Tag: Line 5

State Must Stop Oil Flow, Hold Public Hearings on the “Line 5” Oil Pipelines in the Mackinac Straits

Photo: Bruce Trudgen Pipelaying Operation as the Pipe was Pulled across the Straits from St. Ignace

Photo: Bruce Trudgen, 1953.  Pipelaying Operation as Line 5 was pulled across the Straits from St. Ignace.

Under Michigan law, the state must stop Line 5’s oil flow and hold public hearings on the steel pipelines lying underwater in the Mackinac Straits as it considers Enbridge Energy’s application to remedy easement violations and shore up its aging underwater infrastructure, according to FLOW (For Love of Water), a Traverse City-based Great Lakes water law and policy center, in formal comments released today.

For the ninth time since 2001, Canadian energy transport giant Enbridge is seeking state permission to screw large pipeline anchors into Lake Michigan’s public bottomlands where the Straits’ powerful currents have eroded the lake bottom and left the dual Line 5 pipelines – installed in 1953 – unsupported for long stretches, in violation of the state easement agreement limiting unsupported spans to 75 feet. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) is receiving public comment through August 28, 2016, on Enbridge’s application, which also is being reviewed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

FLOW’s legal analysis concludes that Enbridge’s “maintenance” application to install up to 19 more anchors actually disguises Enbridge’s piecemeal actions that continue to significantly expand oil transport through and around the Great Lakes. In addition, the application fails to address Enbridge’s pattern of easement violations and perpetuates the imminent threat to the Great Lakes and the public’s protected uses thereof that include fishing, commerce, navigation, recreation, and drinking water. Line 5 transports nearly 23 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids each day through the Mackinac Straits, 80 percent more volume than its past design capacity after several of its so-called “maintenance” upgrades.

“Between Line 5 and the new Line 6B, Enbridge has quietly built its own massive crude oil pipeline system here in Michigan and the Great Lakes without adequate public notice, hearings, and the legally required analysis and determinations of potential risks, impacts, and alternatives for a project of this magnitude,” said Jim Olson, FLOW’s founder and president and a renowned water rights attorney.

Given the scope and risk, the state must stop the Straits oil flow at least temporarily, hold public hearings, and examine Line 5’s full range of potential impacts to the Great Lakes ecosystem and alternatives that do not pose such harm, rather than continue to rubberstamp Enbridge’s misleading maintenance applications. The Michigan Pipeline Safety Advisory Board is conducting a parallel review of Line 5 in the Straits slated for completion in late 2017 or early 2018, but that process is neither under the rule of law nor complies with the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act (GLSLA) or other state and federal law.

“It is time for our state’s leaders, specifically DEQ Director Grether and Attorney General Schuette, to bring this matter under the rule of law – the GLSLA and public trust law – that protects our Great Lakes, towns, and citizens, and subject Enbridge to a comprehensive review,” Olson said. “Such a review must address the fact that Line 5 is an unacceptable risk and that there exists a new Line 6B from Illinois and across Michigan that Enbridge replaced and doubled in size after its Kalamazoo River oil that will meet current and future Midwest demand.”

“Based on the evidence, it appears that Enbridge has shoved its own version of the ‘Keystone XL’ through the Great Lakes and on the backs of citizens without any review of the risks, harms, and alternatives. This is the worst place on the planet for it. We don’t need a ‘Great Lakes XL’ for crude oil near our Great Lakes or in the Straits of Mackinac, especially where alternative to Line 5 exist,” Olson said.

Of particular concern is Enbridge’s continued failure to predict and prevent the cumulative impacts on Line 5 of lakebed erosion caused by Straits currents that frequently reverse and can exceed 10 times the flow over Niagara Falls.

“Enbridge’s piecemeal approach to managing washouts and installing adequate support under the Straits crossing of Line 5 has resulted in the line frequently being out of compliance with easement support requirements since the 1970’s,” said Ed Timm, PhD, an engineer advising FLOW. “Washouts are inherently unpredictable and it is likely that damage to the pipe has already occurred because of unsupported spans that were not detected and repaired by Enbridge’s two-year inspection and repair schedule.”

While the state’s 1953 easement agreement granting Enbridge conditional occupancy of state bottomlands allows Enbridge up to 90 days to cure any violations, the erosion problem appears to be unfixable and worsening with time.

“The Achilles’ heel of the state easement agreement is that Enbridge has proven itself unable to remain in compliance and therefore frequently is operating illegally,” said Liz Kirkwood, FLOW’s Executive Director and an environmental attorney. “State law demands that the Great Lakes and their public uses must not be risked for Enbridge’s private benefit. It’s time for the state to defend the public’s rights and prevent a catastrophic oil spill into the drinking water supply for half of Michigan residents, and for a total 40 million people in the U.S. and Canada.”

Stopping Line 5’s oil flow in the Mackinac Straits to prevent a catastrophic oil spill would not disrupt Michigan’s or the Midwest’s crude oil and propane supply, contrary to assertions by Enbridge, according to a set of expert reports FLOW released in December 2015. Available capacity and flexibility to meet energy demand in the Great Lakes region already exists in the North American pipeline system run not only by Enbridge, but also by competitors supplying the same refineries in Detroit, Toledo, and Sarnia, Ontario.

“The fact is, Line 5 is not essential,” said Rick Kane, a Michigan-based hazardous materials risk management specialist advising FLOW. “The regional pipeline system can supply crude oil to Michigan and surrounding refineries while eliminating the risk that Line 5 poses to the Great Lakes,” Kane said. “Feasible and prudent alternatives exist to support domestic needs, as well as exports.  However, pipeline company owners will not move to implement any alternatives as long as Line 5 operates and the public continues to carry the risk.”

For more information, visit:

Enbridge’s application and public notice may be viewed at:

  • https://miwaters.deq.state.mi.us/. The public can view the application or submit comments by clicking on the Public Notice Search and entering “Enbridge” in the Applicant Name section.

State Has Ignored Enbridge’s Line 5 Straits Pipeline Violations

Enbridge's Line 5 pipeline during construction and installation, 1953.

Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline during construction and installation, 1953.

 

Although Attorney General Bill Schuette and top state environmental agency directors yesterday notified Enbridge of violations of its agreement to operate oil pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac, officials only did so several months after being told by experts that powerful currents had washed away critical pipeline support infrastructure.

Schuette, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, and Michigan Department of Natural Resources Wednesday told Enbridge it was in violation of pipeline requirements in its easement agreement with the state. But researchers documented last April cracks, dents, corrosion and structural defects in the twin Line 5 oil pipelines in the Straits.

Those concerns were raised by FLOW and other organizations in letters and meetings with state officials.  The groups say Enbridge’s easement violations are part of a pattern and practice where the Canadian transport giant avoids accountability because of infrequent pipeline inspections.

“These are known problems that fundamentally threaten our public waters and should have been addressed much sooner than this week,” said Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director of FLOW.  “Now we see some progress from the state in enforcing its agreement.

“But what we need is for the attorney general and governor to act with much more urgency and prioritize protecting the Great Lakes.  That means ending the state’s agreement that allows Enbridge to continue sending oil through the Straits.”

“Unless the attorney general and other state officials follow through, this week’s violation notice will just be window-dressing,” said Kirkwood. “The concerns are too many and too risky for the state to continue to allow oil to flow through the Straits.”

The easement agreement that is at the center of this week’s action by the state is meant to enforce safety and other conditions for operating the risky Straits oil pipelines.  Under the 1953 easement, the state must give Canadian-based Enbridge 90 days to resolve any known easement violations.

Since at least April, said Kirkwood, the state has had substantial legal and factual cause to terminate the agreement with Enbridge.  Kirkwood’s group and others sent an April 13 letter to Schuette and Snyder outlining multiple easement violations, including those cited by the state this week in its notice to Enbridge.  They also discussed these violations and federal and state law violations with top officials in the attorney general’s office.

In their April 13 letter to Schuette and Snyder, FLOW and other groups identified eight specific violations of the easement agreement and state law, including:

  • Concealing information about cracks, dents, and rust with continued, sweeping assertions and misrepresentations that the Straits pipelines are in “excellent condition, almost as new as when they were built and installed” and have “no observed corrosion.” Of the nine rust spots on the eastern Straits pipeline, corrosion has eaten away 26 percent of the pipeline’s wall thickness in a 7-inch-long area, according to newly released company data.
  • Failing to meet the pipeline wall thickness requirement due to manufacturing defects. Newly released Enbridge data reveals that manufacturing defects in the 1950s resulted in pipeline wall thickness of less than half an inch in perhaps hundreds of sections and up to 41 less thick than mandated on the west Straits pipeline. Enbridge continues to boast about its “nearly one-inch-thick walls of Line 5’s steel pipe travelling under the Straits.” 
  • Failing to meet the “reasonably prudent person” provision by claiming that its steel pipelines lying underwater just west of the Mackinac Bridge since 1953 can last forever and do not require a plan for eventual decommissioning. The 63-year-old pipelines were built to last 50 years.
  • Failing to demonstrate adequate liability insurance, maintain required coating and wood-slat covering to prevent rust and abrasion, adequately support the pipeline resulting in stressed and deformed segments, and adhere to federal spill response and state environmental protection laws, including Act 10 of P.A. 1953, the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act (“GLSLA”), the Michigan Environmental Protection Act (“MEPA”), and public trust law.

The twin Enbridge Line 5 oil pipelines lying exposed in the Mackinac Straits, where Lake Michigan and Lake Huron meet, are a high-risk shortcut moving up to 23 million gallons of oil and propane a day primarily from western Canadian oil fields to eastern Canadian refineries, as well as on to Montreal and export markets. Research shows there are alternatives to Line 5 that do not threaten the Great Lakes, which hold 20 percent of the world’s fresh surface water.

To date, more than 60 cities, villages, townships, counties and tribal organizations across Michigan have voted to call on the governor and attorney general to stop the oil flowing through the Straits, including Mackinac Island, Mackinaw City, and the cities of Cheboygan, Petoskey, Charlevoix, and Traverse City. Dramatic new research from the University of Michigan released in late March shows an Enbridge oil pipeline rupture in the Mackinac Straits could impact more than 700 miles of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron coastlines, as well as more than 15% of Lake Michigan’s open water and nearly 60% of Lake Huron’s open water.

 

Guest Blog: Other Hidden Costs of Line 5

“You wouldn’t site, and you wouldn’t build and construct pipelines underneath the Straits today.”

Attorney General Bill Schuette

[Begging the question:  If a state-of-the-art, 21st Century pipeline presents an unacceptable risk, why is the continued use of an aging, mid-20th Century pipeline acceptable?]

Many compelling reasons exist to terminate the use of Line 5, the twin 20-inch pipelines carrying crude oil and natural gas liquids that cross the state-owned bottomlands under the Straits of Mackinac.  Much research, analysis, and modelling has been done by scientists, engineers, lawyers and academics demonstrating that Line 5 poses an unreasonable risk.  Yet Line 5 continues in use, operating under the inherent illogic that a 63 year-old undersea pipeline can function indefinitely without incident.

To the many arguments compelling closure, let me offer another – one that is decidedly minor when compared to the potential catastrophic impacts of a Line 5 failure – but an argument that might manage to nudge your outrage quotient up a notch:

You and I are subsidizing Enbridge to maintain and operate Line 5.

But before addressing the many ways public resources are being expended to benefit Enbridge, let’s review some of the facts that should have already been determinative.

  • There exists an imminent risk of catastrophic harm to one-third of North America’s surface water that is Lakes Michigan and Huron (one lake).  UM’s Graham Sustainability Institute’s analysis indicates that more than 700 miles of shoreline in Lakes Michigan and Huron and proximate islands are potentially vulnerable to an oil release in the Straits that would result in accumulation requiring cleanup, and that more than 15% of Lake Michigan’s open water (3,528 square miles), and nearly 60% of Lake Huron’s open water (13,611 square miles) could be affected by visible oil from a spill in the Straits.
  • “Imminent risk” has two components – the likelihood of a failure and the potential magnitude of the harm.  The UM study and the National Wildlife Federation report Sunken Hazard have amply demonstrated the magnitude of potential harm through dispersion modelling.  The likelihood of failure cannot be regarded as zero as Enbridge’s own inspections have revealed corrosion in nine locations, 55 “circumferential” cracks, and loss of wall thickness in the pipeline itself.
  • The U.S. Coast Guard has acknowledged its limited capacity to launch an effective remedial response should a spill event occur in winter or with waves over 4-5 feet – a common occurrence in the Straits.
  • Enbridge pipelines have had 804 document spills through 2010 with at least five additional spills since 2012.

These facts illustrate a risk of substantial harm to Lakes Michigan and Huron – a globally unique freshwater resource – as well as to the coastal communities and the tens of millions of people connected to and served by these waters.

So let’s start there – who bears the risk?

First, Enbridge has transferred the risk of harm to people of the Great Lakes Region.  The risk of harm can be quantified, modeled and monetized.  Under Enbridge’s worst-case spill scenarios of 200,000 to 400,000 gallons, Enbridge’s estimate of remedial costs approaches $1 billion.  But the FLOW (For Love of Water) policy center analysis found Enbridge’s estimate low, and has calculated a worst case spill scenario of 1.27 million gallons.  Yet under the 1953 easement, Enbridge is required to maintain a paltry $1 million in insurance and a surety bond of $100,000.

Second, additional work necessary cited by UM as a predicate to determining the full cost of the transferred risk would include an analysis of environmental impacts, cleanup costs, restoration and remediation measures, natural resource damages, and economic damage to public and private sector interests.  Natural resource damages and natural resource restoration alone costs could be many times greater than the cost of responding to a spill.  As it stands, there is no financial assurance mechanism that could begin to cover the costs of these potential impacts.

Third, the additional work necessary to ascertain the full nature and extent of damages that may occur with a Line 5 failure has been left to taxpayers.  Already, significant resources have been expended in an effort to understand the risks presented by Line 5.  In Michigan, these costs include the work of the Department of Attorney General and its lawyers, the staff of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the Michigan Public Service Commissions, and local governments who have mobilized in response to the Line 5 threat.  It includes the staff and support for the Michigan Petroleum Pipeline Task Force.  Also include all the staff time of the myriad state and federal agency personnel who have spent thousands of hours attending to the various aspects of Line 5 matters.

Fourth, taxpayers have paid for the spill response exercises undertaken by state and federal officials.  We have paid for the multiple mobilizations of the United States Coast Guard, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Michigan State Police, and Mackinac County Emergency Management. NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL) and GLERL’s Lake Michigan Field Station have also been involved in spill response exercises.

Fifth, aside from a $2,450 payment made to the Michigan Department of Conservation in 1953, the state is not receiving any compensation for the use of state bottomlands.  Great Lakes bottomlands are “public trust” resources meaning that under our jurisprudence, the state holds the bottomlands in trust for the benefit of the people of the State of Michigan.  When state bottomlands are leased for uses like a marina or dockage, compensation is paid for that use.  But more importantly, under the “Public Trust Doctrine,” the state may not lease bottomlands unless it first makes a determination that future uses of state bottomlands will not be impaired or substantially affected.

Here’s what the MDEQ website states about the Public Trust Doctrine:

“The bottomlands of the Great Lakes are held in trust by the State of Michigan for use and enjoyment by its citizens. The State, as the owner and trustee, has a perpetual responsibility to the public to manage these bottomlands and waters for the prevention of pollution, for the protection of the natural resources and to maintain the public’s rights of hunting, fishing, navigation, commerce, etc. The State of Michigan’s authority to protect the public’s interest in the bottomlands and waters of the Great Lakes is based on both ownership and state regulation. The Public Trust Doctrine, as the basis for Part 325, provides state authority to not only manage but also to protect the public’s fundamental rights to use these resources.

Michigan courts have determined that private uses of the bottomlands and waters, including the riparian rights of waterfront property owners, are subject to the public trust. In other words, if a proposed private use would adversely impact the public trust, the State of Michigan’s regulatory authority requires that the proposal be modified or denied altogether in order to minimize those impacts.”

Another critical aspect of the Public Trust Doctrine is that the doctrine requires reexamination of past governmental decisions on public trust matters in light of new scientific knowledge and information.  Attorney General Schuette has stated that based upon what we know today, a pipeline crossing the Straits is unacceptable.  Under the Public Trust Doctrine, he should be compelled to act to terminate Line 5.

The Traverse City-based FLOW policy center has been an international champion of the Public Trust Doctrine and recently persuaded the international Joint Commission to recognize the doctrine as a managing framework for the Great Lakes.  FLOW has also taken the lead in doing much of the legal and engineering assessments of Line 5 – earning widespread gratitude, respect and support.

*reposted from 5 Lakes Energy’s July 27, 2016 Energy and Climate Notes

End Enbridge Stonewalling

Observations by some that the State of Michigan has no regulatory authority over hazardous liquid pipelines is correct to the extent that it is understood in the context of  safety regulations — standards, inspection and enforcement; safety code enforcement is covered by the federal PHMSA law, regulation and agency.  However, it is not true that Michigan does not have authority to demand the information Enbridge keeps under its control, and it is not true that Michigan does not have enforcement authority.

As concluded by the Michigan Petroleum Pipeline Task Force Report, 2015, Michigan has authority under the 1953 Easement, including the continuing obligation of Enbridge to conduct itself with prudence at all times, and it has authority under:

(1) its sovereign ownership of bottomlands and waters of the Great Lakes since statehood in 1837 under “equal footings” doctrine. Michigan took title in trust to protect the basic rights of citizens as beneficiaries of a public trust imposed on the state.  This means the state has authority and duty to take actions to protect the public trust as a matter of its “property and public trust power,” whether or not it passes regulations on hazardous liquid pipelines or not.  Under public trust authority and principles, the state cannot transfer or shift control over waters and bottomlands held in trust to any private person or corporation; the retention of information by Enbridge that is required to protect the public trust or to determine whether the public trust is threatened with high unacceptable harm or risk violates this public trust principle, and the Attorney General can demand and take all action necessary to compel Enbridge to turn it over, indeed, even the easement recognizes and is subject to this public trust.

(2)  The Michigan Public Service Commission has authority over siting and locations of crude oil pipelines like Enbridge’s and others.  Anytime Enbridge or some other corporation applies for a change or improvement to the structure it regulates as to siting, including its consideration of risks to property and health or environment and alternatives, the MPSC has authority to demand all relevant information needed to  make a decision on the application for such change.  Unfortunately, the MPSC has not insisted on the full range of information it could demand, including alternative pipeline routes and capacity to Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac when it doubled capacity for Enbridge’s new replacement for the failed Line 6B that ruptured into the Kalamazoo River in 2010.

(3) Finally, the Michigan Environmental Protection Act, Part 17,  NREPA, imposes a duty to prevent and minimize harm to air, water, and natural resources, and this includes the right to take action where necessary when a corporation’s actions are contrary to this duty to prevent and minimize harm; the MEPA, as it’s  often called, is derived from Art 4, Sec. 52 of the Michigan Constitution.

So while Michigan ponders the aging or new pipeline infrastructure for hazardous liquids and crude oil, the state, including the Attorney General, have the authority to take immediate action to prevent the high risk of Line 5 or other pipelines.  And, where that risk involves the devastating harm that undoubtedly may occur in the Straits, action should be taken immediately pending the coming one to two years of pondering.  In short, there is no legal excuse or justification for Governor Snyder, Attorney General Bill Schuette, or the Department of Environmental Quality to put up with Enbridge’s self-serving stonewalling on disclosure of all information related to its Line 5 hazardous crude oil pipeline.  And, there is no excuse or justification for our state leaders to delay action to eliminate the unacceptable harm from the Straits or other Michigan waters from Line 5.

 

 

Enbridge Downplaying the Potential Size of Catastrophic “Line 5” Straits Oil Spill

 

In the last two years, Enbridge has cut nearly in half its estimate of the likely size of an oil spill from a pair of aging pipelines that move nearly 23 million gallons of oil a day through the Mackinac Straits, while independent studies suggest the risk is much greater and growing. Read the full findings by engineer and FLOW technical expert Gary Street. 

President of WTCM Radio and FLOW Board Member Ross Biederman Speaks Out Against Line 5

Ross Biederman, owner of Midwest Broadcasting, issued a broadcast and print editorial today urging our political leaders and those running for office to  help shut down the flow of crude oil through Line 5 in the Straits.  Biederman warns it is too dangerous, the harm too devastating, and the risk too high to continue operating Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac.  In a no nonsense, strong voice, he concludes oil in the Straits pipeline should be eliminated, there are alternatives for the crude synthetic lighter oil to get there and to satisfy the smaller needs of a refinery in Michigan, and most of the oil goes to Canada anyway, and that citizens should take action by demanding that their leaders take charge and act on this issue.  Read print copy of Ross’s broadcast below and listen to the radio spot here.

 

Transcript of Biederman Editorial

If you think the Flint water crises was Catastrophe that could have been avoided by the state of Michigan imagine an oil spill in the Straits of Mackinac. Lurking beneath the water at the straits lies a 4 ½ mile long pipeline carrying about 500,000 barrels or 23 million gallons of liquid petroleum…crude…each day. The pipeline is owned by a Canadian company, Enbridge. It’s referred to as Line 5 and it carries crude from Superior, Wisconsin to Sarnia, Ontario. Line 5 is 63 years old and has never been thoroughly inspected by The State of Michigan. Here are just two potential problem areas. The welding techniques used in 1953 are out-dated. Also, the pipeline is covered in zebra mussels making comprehensive visual inspection difficult if not impossible.

Michigan’s Attorney General has the authority to order Line 5 shut down, but has not done so. He has ordered more studies which could take up to a year and a half. You have the power to do something! Bills have been introduced in both Michigan’s House and Senate that would accomplish this. They haven’t gone to committee yet and probably will not before the Legislatures’ Summer Recess. What can you do? Tell your State Representative and Senator to get off the dime and move this legislation. An oil spill at the Straits could foul both Lake Michigan and Huron because of the currents. Imagine it happening during the winter under the ice. The University of Michigan said the Mackinac Straits would be the worst possible place for an oil spill. I should mention that is was an Enbridge pipeline failure that dumped 840,000 gallons of crude into the Kalamazoo River in 2010…the largest inland spill in US history.

So make your voice be heard to end this potential danger to our ecology and economy. This is an election year. Every state representative is up for re-election as is half the Senate.

And by the way, it isn’t like we’d be cutting off our supply of oil. Enbridge has built a new pipeline…Line 6…that’s has twice the capacity. Line 6 runs through Wisconsin, around Chicago, and across Southern Michigan to Sarnia.

Michigan only gets 10-12% of the crude anyway….the rest goes to Canada.

With election nearing, now is the time to demand that candidates pledge to take action closing Line 5!

FLOW’s Pioneering Work on Right to Water, Commons and Public Trust Join the Mainstream

The launch of FLOW’s new website comes at the same time FLOW’s work (beginning back in 2009 when Terry Swier, President of Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation, my brother Eric Olson, Ted Curran, and a few others, saw the need to educate leaders and the public on the overarching  principle known as the public trust doctrine)  has been recognized by the most highly regarded body in the Great Lakes Basin—the International Joint Commission.  As part of a 15-year review of its efforts to protect the waters of the Great Lakes Basin, in January of this year, the IJC issued a landmark recommendation that the states, provinces, and countries implement the public trust framework as a “backdrop principle” to safeguard the integrity of the Great Lakes in the 21st century.   The launch also comes at the end of the second year of teaching the new water and sustainability course at Northwestern Michigan College’s Water Studies Institute.   This past week, the students heard a wrap-up lecture on the unifying principle of the course and water policy in the future—the framework for problem solving under the commons and public trust doctrine in water.[1]

What does this mean?  It means that FLOW’s vision, work,  and our supporters are at the forefront of efforts to educate and help leaders, citizens, businesses, and our communities address the systemic threats that face the Great Lakes region – and beyond—including climate change and water levels, invasive species, algal blooms, diversions and excessive and wasteful losses of water, exports, intensive aquaculture farming on the surface of public trust waters, and crude oil transport in, over, or near the Great Lakes. As highlighted by the IJC in a recent public opinion poll, fully eighty-five percent of citizens in the Basin put their concern for the Great Lakes at the top of their list – that’s 34 million out of the 40 million people who live in the Basin.  But the problem is we need to understand what we can do about the systemic threats to the Basin, and what principles will lead us there.  At FLOW we think the most fundamental principle is the public trust doctrine.

What is the public trust doctrine?

The public trust doctrine (as recounted by Traverse Magazine’s editor Jeff Smith in an article on FLOW’s pioneering work when he created the by-line name for this BLOG – H2Olson) is a background principle connected to the Great Lakes and other bodies of water.  It holds that these waters are held by the state as trustee and must be managed and protected for the benefit of the legal beneficiaries of this public trust – the 40 million citizens in the Great Lakes Basin.  It imposes a legally enforceable duty on government and leaders to affirmatively and perpetually take action to prevent harm or impairment to these waters, their ecosystem and public uses that depend on them – navigation, fishing, boating, swimming, drinking water, and sustenance.  It prohibits any person or entity – public or private – to enclose or transfer these waters for a primarily private purpose – these waters are held for the public. It means no public or private person can measurably impair the integrity of the quality and quantity of these waters from one generation to the next.  It means all of us share, collectively and individually, a right to water as beneficiaries of this trust.

Why public trust principles?

Before the victorious court decision curtailing Nestlé’s bottled water exports from Michigan, the common law prohibited diversions or exports that diminished the flow or level of a lake or stream.—this means the very heart or integrity of a stream or lake cannot be impaired.   After the decision, this “non-diminishment” standard was weakened in favor of a “substantial harm” test that arguably would allow water exports, diversions and losses from the waters of the Great Lakes.  In effect, the court left the door open for foreign and domestic interests outside the Basin to claim the right to divert or use large quantities of water, and if challenged, potentially seek damages or other relief in private tribunals under the auspices of NAFTA or other trade agreements – possibly even the recent TPP.  Moreover, the Great Lakes Compact diversion ban left the door open for water prospectors to package raw water in any sized container (not just bottles) and ship water out of the Basin as a “product.”  The Compact also exempted diversions for public water supplies in communities that straddle the Basin, like the ongoing controversy over Waukesha, Wisconsin’s request for water  that looks more like a plan to grow communities outside the basin that meet current public need for water.   These and other events have sounded the horn for caution and action.

FLOW’s public trust vision converges with the human shift toward saving and promoting the “common good.”

In 2011, FLOW convened a conference to address systemic threats to the Great Lakes that fall outside water laws from the 20th century.  In 2012, FLOW with the Council of Canadians presented an in-depth study to the International Joint Commission, a binational body charged under a 1909 treaty to protect the Great Lakes.  The study urged the IJC to adopt a new overarching principle based on the ancient pubic trust doctrine:  This doctrine charges government, as trustee for citizen-beneficiaries, with a perpetual duty to prevent impairment or private control of water, as a commons, from one generation to the next.

From 2013 through 2015, FLOW submitted additional reports with the IJC and other governments to demonstrate how this this game-changing principle would address threats to water as a commons and human right. FLOW launched public presentations, a new water policy course with Northwestern Michigan College, and recommended solutions to address algal blooms, extreme water levels, climate change, invasive species, and recent scientific and policy reports that called for removal of oil in a pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac.

Since 2011, we’ve witnessed massive algal blooms shut down Toledo and Monroe’s water supplies and destroy fishing in Lake Huron.  We’ve seen law and high swings in water levels exacerbated by climate change effects.  We’ve seen the shut-offs of water  that services thousands of  Detroit residents and families, the Flint water crisis and exposure of thousands of innocent children and people to lead poisoning.   We see continuing in action on the time-bomb of shipping crude oil in or near the Straits or other waters of the Basin.  We see efforts to legalize private occupancy of acres of public waters and bottomlands of the Great Lakes to operate concentrated fish farms, when farming belongs on land and the surface of the Great Lakes belongs to the public.

In summer 2015, FLOW submitted a report on the IJC’s 15-year review of protecting the Great Lakes.  FLOW demonstrated how public trust principles would act as a backstop against known and unknown threats to the Great Lakes.  In January, 2016, FLOW’s work took a giant step forward.  As noted at the outset, the IJC issued a landmark recommendation that the states, provinces, and countries implement the public trust framework as a “backdrop principle” to safeguard the integrity of the Great Lakes!

Recently, in his encyclical letter on climate and our earth’s predicament, Pope Francis captured the awareness and reality of a world faced with massive loss of water, soil, and social and economic injustice.  He pointed out two ethical principles: Protect the common good and do so from one generation to the next.   All other endeavor, including economic, must honor and respect these principles.

What we are excited about at FLOW is, we find ourselves lockstep with the solutions to crises and threats to water here and elsewhere because the public trust doctrine in water brings legal principle to ethical principles to  promote the common good.

[1] For those readers who want to gain a general understanding of FLOW’s work and the commons and public trust framework,  watch the wrap-up lecture and discussion at the NMC’s WSI 230 water and sustainability class. https://ensemble.nmc.edu/Watch/Xa45Sfy9

 

Enbridge Operating Line 5 Illegally

Citing new research and documentation revealing cracks, dents, corrosion, and structural defects in the twin oil pipelines in the Mackinac Straits, 22 environmental and tribal groups today formally requested that Gov. Snyder and Attorney General Schuette shut down “Line 5” oil in the Straits based on Enbridge’s multiple easement violations. The violations mean Enbridge is operating illegally and has broken its legal agreement with the state and people of Michigan.

Enbridge’s ongoing violations related to pipeline design threaten the very safety and health of the Great Lakes, and thus trigger the state’s duty to enforce its agreement with Enbridge. Under the 1953 easement, the state must provide Canadian-based energy transporter Enbridge 90 days to resolve any known easement violations.  The state now has substantial legal and factual cause to terminate the agreement with Enbridge to stop the oil flow and protect the Great Lakes, public water supplies, and the Pure Michigan economy, according to an April 13 letter to Snyder and Schuette, signed by partner groups in the Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign.

“The law and this easement agreement are clear: state leaders cannot wait another year or more while Enbridge continues to violate safety conditions it agreed to and withholds safety inspection and other data from the public and the state,” said environmental attorney Liz  Kirkwood, Executive Director of FLOW (For Love of Water) in Traverse City. “Gov. Snyder and Attorney General Schuette must start the clock to terminate the state’s easement agreement that allows Enbridge to operate the Line 5 pipelines on state-owned bottomlands and waters.”

In their letter, the groups identified eight specific violations of the easement and state law, including:

  • Concealing information about cracks, dents, and corrosion with continued, sweeping assertions and misrepresentations that the Straits pipelines are in “excellent condition, almost as new as when they were built and installed” and have “no observed corrosion.” Of the nine rust spots on the eastern Straits pipeline, corrosion has eaten away 26 percent of the pipeline’s wall thickness in a 7-inch-long area, according to newly released company data.
  • Failing to meet the pipeline wall thickness requirement due to corrosion and manufacturing defects. Newly released Enbridge data reveals that manufacturing defects in the 1950s resulted in pipeline wall thickness of less than half an inch in perhaps hundreds of sections and up to 41 percent less thick than mandated on the west Straits pipeline. Enbridge continues to boast about its “nearly one-inch-thick walls of Line 5’s steel pipe travelling under the Straits.”
  • Failing to meet the “reasonably prudent person” provision by claiming that its steel pipelines lying underwater just west of the Mackinac Bridge since 1953 can last forever and do not require a plan for eventual decommissioning. The 63-year-old pipelines were built to last 50 years.
  • Failing to demonstrate adequate liability insurance, maintain required coating and wood-slat covering to prevent rust and abrasion and adequately support the pipeline, resulting in stressed and deformed segments.
  • Failing to adhere to federal emergency spill response and state environmental protection laws, including Act 10 of P.A. 1953, the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act (“GLSLA”), the Michigan Environmental Protection Act (“MEPA”), and public trust law.

The twin Enbridge Line 5 oil pipelines lying exposed in the Mackinac Straits, where Lake Michigan and Lake Huron meet, are a high-risk shortcut moving up to 23 million gallons of oil and propane a day primarily from western Canadian oil fields to eastern Canadian refineries, as well as on to Montreal and export markets. FLOW’s research shows there are alternatives to Line 5 that do not threaten the Great Lakes, which hold 20 percent of the world’s fresh surface water, and do not disrupt Michigan’s oil and gas supply.

“Enbridge has consistently failed to provide appropriate documentation to the state and the public that supports its position that Line 5 is fit for service”, said Ed Timm, PhD, PE, a retired chemical engineer and former senior scientist and consultant to Dow Chemical’s Environmental Operations Business, who advises the Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign. “The historical record and the documentation that Enbridge has provided raise many questions that suggest this unique pipeline no longer conforms to its original design specifications and easement requirements.”

Dozens of local communities and organizations, hundreds of businesses, and thousands of individuals and families support efforts by the Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign to prevent a catastrophic oil spill by stopping the oil flowing through Line 5 in the Mackinac Straits, which University of Michigan experts have called the “worst possible place for an oil spill in the Great Lakes.” Enbridge has a long history of oil spills from Line 5, which runs from Superior, Wisc., to Sarnia, Ont., and is responsible for 2010’s million-gallon oil spill disaster into the Kalamazoo River that cost $1.2 billion to clean up to the extent possible.

“I think pipelines are the safest way to transport oil, but because of the conditions of the Straits and the age of the pipelines, it is past time for an independent analysis to ensure the safety of this line for the citizens of Michigan,” said James Tamlyn, Chair of the Emmet County Board of Commissioners, which passed a resolution in December calling on the Snyder administration to shut down Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac. “There’s one thing we all agree on and that’s the importance of protecting our clean water.  It defines us and without it, our communities and businesses would be wiped out.”

To date, more than 30 cities, villages, townships, and counties across Michigan have voted to call on the governor and attorney general to stop the oil flowing through the Straits, including Mackinac Island, Mackinaw City, and the cities of Cheboygan, Petoskey, Charlevoix, and Traverse City. Dramatic new research from the University of Michigan released in late March shows an Enbridge oil pipeline rupture in the Mackinac Straits could impact more than 700 miles of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron coastlines, as well as more than 15% of Lake Michigan’s open water and nearly 60% of Lake Huron’s open water.

“The effects of an oil spill in the Mackinac Straits would have catastrophic consequences for our area and for all Michiganders for years to come,” said Bobie Crongeyer, a community leader with Straits Area Concerned Citizens for Peace, Justice & the Environment, which has advanced resolutions to shut down Line 5 in many communities. “Tourists will find other places to vacation, while we will be left with the devastation that Enbridge leaves behind, including a poisoned fishery and drinking water supplies and a shattered economy.”

115-CE Pipeline Fact Sheet-rev

Read the full letter issued to Governor Snyder and Attorney General Schuette.