By Nia Williams
CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - A Native American tribe in Wisconsin has voted against renewing agreements allowing Enbridge Inc to use their land for a major crude oil pipeline, the latest sign of increasing opposition to North American energy infrastructure.
The Bad River Band decided not to renew easements on Enbridge's Line 5 pipeline last week because of concerns about the risk of oil spills, and called for the 64-year-old pipeline to be decommissioned and removed.
The move against Line 5 underlines how environmental and aboriginal resistance to energy infrastructure is evolving. Opponents are trying to block existing pipelines and expansions on brownfield sites like Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain project, as well as protesting new facilities.
"As many other communities have experienced, even a minor spill could prove to be disastrous for our people," Bad River Tribal Chairman Robert Blanchard said in a news release, adding the band would reach out to federal, state and local officials to evaluate how to remove Line 5.
Calgary-based Enbridge said it had been discussing the easement renewals since before the agreements expired in 2013, and the pipeline had operated safely through the reservation since 1953.
"We are surprised to learn of the Bad River Band’s decision not to renew individual easements within the reservation for Line 5 after negotiating in good faith for the past several years," Canada's largest pipeline company said in a statement on Monday.
"We will be taking some time to review the Band's decision in detail to determine our next steps."
The denial comes after months of protest by Native American and environmental groups against the Energy Transfer Partners Dakota Access Pipeline, which would transport crude from North Dakota to the Midwest.
The Army Corps of Engineers in December denied an easement needed to complete the line, which would have allowed the company to drill under Lake Oahe, a water source that has been a focus of the protests.
Line 5 carries 540,000 barrel per day of light crude and natural gas liquids from Superior, Wisconsin, to Sarnia, Ontario.
Enbridge said the pipeline traverses 12.3 miles of the Bad River reservation and there are 15 tracts of land with expired easements, making up about 20 percent of the right-of-way within the reservation. The tribe has partial ownership in 11 of those.
The other 80 percent of tracts within the reservation have easements that expire in 2043 or never expire.
(Additional reporting by Liz Hampton in Houston; Editing by Andrew Hay)