Tag: For Love of Water

Take Action Today to Oppose Michigan’s Senate Bill 1197 and Save the Mackinac Bridge from Enbridge Line 5

FLOW President Jim Olson addresses the board of the Mackinac Bridge Authority at its Nov. 8, 2018, meeting in St. Ignace.


FLOW is urging supporters to contact your Michigan lawmakers today using our guidance below and to plan to join FLOW and other leaders of the Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign who are hosting a Line 5 lawmaker lobby day for Tuesday, November 27, in Lansing, to fight for the Great Lakes and the Mackinac Bridge by opposing Governor Snyder’s Enbridge oil tunnel scheme and shutting down Line 5 in the Mackinac Straits.

In coordination with the Snyder administration, departing State Sen. Tom Casperson, a Republican from Escanaba, on November 8 introduced Senate Bill 1197 to amend the Mackinac Bridge Authority Act to allow it to own and operate a “utility tunnel,” with the Enbridge Line 5 oil pipeline as the intended occupant. There’s also the uncertain prospect of adding gas or electric lines, which could rent space in the tunnel by paying Enbridge, not the bridge authority that is proposed to own it. In fact, if the fiber optic lines that currently cross the Mackinac Bridge were moved to the proposed tunnel, Enbridge could gain more than $500,000 a year in lease revenue currently going to operate and maintain the bridge.

Please use our updated Line 5 oil tunnel fact sheet to get informed and share it with your lawmakers and others who can help stand up for the Great Lakes and the Mighty Mac. Here are the three key points to make when contacting your lawmaker (You can look up your state representative here and state senator here).

Senate Bill 1197:

  1. Fails to address the imminent risk of the decaying Line 5 pipelines lying on the bottom of the Great Lakes for 10 years or more. The deal struck by Gov. Snyder and Enbridge would lock in, by right, the operation of the 65-year old, gouged, damaged, and deteriorating Line 5 dual pipelines across the Straits of Mackinac for at least the 10-year period it is expected that tunnel construction would take.  At any future time, if the Enbridge decides not to build the tunnel, the agreement would obligate future governors to keep Line 5 in the waters of the Mackinac Straits indefinitely!
  2. Compromises the mission of the Mackinac Bridge Authority (MBA) and the Mighty Mac itself. For more than 60 years, the Mackinac Bridge Authority has overseen and managed Michigan’s most iconic asset with no hint of controversy and with impeccable performance. This proposed legislation would draw the MBA into the middle of a major controversy with no other purpose than to allow a private, Canadian oil company to continue using a short cut across Michigan and through the Great Lakes to transport oil from western Canadian oil fields to eastern Canadian refineries, with some of that oil being shipped overseas.
  3. Exposes the Mackinac Bridge Authority, toll payers, and taxpayers to financial peril. Since its beginning, the Mackinac Bridge was designed to be funded through the tolls collected by those crossing the bridge. The proposed legislation, which is designed to authorize the backroom deal struck by Gov. Snyder and Enbridge, opens up numerous areas of financial risk for the MBA and the public, including the potential liability in the event of an explosion or other catastrophe associated with the proposed tunnel or if Enbridge fails to keep its commitments to build and maintain the tunnel during the 99-year lease.

The Michigan Senate could quickly approve the bill in the lame duck session after Thanksgiving, and send it to the House. Gov. Snyder is seeking to sign and tie the hands of the incoming administration of Governor-elect Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General-elect Dana Nessel, who both campaigned for shutting down Line 5, not replacing it with a tunnel. Gov. Snyder also released a draft of a third oil tunnel agreement with Enbridge, which Senate Bill 1197 seeks to enact.

Click here for FLOW’s summary of recent action at the November 8 meeting of the Mackinac Bridge Authority. Stay tuned to the FLOW’s website for additional updates, legal analyses, and more steps that citizens, communities, and businesses can take to protect the Great Lakes and the Mighty Mac.


Public to Mighty Mac Board: Don’t Risk the Great Lakes and Mackinac Bridge by Owning Private Oil Tunnel

Protect our greatest treasures — the Great Lakes and the Mackinac Bridge. Stop Gov. Rick Snyder’s rush to lock in a 99-year deal for a private oil tunnel in the Mackinac Straits. Never stop fighting for clean water and democracy.

Those were the messages loud and clear from a big crowd of residents, business owners, tribal leaders, environmental and social justice groups, and many others who spoke out Thursday in St. Ignace in favor of protecting the Great Lakes and Pure Michigan economy and against rushing to make the Mackinac Bridge Authority the owner of an oil tunnel for at least 99 years.

Snyder administration officials pushed their deal with Enbridge to keep the decaying Line 5 oil pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac running at least through 2028 while exploring a possible tunnel. The authority board — recently packed by Snyder with pro-tunnel appointees — asked few questions.

But the public had many pointed questions for the Mackinac Bridge Authority. What’s the rush on a decision with century-long consequences? Why partner with deceptive and spill-prone Enbridge? Why try to exempt Enbridge from laws protecting our public health, private property, land, and water? Why give away our public lands and waters to benefit a private foreign corporation? Why ignore tribal treaty rights in the Straits that pre-date the state of Michigan? 

The questions kept coming as nearly 40 people took turns. Why lock in this Great Lakes shortcut for Canadian oil for another century when our changing climate demands clean energy solutions in the immediate future? How will our tourist-based businesses survive a Great Lakes oil spill catastrophe? Why politicize and dilute the single-purpose mission of the authority to operate and protect the Mackinac Bridge? Why tie the hands of the incoming governor and attorney general, who campaigned on shutting down Line 5 before it blows?

Bill Gnodtke, immediate past MBA chair

Immediate past chair of the Mackinac Bridge Authority Bill Gnodtke drew a standing ovation after questioning the lack of transparency and attempt to weaken the single-purpose mission of the authority board. He submitted a letter from himself and seven other former members of the authority board with a collective 88 years of service to the Mackinac Bridge. The letter notes that the endorsers, including Mackinac Island Grand Hotel owner Dan Musser III, were appointed under Democratic and Republican Governors Blanchard, Engler, Granholm, and Snyder.

The only voice in support of the oil tunnel deal came from a woman identifying herself as an Enbridge employee, although it appeared that dozens of Enbridge employees arrived in company trucks, and sat silently in rows of seats, wearing pro-tunnel buttons on their shirts.

The authority board had no answers, then left without discussion or voting. The board set its next meeting for Feb. 12-13 in Lansing, but retains the option to schedule an ad hoc meeting before year’s end to further consider or approve the bridge-tunnel scheme.

Shortly after the meeting and in coordination with the Snyder administration, departing State Sen. Tom Casperson, a Republican from Escanaba, introduced Senate Bill 1197 to amend the Mackinac Bridge Authority Act to allow it to own and operate a “utility tunnel,” with the Enbridge Line 5 oil pipeline as the intended occupant. There’s also the uncertain prospect of adding gas or electric lines, which could rent space in the tunnel by paying Enbridge, not the bridge authority that is proposed to own it. The Michigan Senate could quickly approve the bill in the lame duck session after Thanksgiving, and send it to the house. Gov. Snyder is seeking to sign and tie the hands of the incoming administration of Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel, who both campaigned for shutting down Line 5, not replacing it with a tunnel. Gov. Snyder also released a draft of a third oil tunnel agreement with Enbridge, which Senate Bill 1197 seeks to enact.

FLOW and other leaders of the Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign are planning a Line 5 lawmaker education day for November 27 to fight for the Great Lakes and the Mackinac Bridge. Stay tuned to the FLOW website for deeper analysis of Senate Bill 1197 and the third oil tunnel agreement, and steps that citizens, communities, and businesses can take to protect the Great Lakes and the Mighty Mac.


FLOW’s Jim Olson speaks about Line 5, a proposed private oil tunnel, and the law on behalf of the Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign at the November 8, 2018 meeting of the Mackinac Bridge Authority. 

Liz Kirkwood speaks at the November 8, 2018 Mackinac Bridge Authority Meeting on risk and due diligence

Kelly Thayer speaks at the November 8, 2018 Mackinac Bridge Authority Meeting on not partnering with Enbridge.

Or click here to view the full MBA meeting!

Watch Jim Olson’s presentation to the Board at 0:17:12

Kelly Thayer at 1:28:54

Liz Kirkwood at 1:33:15

Bill Gnodtke at 2:26:45


Vote for Water: Michiganders Can Choose Great Lakes Protection and Prosperity

By Paul Hendricks, Manager of Environmental Responsibility, Patagonia, Inc.
All photos courtesy of Paul Hendricks.


Every fall, strong north winds bring in a steady flow of storms that rip across the Great Lakes. You’ve probably witnessed one of these storms, where waves crash over pier heads and howling winds cut through your parka, chilling you straight to the bone. Over the years, these storms have tormented sailors, bringing thousands of ships to the icy lake bottoms. These days, they beckon surfers to brave the chilling waters in search of “unsalted” swell. From any perspective, there is something powerful about this time of year on the Lakes. It is raw, unharnessed nature that is both beautiful and prideful for those who call these waters home.

Right now, there is a different kind of storm brewing on the Great Lakes. For 65 years, a decaying pipeline known as “Line 5” has been pumping 23 million gallons of oil each day through the heart of the Great Lakes. Operated by Enbridge Energy – who was responsible for a 1.1 million gallon oil spill in the Kalamazoo River in 2010 – this pipeline is 15 years past its expected life. And it’s showing: Researchers have documented cracks, dents, bends, gouges, and failed supports on the pipeline’s path through the Straits of Mackinac, putting our freshwater and over 700 miles of our coastline at risk.

Concerned citizens have been fighting for the decommissioning of this line for years, believing that the Great Lakes – our public waters – are not worth risking for the short-term economic gains of a private company. These lakes provide the basis of this region’s identity and economy – 1.5 million jobs and over $62 billion in wages every year.

Yet, Enbridge Energy has been fighting to keep the oil flowing – touting the pipeline’s “as good as new” condition and importance on the region’s economy. Photo evidence of the decrepit pipeline and documentation of only 102 Enbridge employees in Michigan prove these claims don’t hold to the wind. To add insult to injury, Enbridge struck a deal with Governor Snyder to “explore” digging a tunnel to house Line 5 through the Straits, a billion-dollar deal that doesn’t stop an oil spill from happening.


I work for Patagonia, Inc., a company that makes apparel for outdoor recreation – skiing, hiking, climbing, fishing, surfing. We are a successful business, with growth that has far eclipsed our industry’s average – success which we attribute to our obsessive dedication to minimizing our impact and maximizing our influence to protect our most treasured natural resources.

Our company’s mission statement reads, “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crises.” In that statement, we acknowledge that our business will always cause some amount of harm, but we are mandated to not cause unnecessary harm – through claiming responsibility for our impacts and reducing them wherever we can.

Paul Hendricks, Manager of Environmental Responsibility, Patagonia, Inc.

Line 5 is the epitome of unnecessary harm. It has been proven that the oil flowing through Line 5 can be redirected through existing infrastructure that doesn’t put the Great Lakes at risk.  By asking to decommission Line 5, nobody is asking Enbridge to go out of business, but to act responsibly, and respect this region’s greatest resources.

This month, the Line 5 storm is coming to a head as our politicians are making decisions that will last for the next 100 years. As Michiganders head to the polls on Election Day, I urge you to think through the multi-generational impact your vote will have on this region. Vote for policy makers that value the lasting protection of this region’s backbone. Vote for Water.


The Drinking Water Crisis: It’s Rural, Too

Groundwater is out of sight, but its mismanagement has real consequences for our health.

An article in Saturday’s New York Times confirms what FLOW reported in November: elevated levels of nitrate in groundwater have polluted thousands of rural wells in the Midwest. The Times notes that up to 42,000 wells in Wisconsin may contain nitrate at levels that exceed the national drinking water standard. FLOW found that almost 15,000 Michigan wells tested by state government’s drinking water laboratory between 2007 and 2017 had detectable nitrate, and about 10 percent of those exceeded the health standard.

FLOW’s report also noted a U.S. EPA estimate that 3,254 square miles of groundwater in Michigan are contaminated with nitrate concentrations that are at least half the level of the drinking water safety standard. This is 6 percent of the state’s land area.

Nitrate is a form of nitrogen combined with oxygen that can be converted in the body to nitrite. Agricultural sources of nitrate include wastes from livestock operations and farm fertilizers. Nitrate in drinking water can cause a disease called methemoglobinemia, a blood disorder primarily affecting infants under six months of age. Some studies suggest maternal exposure to environmental nitrates and nitrites may increase the risk of pregnancy complications such as anemia, threatened abortion/premature labor, or preeclampsia.

The Times calls the problem, “Rural America’s Own Private Flint,” because, as in Flint, weak government policies and poor enforcement have enabled health-threatening contamination of drinking water. Excessive commercial fertilizer use and application of agricultural animal waste are the leading culprits in nitrate contamination. Government has a duty to protect all waters, including groundwater, for the benefit of the public. But in Michigan and surrounding states, governments are shirking that public trust duty.

Agriculture can thrive without spreading contamination throughout our groundwater. Enacting and enforcing laws that prevent excessive application of commercial fertilizer and animal wastes can be done without harm to the agriculture economy. The public deserves no less.

The next governor and legislature of Michigan have much work to do to protect the Sixth Great Lake – the abundant groundwater underlying our land that provides drinking water for nearly 4.5 million Michiganders.


Political Winds Threaten the Mackinac Bridge on Its 61st Birthday

Photo credit: Nancy May

Happy Birthday to the Mackinac Bridge!

Today marks its 61st birthday. The Mighty Mac, as it is affectionately known, opened to traffic on November 1, 1957. Perhaps no other piece of public infrastructure in Michigan evokes the same pride and sense of majesty as does the Mackinac Bridge. It draws tens of thousands of people each year from across Michigan and far beyond to stride across its five miles on the annual Mackinac Bridge Walk on Labor Day. And perhaps at no other time in its history has the future of the bridge been so threatened by political winds.

Gov. Rick Snyder is pushing by year’s end to bind the Mackinac Bridge Authority for least 99 years to owning and overseeing not just the bridge, but also Snyder’s proposed oil tunnel under the Mackinac Straits for use by Enbridge, a private Canadian oil pipeline company with a terrible track record of oil spills and damage across Michigan. Barbara Brown, vice chair of the Mackinac Bridge Authority, is urging the public and elected officials to protect the Mackinac Bridge from Enbridge. Ms. Brown is an extremely well-informed voice, having served on the bridge authority since 2005. Public service on behalf of the bridge is part of her family’s legacy. Her grandfather Prentiss Brown (see accompanying photo) was the first chairman of the bridge authority’s board, on which he served from 1950 to 1973, including several years before and during construction of the Mighty Mac.
 

Courtesy Michigan Department of Transportation. November 1, 1957 (left to right) State Highway Commissioner John Mackie, bridge designer David Steinman, Governor G. Mennen Williams, Prentiss Brown, former governor Murray Van Wagoner, Sault Ste. Marie businessman George Osborn, William Cochran and Lawrence Rubin.


Photo credit: Nancy May

A few facts about the Mackinac Bridge
(from the Mackinac Bridge Authority):

  • The Mackinac Bridge is 5 miles long (26,372 ft)
  • The main towers stand 552 ft above the water
  • The towers reach 210 ft below the water
  • There are 42,000 miles of wire in the cables
  • The bridge weighs 1,024,500 Tons
  • It took 85,000 blueprints to fully design the bridge
  • Construction began: May 7, 1954
  • The Mackinac Bridge was open to traffic: November 1, 1957

 

What the Water Says

Photo: Charles Brackett


Inspired by FLOW’s Campaign for Fresh Water
by Jaimien Delp


Maybe there was a specific moment when it happened: the first time you saw a kiteboarder on the bay, or the evening you dipped a paddle to the surface of an inland lake so smooth you felt a part of something surreal when you looked down and found the sky and your own gaze reflected back to you. Maybe the feeling struck you quite suddenly, say, on a fall color hike along the shores of Lake Michigan, or the afternoon you held your palm flush to the current of the Boardman River and recognized for the first time a seamlessness between yourself and something wild and elemental.  

Or maybe your love of water began years before you even realized it.  Like time, maybe water is a thing that has shaped your life quietly, a presence you’ve grown towards so steadily and naturally you’ve hardly felt the need to name it.  Suppose your childhood is one long story of rivers and streams, summer days adrift in a rowboat, a montage of Great Lakes waves and pools and rivulets that have buoyed you into adulthood, always present in the backdrop of memory or the moment, easy as breath.  

Easy as forgetting what water truly means to life when it has always surrounded you, softly and in such abundance, and without asking anything in return.  

Photo: Charles Brackett

My own love story with Northern Michigan’s water began well before any memory of it and reaffirms itself over and over again in moments.  I love watching the sun melt into waves at secret beaches in summer. I love standing in a river’s current. I love the sound of water, the smell of it, the sensation of slipping in and giving over whatever heaviness I might have been wearing.  

I often wonder, though, where does the heaviness go?  What do the lakes and rivers do with it? How much of our mess can we dump into these watersheds, and how much of its beauty and wealth can we take for ourselves, or have stolen from us, before it’s all gone?  

These are questions of feeling, yes, but they have taken on very tangible meaning in recent decades within the Great Lakes states.  We are living in an era of mounting urgency when it comes to matters of clean, safe and affordable water for all; of correcting the failures of our leaders to abide by their Constitutional and common law duties to protect the invaluable resource of our watersheds from pollution, privatization and the desecration that follows; of the most fundamental principles of water justice, equality and people over profit.  

We are all familiar with the headlines about the Flint water crisis, the ongoing water shutoffs to households in Detroit, with oil spills and lead poisoning and PFAS, with the risks to resources and society that corporations like Nestlé and Enbridge hang their hats on.  We know, on the most basic human level, that our watersheds are threatened.  That our streams cannot sustain such giants coming in with taps and pumps to bottle and sell away our water, and virtually for free.  That we, by virtue of our elected leaders, are allowing for the destruction of a resource absolutely vital to the survival of our children, grandchildren, great grandchildren…

Photo: Charles Brackett

The magnitude of the problem is vast, and often illusive to the naked eye.  You see, our water is so lovely to look upon, so vibrant and seemingly endless when you stand at the peak of Pyramid Point, or when you cross the Mackinac Bridge, that it’s difficult to believe a rusted pair of pipelines are pumping crude oil just below, threatening to burst. Or that not far away, a corporate giant is sucking the landscape dry.  

Photos of Enbridge’s oil spill in the Kalamazoo River (the birds black as ink, the men in masks, the utter mess of it) seem almost implausible, impossibly far away from what you know of beauty when you breathe in such a contrary scene. Not to mention those bottles of Nestlé water lining the shelves of grocery stores, gas stations, your friend’s refrigerator… that couldn’t really be from your watershed, could it?

What can be done? The question resonates. I am small, and the problem is massive, complex, far-reaching, so much larger than me… How do I protect the water I love?  The question dissipates in the air above one of the river pools you go to for answers, seems to grow a bit lost…

But the truth is, there are solutions to ensure clean, safe, affordable water for all, and FLOW is leading the way towards this opportunity for actualized, real change.  FLOW president and renowned water attorney Jim Olson, Executive Director and water law expert Liz Kirkwood, and their team of highly specialized lawyers, scientists and staff have been working tirelessly to shape and launch the Campaign for Fresh Water. The campaign offers an in-depth, comprehensive and innovative look at emerging threats to our groundwater, details the most current analysis of Line 5, exposes loopholes in the Great Lakes Compact, and ultimately, unveils new hope for the future of Michigan’s water – and so the future of public health – in the Public Water, Public Justice Act.  This model legislation, pioneered by Jim alongside FLOW’s team, and with input from experts across the state, brings the intertwined water and health crisis in Michigan under one comprehensive legal framework, and reprioritizes protecting our public water for the health of generations to come.  

Sometimes when I sit by the water, I think about her voice, what she is saying in those moments of strong current, or purling waves, or when the oil spills, or when the Nestlé pumps appear.  Recently in New Zealand, after over 140 years of negotiation, the Whanganui River was granted the same legal rights as a human being.  The Māori tribe was finally able to have the river legally recognized as an ancestor, with two individuals elected as guardians to speak on the river’s behalf.  What do they know that we are still learning, here in this part of the world, in this country, in this state?  Perhaps that where the water thrives, the people will thrive. That the health of one directly informs the health of the other, and that there is no separating the two, not for anything.  I’m grateful to organizations like FLOW, to campaigns like the Campaign for Fresh Water, and to those unwavering, sure voices who show us the way to a brighter, healthier, sustainable future.  


About the Author: Jaimien Delp is a long-time friend of FLOW and an award-winning writer and lecturer who divides her time between Ann Arbor, where she teaches in the English Department at the University of Michigan, and all the watery places in Northern Michigan.  She earned her MFA in creative writing from the Helen Zell Writers’ Program, where she was the recipient of a Zell Postgraduate Fellowship. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in publications such as Orion, Mid-American Review, Bridge Magazine, Dunes Review, Traverse Magazine, and The Smoking Poet.  Most recently, she has a piece in ELEMENTAL, Wayne State University Press’ forthcoming anthology of nonfiction, and has joined the editorial team at Mission Point Press.


 

Spending a Night Under the Stars along the Straits of Mackinac

This week’s Friday Favorite was written by Julius Moss, one of our summer interns who has since returned to Vermont Law School.


To me, the Mackinac Bridge is not just a bridge. It is also a portal. Every time I head north from my home in Traverse City, MI and cross the bridge, it feels like I have been transported to a simpler place. A place of boundless natural beauty, full of sandy beaches, clear blue water, dense pine forests, and mesmerizing sandstone cliffs. A welcoming place that is connected to the wild around it, embracing all four seasons mother nature has to offer. A place that is simply called the Yoop!

On one of my recent adventures to the Upper Peninsula, I headed north for a weekend bike trip in Marquette, MI. I was unable to leave Traverse City until that Friday evening, and did not want to drive late into the night. Although I had previously spent evenings on Mackinac Island, I found this to be the perfect opportunity to camp somewhere near the Straits for the first time.

After a short drive up US-31 and across the Mighty Mack, I set up camp in the Straits State Park on the North shore of the Straits. I was fortunate to claim a campsite just off the water, and was able to spend the evening walking the shores of the Straits. While listening to the water lap against the beach, I could only stop and wonder why we have a rusty 65-year old oil pipeline perched along the shifting bottom of the Straits, and why in the world would we continue to risk our precious natural resources by delaying the decommissioning of Line 5 for the construction of a tunnel.

The Straits of Mackinac are the heartbeat of the Great Lakes. In fact, more water flows through the Straits than over Niagara Falls on a daily basis. Furthermore, the Straits are home to the majority of the Lake Michigan commercial whitefish industry, allowing the Michigan Tribes to pass down their cultural connection to the water. The Straits are also home to destinations such as Mackinac Island, a place allows visitors from across the globe to venture back to a time before the automobile.

Julius Moss

It is crucial we as Michiganders do all we can do to protect the Straits. I encourage you all to contact your local representatives, the Mackinac Bridge Authority, and the governor and Attorney General’s office to express your concerns about Line 5 and the possibility of a utility tunnel. I also encourage you all to become informed voters this November and understand where candidates stand on Line 5 and protecting the Great Lakes. The Straits must continue to be a place that transports water, people, and culture. To do that – we must stop the transportation of oil in the straits and decommission Line 5 once and for all.


 

Living Along Enbridge Line 5 in Michigan


If you live anywhere along the route of Enbridge’s Line 5 crude oil and natural gas liquids (NGLs) pipeline, which travels 547 miles across the Upper Peninsula, the Straits of Mackinac, and down through Lower Michigan, you should be asking state and local government officials and emergency responders a lot of questions. You should know whether your family’s safety is at risk. Public focus is on the environmental and economic impact of a pipeline failure and crude oil release at the Straits of Mackinac, and now, and an agreement for a possible oil pipeline tunnel in 10 years.[1]  This “tunnel vision” does not solve the human safety and property damage impacts along the other 539 miles of pipeline route, not only from a crude oil release, but also from the potential for a huge fireball resulting from an NGLs release.

The integrity of the Line 5 pipeline outside of the Straits is known to be questionable, as evidenced by at least 29 documented spills totaling 1.1 million gallons of oil, numerous repairs, and use of a lower standard of materials and construction for the single 30” pipeline compared to the twin 20” pipelines under the Straits.[2]

                  photo: Bill Latka

Line 5 also transports large quantities of NGLs, a mixture of propane and butane (and perhaps ethane), which is a liquid under the pressure of Line 5’s operation and a gas when released. The NGLs composition in Line 5 as reported by Dynamic Risk Assessment Systems, Inc., the consultant hired by the Michigan Pipeline Safety Advisory Board (MPSAB) is largely propane.[3]  Propane is commonly used for home and commercial heating and chemical production, and is purchased everywhere for home barbecues. If Line 5 fails when it is carrying NGLs (which is 20% to 30% of the time), the released NGLs could quickly flash into a gas, ignite, and create a large fire. If ignition is delayed several minutes, a vapor cloud explosion and huge fireball could occur. The public safety and property damage impacts of a Line 5 NGLs release anywhere along its 547-mile length in Michigan are not being questioned vigorously enoughWhat would be the impact of a NGLs release, fire, and/or vapor cloud explosion?

The Dynamic Risk study included several NGLs underwater release scenarios at the Straits to determine if the resultant fireball would impact the Mackinac Bridge and people in vehicles on the Bridge. Modeling showed that a full-bore 20” pipeline failure at the bottom of the Straits could create a flame envelope of just under one mile, but not touch the Bridge. But what if you are living or traveling near Line 5 upstream or downstream of a new Straits tunnel? Line 5, along its 547-mile length in Michigan:

  • Travels through several populated areas along its route: Ironwood, Manistique, Engadine, Naubinway, St. Ignace, Mackinac City, Indian River, West Branch, Linwood, Bay City, Vassar, and Marysville, Michigan.
  • Crosses nearly 400 streams, wetlands, or other water bodies in Michigan, runs near many inland lakes, endangering fishing, wildlife, private property, businesses, riparian owners, and the public. Studies conducted for the state designate 74 water-crossing locations as “prioritized,” indicating sensitive areas vulnerable to a spill and including endangered species habitat and sites near drinking-water intake pipes. Some of the waterways include the renowned AuSable, Sturgeon, Manistique, and Rapid rivers, and the Upper Peninsula’s Lake Gogebic.
  • Is 65 years old, primarily designed to carry crude oil, but also NGLs, which as a gas or vapor cloud are highly flammable and explosive.
  • Is 30” in diameter outside the Straits, thinner, longitudinally welded, and can fail like Enbridge Line 6B did in 2010 in the Kalamazoo River watershed, which resulted in the largest inland heavy crude oil spill in U.S. history.
  • Has leaked 29 times upstream and downstream of the Straits, and has been dug up, inspected, and repaired due to detected “anomalies.” In May 2018, Enbridge was fined $ 1.8 million for failing to meet mandated inspection requirements imposed by a consent decree from the Line 6B disaster.

The nearly one-mile flame envelope for an NGLs release at the Straits was determined using a proprietary computer model that is widely used by industry for safety and risk management studies. Could a much larger fireball occur for a pipeline failure outside of the Straits?  The answer clearly is: Yes. 

An NGL release could be much larger because it would not necessarily be in deep water experiencing hydrostatic pressure resistance. NGL pipeline pressure at other locations could also be higher as a leak at the Straits would be on the low-pressure side of the Mackinac City pumping station. The distance between shutoff valves outside the Straits is also greater, which would result in larger release quantities and fireballs.

By Rick Kane, FLOW Board Member and Advisor

Citizens along the entire route of Line 5 should not be lulled into thinking that the risk is only at the Straits and that it will be solved with “tunnel vision.” What is the risk to your family and neighborhood from NGLs and vapor cloud explosion? Do you know where Line 5 is? Do local authorities and emergency responders have disaster scenario information and response plans? This information should be available to you and not out of sight due to “tunnel vision.”

Importantly, there are alternatives to the continued operation of Line 5, which is not vital to Michigan or U.S. interests, as documented in FLOW’s December 2015 report. Line 5 enables the export of Canadian oil, with Michigan being the shortcut and taking all of the risks. Don’t be lulled by “tunnel vision.”


Rick is the former Director of Security, Environment, Transportation Safety and Emergency Services for Rhodia, North America.  He is certified in environmental, hazardous materials, and security management, and is a graduate of the University of Michigan and University of Dallas.


[1]  Detroit News Lansing Bureau, “Line 5 tunnel talks set to gain steam”, Published 11:55 p.m. ET, June 4, 2018 | Updated 12:00 a.m. ET June 5, 2018, http://www.detroitnews.com/staff/10046778/jonathan-oosting/

[2] FLOW (For Love of Water) Public Comments on the Joint Application of Enbridge Energy to Occupy Great Lakes Bottomlands for Anchoring Support Structures and Improvements for Line 5 Pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac and Lake Michigan [HNC- AR90-WAHM0], May 11, 2018,  http://flowforwater.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/FINAL-FLOW-public-comments-on-Anchor-Permit-05-11-18.pdf 

[3] Dynamic Risk Assessments Systems, Inc., Alternative Analysis for the Straits Pipeline Final Report, October 26, 2017, https://mipetroleumpipelines.com


A Warm Welcome to Our New Deputy Director, Kelly Thayer


It brings me great pleasure to announce that Kelly Thayer has joined the FLOW team as our new Deputy Director. Kelly will play a lead role in strategic communications and overall program development and implementation. We have dreamed about this day for a long time.  

Kelly Thayer, Deputy Director

Kelly is a familiar face and name to many already, as he has worked with FLOW since 2014 as a communications consultant. Among other things, he has coordinated and supported FLOW’s involvement in the Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign to shut down the aging, cracked, and corroded Line 5 oil pipelines in the open waters of the Mackinac Straits, where Lake Michigan and Lake Huron meet.  

There’s no doubt about it, but Kelly has a way with words. And that’s not surprising, given his Master of Arts in Journalism and Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from the University of Michigan, followed by his early newspaper career here in Michigan and Wisconsin.

In addition to being a gifted writer, Kelly is a wonderful communicator, researcher, and community organizer. His leadership has enabled him to work successfully on a diverse array of local, state, and national environmental campaigns. He served as volunteer co-chair of successful election campaigns to launch a countywide public bus transit system in 2006 and to renew its funding by a 3-1 margin in 2011 in Benzie County. Kelly also helped to build and co-direct state and local coalitions to advance people-centered transportation policies and projects in Michigan from 1998-2005 while working with the Michigan Land Use Institute (now Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities).  

Since 2005, Kelly has worked as a consultant at The Resource for Great Programs, a national firm working to strengthen foundations that support, and nonprofit law firms that provide, free civil legal aid to people in poverty across the nation.

What else? Kelly and his wife Carolyn also volunteered in the U.S. Peace Corps in Tanzania prior to starting their family. They have two amazing boys: Alex (18), who just started the engineering program at University of Michigan, and Quincy (15), who loves fishing, cross-country running, surfing, skiing, and skateboarding.

Make sure you get a chance to meet Kelly. He loves these Great Lakes as much as you do.  

 

-Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director


Friday Favorite: Grand Traverse Commons


Though not the flashiest or most spectacular, this week’s Friday favorite is my regular place to hike. It is less of a handsome tuxedo and more of a favorite autumn sweater. One summer in Traverse City, I hiked somewhere in this network of trails every day. I am talking about the Grand Traverse Commons Natural Area, nestled in the old State Hospital grounds.

A perfect place to walk a dog, meet a friend, or test your new mountain bike, the Commons is just that – a common area for everyone to enjoy.

Revisiting my old familiar grounds this week, I stomped up a hill to a place I had forgotten about. Tucked back in the trails is a freshwater spring sprouting out of the dirt and spilling down the rocks and roots nearby. It carried more weight this week because we just released our report, The Sixth Great Lake: The Emergency Threatening Michigan’s Overlooked Groundwater Resource.

Nayt Boyt, Office Manager

The sixth Great Lake – the groundwater that exists beneath our feet – is the unsung and unseen hero. We rely on groundwater for much of our daily use yet do not often see it, but every so often, we see it emerge as a spring.

 

Can you find this spring in the Commons?