State-Commissioned Line 5 Risk Analysis Underlines Urgency of Shutdown, FLOW Says

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                      August 21, 2018


Even the significantly understated economic impacts of a spill from Line 5 at the Straits of Mackinac in a state-commissioned analysis reveal a fiscal and human price tag too high for the people of Michigan, FLOW (For Love of Water) said in comments submitted to Lansing officials before Sunday’s deadline.

FLOW submitted the comments to the state on a draft Independent Risk Analysis coordinated by Dr. Guy Meadows of Michigan Technological University that was released in July.      

The Traverse City-based Great Lakes law and policy center said that while the state-commissioned analysis rests on excessively conservative assumptions that lead to underestimates, the potential $2 billion economic impact it calculates is unacceptable and justifies an immediate shutdown of the twin petroleum pipelines owned and operated by Enbridge Energy. The company was responsible for the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history when its Line 6B ruptured and contaminated the Kalamazoo River watershed in 2010.

An analysis released by FLOW in May and conducted by ecological economist Dr. Robert Richardson of Michigan State University estimated impacts and damages of over $6 billion from the same approximate volume of spill used as an assumption in the state-commissioned study.

“A Line 5 spill will ravage Michigan’s economy and environment no matter which estimate you use,” said Liz Kirkwood, executive director of FLOW.  “The state-sponsored report confirms that the economics of Line 5 are bad news for the people of Michigan and our precious Great Lakes.”

FLOW said the state-commissioned study’s flaws understate the potential impact; for example:

  • Short-term impact? The study wrongly assumes that an oil spill in the Straits will only have a short-term effect on the region’s tourism and recreational economies, commercial shipping industry, commercial fishing, and coastal property values.  It bases the short-term economic impact assumption on a recreation assessment for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.  However, that spill occurred roughly 41 miles off the coast of Louisiana, while a potential Line 5 spill would occur approximately two miles offshore at most. This proximity to the shoreline and coastal communities amplifies the impacts of a Line 5 spill.
  • Quick cleanup? The study grossly underestimates the amount of time it will likely take to remove the dispersed oil, to the extent even possible, and start restoring the water and shorelines of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. If the Line 5 spill estimated in the state-sponsored study were to occur, and approximately 441 miles of shoreline were affected, cleanup crews would have to restore over a mile of beach every day to ensure the shoreline would be in condition for the next summer season, when the majority of Michigan tourism and recreational activities take place.
  • No lasting harm to the Pure Michigan brand? The study does not account for any lingering stigma that a catastrophic environmental disaster would likely cast. The long-term taint and diminution of property values from a release of hazardous substances and water pollution are well documented. The Risk Analysis assumes the reduction in the value of lakefront properties would only amount to $2.6 million.  Richardson’s analysis estimates a multi-year impact of over $485 million in coastal property values.
  • Loss and damage to people, communities The Risk Analysis acknowledges that “mental health issues are a significant concern after disasters such as a potential oil spill at the Straits of Mackinac.” As significant as the effects to mental health on residents and tribal members, the Risk Analysis fails to discuss the potential costs of long-term mental health counseling, therapy, and other services needed to prevent or treat the mental health symptoms caused by a worst-case scenario Line 5 spill. The Risk Analysis also fails to evaluate the risks to the public drinking water supply on Mackinac Island, as well as the emergency response plan that would have to be implemented to ensure Mackinac Island residents and visitors have adequate drinking water supplies after a spill.

FLOW said state officials, as public trustee of the waters, should require Enbridge to submit and demonstrate through a comprehensive alternative analysis that there are no other feasible and prudent alternatives to the continued operation of Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac. At a minimum, state officials must demand that Enbridge demonstrate that they possess sufficient liability coverage for all liabilities and/or damages stemming from the worst-case scenario Line 5 spill outlined in the Risk Analysis. Enbridge has made no attempt to do so, instead calling on the state and citizens to trust that another Kalamazoo River-scale disaster won’t happen again. 

“Trust is no substitute for hard evidence,” Kirkwood said. “Enbridge has continually failed to demonstrate it can be trusted with the future of our great waters.”


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