its Line 5 pipeline on the Bad River Indian Reservation within three years. 

As well, Conley ordered the Canadian energy company to pay more than $5 million to the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians for trespassing, plus a portion of the profits until the shutdown of the pipeline.  

During Friday’s hearing, tribal representatives told the judge that the pipeline is at immediate risk of being exposed by erosion and rupturing on their land. 

“The Band appreciates the Court putting an end to Enbridge’s flagrant trespass and disregard for our rights,” Bad River’s Tribal Chairman Mike Wiggins said n a statement on Monday. “Tribal sovereignty prevailed over corporate profits.”

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The Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa filed a lawsuit in 2019 against Enbridge, asking the company to remove 12 miles of the pipeline from the reservation because its easements to operate on the reservation expired in 2013.  

Last September, Conley sided with Bad River, saying that Enbridge was trespassing on the reservation and must compensate the Tribe for operating illegally. However, the judge did not rule that the company shut down the pipeline, stating a shutdown would harm the economy of the Great Lakes region. 

Line 5 is a 645-mile oil pipeline that transports 23 million gallons of crude oil and natural gas liquids from Superior, Wisconsin to Sarnia, Ontario, daily. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) granted Enbridge a 20-year easement to operate on all parcels of land on the Bad River Indian Reservation in 1952. In the early 1970s, the BIA renewed that easement for another 20-year term that would expire in June 1993.  

In the early 1990s, Enbridge, the Bad River Band, and the BIA began discussions on the renewal of Line 5’s easement and determined that Enbridge would have to seek consent from each parcel of land on the Bad River Indian Reservation. Some parcels of land on the reservation are owned by the tribal government, while other parcels are owned by individual Native Americans held in trust by the U.S. Dept. of Interior. 

Enbridge approached the Tribe with an offer of $800,000 for a 50-year easement and offered $450,000 for a 20-year easement if the BIA did not approve of the 50-year easement. The Tribal Council later passed two resolutions giving consent and approval for a 50-year easement over 13 wholly-owned parcels of land in exchange for $800,000. Fifteen other parcels of land had to be negotiated between the BIA and Enbridge.

When the 20-year easements expired in Jan. 2013, Enbridge submitted new applications for the 15 parcels of land to the BIA to renew another 20-year easement. When it submitted its applications, Enbridge failed to include documents showing that the owners of the land consented to the renewal. 

Because of a 2010 oil spill in the Kalamazoo River that spilled more than 840,000 gallons in the river, Bad River raised questions about the safety of the pipeline. Enbridge failed to provide documents in its renewal applications that demonstrated additional safety measures it would take as a result of the spill. 

Enbridge announced it plans to appeal Friday’s decision with the following statement:

“While the three-year timeline is arbitrary, it is achievable, provided government permitting agencies follow reasonable and timely processes. In 2020, Enbridge filed federal and state permit applications for the relocation of Line 5 around the Bad River Reservation, which is the long-term solution to this dispute. We urge prompt government action so this project can be completed within the next three years. The 41-mile relocation project will take less than one year to construct once those permits are issued.”

Representatives for the Tribe did not respond to a request for comment. 

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About The Author
Author: Darren ThompsonEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Darren Thompson (Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe) is a staff reporter for Native News Online who is based in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. Thompson has reported on political unrest, tribal sovereignty, and Indigenous issues for the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, Indian Country Today, Native News Online, Powwows.com and Unicorn Riot. He has contributed to the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Voice of America on various Indigenous issues in international conversation. He has a bachelor’s degree in Criminology & Law Studies from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.