Urgent Threat: Enbridge is courting an oil spill disaster again in Michigan, and this time the Great Lakes are at risk. The public has until June 29, 2017, to oppose the Canadian energy transport giant’s request for state permission to squeeze more life out of a cracked, dented, and deformed pair of pipelines that push 23 million gallons of oil a day across the bottom of the Mackinac Straits, where Lake Michigan and Lake Huron meet. The request to continue the piecemeal patch up of the 64-year-old “Line 5” pipelines threatens the drinking water source for more than 40 million people, the economic engine for the Great Lakes region, and a way of life for millions of North Americans.
Terrible Track Record: Recall that Enbridge in 2010 caused the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history when its southern Michigan pipeline ruptured and dumped more than one million gallons of heavy tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River watershed. That failure sickened 150 people, and permanently drove 150 families from their homes, taking four years and over $1.2 billion to clean up to the extent possible. Enbridge’s Line 5 has a similar dark history, with at least 29 spills totaling more than one million gallons of oil spread along its path in Michigan and Wisconsin since 1953.
Damage Done: Now Enbridge has applied to the State of Michigan for a permit to install more underwater anchor supports on its antiquated Line 5 pipelines in the Mackinac Straits, which the University of Michigan calls the “worst possible place” for a Great Lakes oil spill. The 22 anchor supports are another belated attempt to keep Line 5 from shifting, bending, and grinding on the bottom in the powerful underwater currents at the Straits, but the damage is already done. These supports are merely the latest in a series of stopgap measures that ignore decades of metal fatigue and stress on the pipeline, which is now well past its 50-year life expectancy and should be permanently shut down as soon as possible.
Follow the Facts
Public records reveal that…
- From the 1970s through the 1990s, Enbridge installed grout bags to prop up Line 5, attempting to meet the state’s requirement under the 1953 easement to support the steel pipeline at least every 75 feet along the publicly owned bottom of the Great Lakes.
- In 2001, Enbridge declared an emergency on Line 5 in the Straits to stabilize stretches or spans of the pipeline that had become dangerously unsupported for over 130 feet because of “washouts” of the lake bottom and grout bags caused by swift currents that, records show, were underestimated when the pipeline was designed.
- Recently it was revealed that Enbridge was out of compliance likely for decades with the legally required safety margin, allowing 16 spans of Line 5 to go unsupported for lengths greater than 140 feet, with the longest being 224 feet on the east pipeline and 286 feet on the west pipeline – nearly four times the legal limit.
- With no reliable model to predict lakebed washouts due to the highly dynamic nature of currents in the Mackinac Straits, Enbridge cannot meet its legal duty under the state easement to prudently operate this pipeline.
- Enbridge incorrectly categorizes its proposed patchwork response to Line 5’s major structural defects as “routine maintenance” when the company has, in fact, been systematically expanding the capacity of Line 5 and Line 6b in southern Michigan to carry Canadian oil heading mostly back to Canadian refineries and to overseas markets.
This strategy has previously enabled the company to avoid State of Michigan review of the safety and necessity of the pipeline itself, and dodge the legally required consideration of alternative routes and methods that do not threaten the Great Lakes.
Take Action Now
The public has until June 29, 2017, to submit comments to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality opposing Enbridge’s bid to keep Line 5 on life support and seeking to prevent a Great Lakes oil spill disaster.
- Submit comments at http://www.oilandwaterdontmix.org/anchor_structure_public_comment
- Draw upon information in this Action Alert, and from www.OilandWaterDontMix.org, to offer objections that are specific and factual.
- Be sure to demand a public hearing and call for the Michigan DEQ’s full review of the environmental impact of the Enbridge request and feasible and prudent alternatives to Line 5, as required by law.
- Written comments will be made part of the record and should reference application number 2RD-DFDK-Y35G.