FLOW attends Northern Michigan Pipeline Symposium

On Tuesday night June 24, 2014, approximately 150 concerned citizens gathered together at Petoskey High School to learn and ask questions about Enbridge Energy and their future plans for pipeline 5.  A wide range of advocacy and regulatory groups were also in attendance and participated in the discussion panel that followed after presentations form PHMSA, Enbridge, and the EPA.

The symposium was structured with a very controlled design. Enbridge along with a number of overlapping agencies and advocacy groups welcomed discussion at tables outside the auditorium before the event started. It was hard to see Enbridge’s table as they were crowded with protesters and students from MI-CATS (Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands) calling out claims against the energy company. Amongst the 2 bodyguards present with Enbridge, a nervous demeanor was apparent in the shaky voice of their representatives.

Allan Beshore was the first speaker to present. He represented the US Dept of Transportation’s PHMSA (Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration) group and provided an explanation of PHMSA’s involvement with the oil and gas industry. The jolly Kansan kept his talk simple and bland with factual information. Allan’s message was that PHMSA is not just a regulating entity but also a group that has a mindset towards providing stewardship to affected communities. Interestingly enough, Allan did note during his presentation that corrosion and equipment failure historically have been the largest occurrence to pipeline breaks.

When Brad Shamla, Enbridge Energy’s Vice President of North American operations took the stage he was met with dissatisfying boo’s from the crowd. Brad focused on the history of Enbridge and made it clear that they have learned a lot from the Kalamazoo spill in 2010. He made sure to underline the fact that Enbridge has invested millions in new green energy technology, safety measures, and attempts to improve the image and culture of their company since the spill in 2010. It was evident that Enbridge wanted to portray their effort to increase public awareness and community outreach also. Thematically the presenters held to a “trust us mentality” assuring citizens they have improved systems since the Kalamazoo oil spill. Yet, nothing seemed too compelling or new in Brad’s talk. While Enbridge has largely grown its employment over the last 4 years, only 250 jobs will be created in Michigan from their proposed pipeline 5 work.

Ralph Dollhopf an on-scene coordinator from the EPA was the last to speak. Ralph discussed the oil and hazardous substance national contingency plan. Reviewing the steps of the process towards executing the plan in the event of a spill.  Concerns about tar sands sinking or floating in water were addressed time and again as Ralph based his explanation off the fact that “weathering factors” play a large role in determining sink/float characteristics of oil. This makes it hard to determine any universal cause plan for a spill without knowing the characteristics of the body of water it occurs in.

Initiating the Q & A session 15 people took the stage representing:

Enbridge

American Petroleum Institute

PHMSA- Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration

US Environmental Protection Agency

Coast Guard

Michigan Department of Environmental Quality

Michigan Public Service Commission

Tri-County Emergency Management

Regional Health Department

Marine Pollution Control

Pipeline Safety Trust

Michigan Environmental Council

Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council

Panel questions were predetermined and due to time constraints limited to addressing only a portion of all the questions. Enbridge’s V.P. provided open-ended answers and vague clarifications to most questions as the large majority were directed at him. The rest of the representatives held true to a message of how prepared they are in the event of an oil spill. Bill Hazel, Director of Marine Services from Marine Pollution Control made a point that focus needs to not only be on post-spill contingency plans but also pre-spill. It was clear that there was a lack of preventative tools used to contain spills in the event of a pipeline break in the straights. Today in Mackinaw City there is less than 1 mile of boom ready for deployment in the event of a spill.

FLOW’s submitted question for the panel went relatively unaddressed. “Has Enbridge obtained authorization from DEQ under Part 325, Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act for placement and use of the pipeline”?  In response the DEQ avoided directly answering the question stating that the DNR holds the easement and little was known about it, while Enbridge held to the claim that pipeline 5 was grandfathered in under PA 10 back in the 1950s. To be blunt both spokesman seemed unprepared to answer any public trust questions.

In writing the narrative for the symposium a true lack of public transparency took shape in the thesis. If there is a necessity to move oil, pipelines seem to be the most efficient means and an agreement must be found to regulate them. Given Michigan’s immense wealth in the natural resource of water, public trust responsibility is very important. Enbridge Energy came to the event hoping to reassure the public that they are prepared for a potential pipe burst but did not answer anyone’s direct concerns. Enbridge is only looking to seek resolution based on their past history which acknowledges the public’s biggest fear of the energy company, another spill. Citizens left the symposium with more doubt unsure of what the future will hold; it’s the public’s Great Lakes and everyone has the right to know what is occurring in their waters.

A special thanks to Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council for organizing and running this event.

News coverage can be found here: Local NBC affiliate’s story   IPR Public Radio’s story 

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