Author: Liz

A Heartfelt Thanks to Our Partners at FLOW

We have so many partnerships to be grateful for at FLOW, and in honor of Valentine’s Day, we’re taking time to say thanks, and invite others to join us. Just this year, several organizations have reached out to us because of our mission to protect the Great Lakes as a commons and offered their support with community benefit events. From the Yoga for Health Education and Pete Seeger Tribute Community Concert fundraiser events, to the Beans 4 Blue coffee benefit with Great Northern Roasting Company, to the Great Lakes Information Network (GLIN) Site of the Month partnership, we all share a love for our precious common waters.

In January, for example, Yoga For Health Education owners Libby and Michael Robold in Traverse City graciously held a community yoga day to benefit FLOW.  And as a yoga teacher myself, I must say how impressed I was with the amazing teachers and ambiance of Yoga for Health Education at the Commons.

In March and April, Tim Joseph of the Spirit of the Woods Music and Gretchen Eichberger from the Northwest Michigan Folklife Center are organizing three separate Pete Seeger Tribute Community Concerts in Northern Lower Michigan, with proceeds to benefit FLOW. Pete Seeger was a real hero to us all, inspiring us with music to promote social justice and to protect our air, water, and land for current and future generations. The first Pete Seeger Tribute Concert will be held in Northern Manistee County on March 15, the next one will take place at the Mills Community House in Benzonia on March 23, and a final one will be in Traverse City in late April.  Stay tuned for more details about these upcoming events on our website http://flowforwater.org/event/

Other wonderful news to celebrate is the brand new roll out of Great Northern Roasting Company’s (GRNC) Beans 4 Blue Coffee line with three blends: (1) the original Lake Effect blend, (2) the Wake 5 dark roast, and (3) the Shoreline light roast. All three blends are now on the shelves at grocers throughout Michigan’s lower peninsula and three percent of every bag sold benefits FLOW.  How lucky are we to have connected with GRNC owners Jack and Sarah Davis to celebrate organic fair trade gorgeous coffee and support Great Lakes water policy work, with 3% of sales proceeds donated to FLOW.

And just this month, the Great Lakes Commission-based Great Lakes Information Network (GLIN) named FLOW their Site of the Month for February.  As a GLIN partner, FLOW is honored and delighted to contribute to their outstanding resource network.  GLIN’s website feature comes at an auspicious time as FLOW is celebrating our one-year anniversary of our website today.

GLIN is a critical resource for the multi-jurisdictional agencies, organizations, and resources dedicated to managing and protecting the Great Lakes.  And such a resource is needed more than ever before so that we can effectively partner and collaborate to meet the grave challenges, systemic lake-wide threats like invasive species, algal blooms, dead zones, climate change, water levels, pollution, and many others.  It’s time to empower leaders and citizens across these great lakes with a new vision that protects our commons waters as a legacy for future generations – that’s what we’re about at FLOW. If you have an idea for partnering with FLOW, contact us at http://flowforwater.org/great-lakes-partners/ and we hope that you join us in protecting these 20% of the world’s freshwater, now and forever.

Enbridge Under the Bridge: What We Do and Don’t Know about the Underwater Oil Pipeline in the Great Lakes

FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood

FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood

FLOW and a number of organizations have come together over the last year to rally the public and raise awareness about the Canadian energy company Enbridge and their Line 5 pipeline, a 61-year-old pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac in the Great Lakes which has increased in flow and pipeline pressure and poses a great risk to our common water. On February 5, I carpooled up to St. Ignace, Michigan to attend a public meeting wherein Enbridge delivered a presentation to Mackinac County officials (and a packed room full of concerned citizens) to assuage growing concerns about the Line 5 pipeline expansion. My companions Jim Dulzo from Michigan Land Use Institute, FLOW intern Jonathan Aylward and I didn’t know what to expect, but we certainly all had a lot of questions that remained unanswered.

Background: The issue captured our attention after a critical 2012 report from National Wildlife Federation (NWF) titled Sunken Hazardpublished the scary facts: if Line 5 were to leak, then in the eight minutes that it takes for Enbridge to shut off the pipeline about 1.5 million gallons of oil would release, along with catastrophic impacts and dispersion across both Lakes Michigan and Huron. However, this is not even the “worse case discharge” given that it took the same company, Enbridge, 17 hours to respond to the worse inland oil pipeline spill in U.S. history along the Kalamazoo River just 3 years ago.  In short, the Great Lakes have never been more at risk and yet the public is largely uninformed.

Why FLOW is concerned:

  1. We know that Enbridge has “upgraded” Line 5 with new pump stations but we don’t know for sure what “product” (light or heavy, sweet or sour, dilbit, etc) is being transported 640 miles from Superior, Wisconsin through the Straits of Mackinac to Sarnia, Ontario;
  2. Heavy tar sands is the dirtiest and most carbon-intensive energy on earth and a spill would destroy our shared international waters and way of life;
  3. This “upgraded” pipeline is 61-years-old and is submerged under water in the heart of the Great Lakes that contains 20 percent of the world’s fresh surface water;
  4. Enbridge has a dismal pipeline safety record, underscored by the two recent heavy tar sands disasters in Marshall, Michigan along the Kalamazoo River (1 million gallons spilled in 2010) and Grand Marsh, Wisconsin (50,000 gallons spilled in 2012);
  5. Federal pipeline regulations do not provide for public disclosure in the event of a product change from light crude oil to heavy crude oil for example; and
  6. An unsettling feeling of lack of transparency and public disclosure about the safety of Line 5 for the Great Lakes.

The Enbridge “side of the story”

At 2 pm at Little Bear Arena in St. Ignace, Mackinac County Planning Commission (“the Commission”) Chairman Dean Reid stood before 175 people, amazed at the turnout, and explained the rationale for this special meeting. The fact of the matter was that the Commission “wanted to hear Enbridge’s side of the story” after receiving NWF’s Sunken Hazard, and video footage of the submerged Line 5 under the Straits of Mackinac. Interestingly, though, I learned from Beth Wallace at NWF who co-authored the report that the Commission did not invite NWF to participate as a panelist to publically present both points of view.

Commission officials and the audience listen to the Enbridge representatives' presentation.

Commission officials and the audience listen to the Enbridge representatives’ presentation.

Chairman Reid laid out the agenda, calling for Enbridge to address the integrity of their Line 5 pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac, the frequency of their testing, and emergency procedures in the event of a pipeline rupture. Recognizing the potential regional impact a spill would have in the Straits, the Commission invited other local units of government and organizations to attend this meeting. No public comments were allowed, but Enbridge panelists read and answer cards with written questions.

Next came Enbridge Community Relations Director Jackie Guthrie who described herself as a mom but also as a former lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army. She gave the audience a succinct and compelling PR presentation on Enbridge’s overall operations. “Think of Enbridge as the ‘Fed-Ex’ of the oil and gas industry,” she cleverly described, “Enbridge delivers 2.5 billion barrels of crude and liquid petroleum, 5 billion cubic/feet of natural gas, and 1,600 MW of renewable energy a day.” Her numbers underscored the amazing recent growth of this billion-dollar company coinciding with North America’s energy boom. For example, in the last seven years, Enbridge had doubled its employees to 11,000. Guthrie concluded her overview by noting that Enbridge was recognized as one of the Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations in the World.

This last claim got me thinking: if Enbridge can get that level of praise despite its shocking track record of 800 pipeline spills in the U.S. and Canada between 1999 and 2010, leaking 6.8 million gallons of oil and causing the largest inland heavy tar sands rupture in U.S. history, I wonder what the other energy companies are like.

Guthrie described the Line 5 as a 650-mile pipeline originating in Superior, Wisconsin traveling across the Upper Peninsula across the Straits of Michigan and down to Sarnia, Ontario. Line 5 is a 30-inch pipeline, except across the Straits where it divides into two 20-inch pipelines. Guthrie emphasized that Line 5 was carrying “light crude oil” which has “the consistency of skim milk.”

The view driving across the Mackinac Bridge: the Enbridge Line 5 oil pipeline is submerged beneath the same Straits of Mackinac that the Bridge traverses.

The view driving across the Mackinac Bridge: the Enbridge Line 5 oil pipeline is submerged beneath the same Straits of Mackinac that the Bridge traverses.

Blake Olson, Enbridge’s Escanaba Area Manager for over 400 miles of Line 5, followed with a presentation on the integrity of the Line 5 pipeline. He described Line 5 in the Straits as a one-inch thick seamless steel pipe, build with such a robust design that they just don’t build pipelines like this anymore. In fact, Olson commented that Line 5 at the Straits is the thickest pipeline in North America. Since 2012, Enbridge had increased the flow or volume of the product by 10 percent. Then he made the case that Enbridge had made a number of significant upgrades in their leak detection system within the last couple of years, including:

  • automatic shut-off valves at both sides of the Straits,
  • replacement of St. Ignace Valve Yard (2011) and Valve Yard containment system (2012),
  • the on-going installation of emergence flow restriction devices,
  • a back-up electric generator installed in 2013, and
  • a thermally imaging leak detection system to be installed this year.

In addition, Olson described Enbridge’s integrity protective system along Line 5, which included corrosion prevention with coal tar coating and cathodic protection, anchor strike prevention and brackets every 50 feet (coming this summer), monitoring with internal and external pipeline inspections, lighted shore signage and nautical charts stating DO NOT ANCHOR.

Too little, too late?

This was an impressive list to the casual listener/observer, but what troubled me was that a lot of these basic safety protections to ensure pipeline protection were recently instituted and this pipeline was 61-years-old. For example, in the 61 years of this pipeline’s history, the U.S. Coast Guard did not have nautical charts informing vessels about the very location of Line 5 until January 2014.  This change only happened because a number of concerned Michigan groups met with the Governor’s office to discuss Line 5’s safety in December 2013.

Olson assured the audience that Enbridge’s integrity program demonstrated that Line 5 under the Straits was “fit for service” with no dents or anomalies and met all federal pipeline regulations.

Before the Q&A session, Enbridge invited its contractor Bill Hazel from Marine Pollution Control to provide an overview of the emergency response measures set in place in the event of catastrophic spill on Line 5 under the Lakes. Hazel pointed to a number of simulated winter emergency response drills that Enbridge had participated in or serves as the lead in 2008, 2012, 2013, and this year. What became crystal clear was how catastrophic a Line 5 rupture would be especially during the wintertime. One follow-up question captured our imagination of this seemingly impossible mission: ‘May day, May day, May day!  It’s January 21, 2014 and it’s -9 °F and the wind chill is -25 °F, the Straits of Mackinac are frozen over, the ice four feet deep, and Line 5 has ruptured under the ice.  What are you going to do about it?’

Left to right: Jim Dulzo, MLUI; Jonathan Aylward, FLOW; Lee Sprague, Little River Band of Ottawa Indians; Anne Zukowski, Don't Frack Michigan; Jannan Cornstalk, Little River Band of Ottawa Indians

Left to right: Jim Dulzo, MLUI; Jonathan Aylward, FLOW; Lee Sprague, Little River Band of Ottawa Indians; Anne Zukowski, Don’t Frack Michigan; Jannan Cornstalk, Little River Band of Ottawa Indians

Enbridge answers (some) public questions

Following a final word from the local emergency manager in Mackinac, Guthrie gathered the 5×7 questions cards, proceeded to sort them into piles, and distributed them to the appropriate Enbridge representative for answers at the podium. Several illuminating points came out:

  1. Line 5 only transports light crude oil, the consistency of skim milk.
  2. Line 5’s light crude oil currently comes the Bakken oil fields.
  3. There are no plans to pump heavy crude oil through Line 5.
  4. Seamless pipe wasn’t really a seamless pipe as Enbridge had described previously, rather Line 5’s two 20-inch pipelines are seamless only up to the joints that repeat every 40 feet along the 4-mile stretch along the bottomlands of the Straits.
  5. A wintertime spill would present unprecedented challenges in mounting an emergency response.
  6. If a rupture occurred and the automatic shut-off valves turned off in a 3-minute period, 5,500 barrels would be released and disperse over an area 25-square-miles wide.  This number was down considerably from 15,000 barrels before Enbridge installed the automatic shut-off valves.

The last question was: ‘If tar sands were being transported through Line 5, what pipeline changes would Enbridge have to make?’ Enbridge’s Guthrie pulled the card aside and said, “let me hold off on this question because it is complex.”  But time was on Guthrie’s side as the meeting ended sharply at 3:30 pm and she never had to answer this telling question.

The composed Midwestern temperament of the room quickly changed as audience members shouted out that their questions had not been answered.  But it was clear that the meeting was over.

The bottom line for the bottomlands

I walked out into the 12 °F air, looked out over the Straits and felt an urgent need for additional public forums in Mackinac and the Great Lakes to further educate and inform all walks of life who live here about Line 5. Enbridge had attempted to calm the public’s concerns about Line 5, but they hadn’t been entirely forthright and it bothered me. Without public transparency, we will need to engage the State of Michigan to assert its authority as trustee of the waters and bottomlands of the Great Lakes for the benefit of the public.

What I’m talking about is the public trust doctrine, which legally requires Governor Snyder and both the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Environmental Quality, as state trustees, to ensure that Enbridge’s Line 5 under the Straits will not impair the public waters of the Great Lakes. This means that the State must demand full transparency and disclosure of all Enbridge’s activities not only for the people within range of a potential catastrophic spill, but for all residents of Michigan. Thus, if and when Enbridge decided to transport any type of heavy tar sands oil through Line 5, Enbridge has a duty to inform the state and the public and secure proper authorization under the Great Lands Submerged Lands Act. That’s FLOW’s take on the issue, and it’s what you will be hearing more about in the weeks and months to come. Stay tuned.

The Greatest Threat to the Great Lakes that No One Seems to Know About

The Greatest Threat to the Great Lakes and No One Seems to Know About It: Expanding Enbridge’s Line 5 Through the Straits of Mackinac

Click here to read and download PDF

How often do you hear a story in the news and then feel utterly shocked that you didn’t know anything about it? Well, that’s how all 40 million of us living in the Great Lakes should feel about the Enbridge Line 5 expansion across the Straits of Mackinac—a pipeline expansion project that will transport tar sands oil directly through the heart of the Great Lakes. In a nutshell, this just may be the greatest threat facing the Great Lakes at this time in history. “An oil spill in the Straits of Mackinac isn’t a question of if—it’s a question of when,” according to National Wildlife Federation’s (NWF) comprehensive report on this issue, Sunken Hazard.

What would a tar sands oil spill the size of Exxon-Valdez mean for the Great Lakes? Goodbye fisheries, aquatic food links, goodbye wildlife, goodbye municipal drinking water, goodbye Mackinac Island, goodbye tourism and property values, and goodbye to one of the world’s largest freshwater inland seas.

What company is stealthily completing this hazardous energy venture with limited public scrutiny? Enbridge—the same Canadian company responsible in 2010 for a million gallon tar sands oil pipeline rupture and a $1 billion cleanup along a 35-mile stretch of Michigan’s Kalamazoo River. Known as the largest transporter of crude oil, Enbridge is requesting a permit from the State Department’s U.S. Transportation Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to expand its existing pipeline—Line 67 also known as the Alberta Clipper—to transport heavy tar sands oil originating from Alberta, Canada to Superior, Wisconsin. From there, Enbridge, according to company officials, has already expanded the capacity of a second existing pipeline—Line 5—that travels directly through the Straits of Mackinac to a refinery located in Sarnia, Ontario. The 1,000+ mile Alberta Clipper pipeline route will double the tar sands oil that it currently carries and will deliver even more tar sands oil than the highly publicized and controversial TransCanada Corp’s Keystone XL pipeline.

Built sixty years ago in 1953, Line 5’s twin pipelines that cross the Straits of Mackinac—each 20 inches in diameter—were designed to transport light conventional crude oil, not Enbridge’s viscous, heavy tar sands oil or “bitumen” blended or diluted with volatile natural gas liquid condensate, also known as “dilbit.” Dilbit spills are particularly difficult to remediate because the bitumen and diluents separate, releasing toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and heavy, sticky bitumen material. And in Lake Michigan, who knows how long it would take to actually clean up these pollutants. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates that it takes an average of 99 years to rid of pollutants in Lake Michigan.

Now let’s dig a little deeper into Enbridge’s depressing track record. According to NWF, “Enbridge’s pipelines had more than 800 spills in the U.S. and Canada between 1999 and 2010, leaking 6.8 million gallons of oil.” So with the combination of strong currents along the Straits, Enbridge’s inexcusable track record, its weak emergency response, and a strong likelihood of mechanical pipeline failure in this fragile ecosystem, we must ask ourselves: is this a risk we as citizens, inheritors, and future protectors of the Great Lakes are willing to accept?

This Enbridge pipeline expansion is a perfect example of why we have the public trust in our navigable waters—an ancient legal doctrine dating back to the Roman times—designed to protect our common shared resources like the Great Lakes. The public trust empowers us as a democratic and thoughtful people to question the impacts of proposed actions like Enbridge’s and determine whether they will impair, pollute or irreparably harm our water resources, and jeopardize protected water uses like fishing, swimming, and navigation.

This proposed action is a clear violation of the public trust as the pipeline threatens to destroy the Great Lakes’ common waters, which support the region’s $62 billion economy with 1.5 million jobs, drinking water for 40 million citizens, as well as our very social fabric, quality of life and enjoyment, and shared ecosystem with wildlife. The unprecedented scale of such an ecological and economic disaster also would undermine the $1 billion already invested in the U.S. government’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. This is why the public trust and its protection of the commons is more important than ever.

What this debate really boils down to is a much-needed larger national conversation about our country’s future energy policy. Not only does President Obama need to have the Keystone XL pipeline on his radar, but all pipeline expansions like this project, in assessing the impacts of climate change. It’s time that our nation makes good energy choices that respect the Great Lakes as a shared common resource protected by the public trust. We need to put the safety of our water and our future generations before our overzealous energy development. If we do this, we can chart a future with clean and abundant water, food, energy and a prosperous economy.

Looking for something concrete to do about this pressing pipeline issue? Come join FLOW, TC350, 350.org, National Wildlife Federation, Michigan Land Use Institute, Food & Water Watch, and many other organizations and attend the Oil and Water Don’t Mix: A Rally for the Great Lakes on July 14th at the St. Ignace Bridge View Park, just north of the Mackinac Bridge. The purpose of the rally is to bring attention to the dangers of this pipeline and its expansion, and to organize a response to these risks. We want to pressure our leaders to put safety measures in place to prevent a devastating oil spill in the heart of the Great Lakes. Click here to sign up and RSVP via this Facebook event.

oil and water dont mix photo