Tag: pipeline

Latest Enbridge Reports Underscore Line 5’s Vulnerability to 400 Michigan Waterways


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                           June 29, 2018
Contact:  Liz Kirkwood                                                                      Email: Liz@FLOWforWater.org
Executive Director                                                                                           Office: (231) 944-1568
FLOW (For Love of Water)                                                                               Cell: (570) 872-4956


Latest Enbridge Reports Underscore Line 5’s Vulnerability to 400 Michigan Waterways and Ongoing Unacceptable Risk to the Straits


TRAVERSE CITY, MI – Enbridge today released three reports required as part of the November 2017 agreement with the Governor concerning Line 5. The reports examine possible methodologies to mitigate potential leaks from Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac and at nearly 400 water crossings throughout Michigan.

“These reports from Enbridge provide a stack of evidence supporting the public’s call for Gov. Snyder and Attorney General Schuette to shut down Line 5 right now before there is a catastrophic oil spill in the Mackinac Straits,” said For Love of Water (FLOW) Executive Director Liz Kirkwood, an environmental attorney and a co-leader of the Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign. “Enbridge acknowledges that Line 5 lacks the latest safety technology, remains at risk of more anchor strikes, and threatens not only the Mackinac Straits but also many Great Lakes tributaries, wetlands, and other aquatic resources along its 554-mile-long route in Michigan.

“The governor and attorney general need to stop promoting their long-term dream of a Canadian oil pipeline tunnel under the Straits and across nearly 400 waterbodies in Michigan alone, and finally confront this danger to the Great Lakes, our drinking water, and our jobs tied to the Pure Michigan economy.”

Of particular concern, information in the three reports released Friday by Line 5-owner Enbridge reveals that:

  • Water Crossings Report: This report reveals that Line 5 crosses nearly 400 Michigan waterways, almost double the number of lakes, rivers, streams and wetlands Line 5 was thought to cross. This should shine a light on the fact that not only are the Straits of Mackinac at risk to a potential catastrophic oil spill, but so are 400 waterbodies in our state. According to NWF’s FOIA review, since 1968, Enbridge’s Line 5 has ruptured at least 29 times on land, rupturing over 1.1 million gallons of oil into Michigan’s environment.
  • Technology Reports: (1) Underwater Leak Detection Report: This report examined three external leak detection technologies and concluded that not one of them could provide continuous real-time monitoring that was practical, cost-effective, or operationally proven. With costs ranging between $4 and $40 million, the report used a net present cost assuming a 20-year operating and maintenance period. Both of the optical camera options would require 1,800 cameras on the dual pipelines. (2) Coating Technologies Report: As a part of the leak detection report, the coating technology report ignored the fact that Enbridge’s screw-anchor engineering efforts caused coating pipeline loss in over 80 locations, and does not address how Enbridge will attempt to remedy this major design defect as they work this summer to install another 22 anchors and then possibly 48 more. These anchor permits are currently being challenged at the administrative level by a citizens’ group (Straits of Mackinac Alliance) and the tribes (Grand Traverse Band of Chippewa and Odawa Indians).
  • Anchor Strike Mitigation Report: This report noted that the probability of a failure of an anchor strike to the existing dual pipeline is two to three times higher than the values provided in the November 2017 Dynamic Risk alternative analysis report. Enbridge’s report concludes that the most effective option to mitigate anchor strikes to the dual Line 5 pipelines in the Straits is to cover both lines with a protective barrier consisting of approximately 360,000 cubic yards of gravel and rock. However, this protective barrier would not allow for visual inspection of the pipeline and would impede any external maintenance to Line 5 within the Straits. The protective barrier option also poses environmental risks including disturbance to fish habitat, disturbance to lake vegetation, impacts to water clarity, and potential exposure to toxins during its estimated 2-3 year construction timeline. Notably, this report omitted any mention or analysis of the recent anchor strike that caused an estimated 600 gallons of dielectric fluid to enter the waters of Lake Michigan and dented Line 5 underwater pipelines in three locations.

Fundamentally, the question remains: Why didn’t the State of Michigan require a comprehensive engineering study evaluating the anchor hooking risks as well as the currents, gravitational and thermal stresses of the new elevated pipeline with its 128 screw anchors as compared to the original lakebed support design?

The three reports released today but dated June 30 can be found at: https://mipetroleumpipelines.com/document/enbridge-reports-november-2017-agreement

Public comments will be accepted before July 15 regarding the action the state should take to address the future of Line 5.

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Enough is Enough: It’s Time to Decommission Line 5


Every year, a million visitors reach the shores of Mackinac Island, also known as Turtle Island to the Anishinaabe peoples who first settled here in the Great Lakes.  Unlike most visitors, every May I make an annual pilgrimage to the island to argue the case to decommission Line 5 to our top state and federal leaders at the Policy Conference.  Against the spectacular backdrop of the Straits of Mackinac, thousands of attendees gather on this tiny island to discuss the state’s most pressing economic issues.  But every year without fail, Line 5 is not even mentioned on the agenda.  And the irony could not be greater.

Let’s talk economics for a moment: Michigan will suffer an estimated $6.3 billion blow from damage to tourism, natural resources, coastal property values, commercial fishing, and municipal water systems, according to a new study by a Michigan State University economist commissioned by FLOW.  Mackinac Island and St. Ignace will immediately lose their Great Lakes drinking water supply, and the oil spill could threaten shoreline communities and their water source from Traverse City to Alpena and beyond.

Legislators often ask about the U.P. propane issue, which continues to be a red herring and barrier to clear decisive state action.  Research by engineers working with FLOW reveals that just 1-2 rail cars or a few tanker trucks a day from Superior, Wisconsin, could replace Line 5’s U.P. propane supply.  A state-sponsored study in October found that installing a 4-inch-diameter propane pipeline from Superior to Rapid River would meet demand.  State leaders should urgently pursue these options.

And where does all the Line 5 oil go?  It turns out that 90-95 percent of Line 5’s oil comes and goes back to Canada.  What this means is that the 5-10 percent of the crude oil in Line 5 headed to the Detroit and Toledo refineries could be replaced by oil from the Capline and Mid-Valley pipelines from the south that serve the same refineries, along with crude from Northern Michigan oil fields.  Alternative pipelines exist that do not threaten our globally unique Great Lakes that contain 20 percent of the world’s fresh surface water.  

The catastrophic nature of a potential spill became clear last month when a tugboat anchor slammed into Line 5 in the Mackinac Straits and dented and gouged the Line 5 pipelines, while also severing two submerged electric cables and spilling their toxic dielectric fluid into the water.  It was at least the second significant strike of Line 5 in the Straits, according to Enbridge’s inspection data.  

So here we are, another year later with little progress towards decommissioning Line 5.  Rather, Governor Snyder had high hopes of wrapping things up with his November 2017 back-room deal with Enbridge to authorize a tunnel under both the Straits and the St. Clair River.  Significant legal questions and challenges loom, not to mention engineering trials and staggering public work costs that make this a hazardous path to walk.  Bottom line, a tunnel (even if feasible) could take 7-10 years to build and utterly fails to address the ongoing and growing imminent threat as the pipelines continue to bend and age every day.

Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director

According to the Detroit Free Press, Line 5 is one of the “thorniest issues being grappled with by state leaders, including Gov. Rick Snyder and Attorney General Bill Schuette.”  This, however, should not be the case.  Our state leaders, in fact, have the legal power now to decommission Line 5 by revoking the easement it granted Enbridge in 1953 to build Line 5 and occupy our waters of the Great Lakes under public trust law.  Heightened state scrutiny and enforcement are warranted given that Enbridge continues to violate its legal easement agreement with the state and the express engineering requirements designed to prevent catastrophic rupture.  For example, in 2017, it was revealed that Enbridge for three years hid the fact that Line 5 had lost its anti-rust outer pipeline coating in more than 60 places in the Straits of Mackinac. 

Enough is enough.  It’s time to decommission Line 5.  


FLOW Demands State Reject Latest Enbridge Ploy


In comments submitted to state officials Friday, FLOW is urging state regulators to deny a bid by Enbridge Energy to install 48 new anchor supports on dangerous Line 5 at the Straits of Mackinac while evading scrutiny of alternatives that would protect the environment.

Enbridge’s latest request, if approved, would bring the number of anchor brackets to 198 that the governments have allowed the company to install since the early 2000s — completely changing the pipelines’ design. 

Structurally, this means that approximately 3 miles of pipeline are elevated in public trust waters above the bottomlands. But the design approved by the state in the 1950s had the pipeline resting in a trench on the lake bottom. 

“The fact that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continue to approve Enbridge’s anchor supports on the lakebed of the Lake Michigan as ‘repair’ and ‘maintenance’ is simply untenable,” FLOW says in its comments. “The highly increased risks of and alternatives to a completely modified design under both state and federal permitting laws requires a new agreement of occupancy and permits” under several laws.

“And given the recent anchor dents in the twin lines and rupture of the electrical line and release of toxic fluids, the risks to the Great Lakes are totally unacceptable,” FLOW said.

FLOW called on the state and federal governments to require that Enbridge:

  1. file a full and comprehensive application including a study of potential effects and feasible and prudent alternatives to Line 5 in the Straits in its entirety;
  2. suspend the flow of oil in Line 5 unless and until Enbridge files such application and evidence and obtains proper occupancy agreements, permits, or other approvals for this new or completely modified pipeline design; and
  3. consolidate into one application and examine the risks, impacts, and alternative analyses of the entire 645 miles of Line 5.

Read the full comments here.


Statement to Pipeline Safety Advisory Board

Line 5 Pipeline

 

The state pipeline safety advisory board met Monday to discuss next steps on Line 5 at the Straits of Mackinac, in the wake of new revelations about shoddy Line 5 maintenance by Enbridge. FLOW's statement at the meeting said enough is known about the pipeline's condition and poor maintenance for the state to immediately revoke the pipeline's easement to traverse the Straits.


 

Standing Rock win echoes across the Great Lakes

“Sunday marked a hard-earned victory for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe with the announced construction halt of the Dakota Access oil pipeline.

The protest’s main message has resonated here in Michigan and around the globe because of its core truth: oil pipelines – new and old – threaten lands and waters that are vital, not just to tribal members but to all Americans.”

FLOW’s Executive Director, Liz Kirkwood, brings the Standing Rock victory home to Michigan in this opinion piece from the Record Eagle. The time has come to defend our water.

Standing Rock decision sends strong message regarding Line 5

“This is a message to federal and state agencies to prioritize water over oil transport in vulnerable areas like the Great Lakes.” ~Liz Kirkwood (Detroit News, Dec. 4, 2016)

“This is a message to federal and state agencies to prioritize water over oil transport in vulnerable areas like the Great Lakes.” ~Liz Kirkwood (Detroit News, Dec. 4, 2016)

On Sunday, after seven months of legal battles and protests, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that they will not grant the final easement across the Missouri River necessary to build the 1,172-mile Dakota Access Pipeline to transport Bakken oil to Illinois and the Gulf.  The basis of this decision was the need to conduct a full environmental review that explores alternative pipeline routes that do not jeopardize the Missouri River or impact sovereign tribal lands and cultural resources.

The message of Standing Rock—Water is Life—resonates with the people of the Great Lakes who are working to shut down the 64-year-old Enbridge Line 5 oil pipeline that runs directly through Lake Michigan.  FLOW’s own Liz Kirkwood was quoted in this article from The Detroit News, saying: “This is a message to federal and state agencies to prioritize water over oil transport in vulnerable areas like the Great Lakes.”

We must take action and protect our water. It is our responsibility.

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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.

 

FLOW signs-on to Letter Requesting Survey of Pipelines Crossing Michigan’s Waters

A letter sent to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration included with the authorized signatures of…

Anglers of the Au Sable • Clean Water Action • Detroit Riverkeeper • Dwight Lydell Chapter Izaak Walton League of America • FLOW (For Love of Water) • Friends of the AuGres-Rifle Watershed • Flint River Watershed Coalition • Friends of The Boyne River • G.R.E.A.T (Grand River Environmental Action Team) • Grand Valley Metro Council • Great Lakes Council of the International Federation of Fly Fishers, Inc. • Great Lakes Environmental Law Center • Gull Lake Quality Organization • Huron River Watershed Council • Les Cheneaux Watershed Council • Michigan Environmental Council • Save the Wild U.P. • Michigan Land Use Institute • Michigan League of Conservation Voters • Michigan Trout Unlimited • Miller-Van Winkle Chapter Trout Unlimited • Muskegon River Watershed Assembly • Saginaw Field and Stream Club • National Wildlife Federation • respectmyplanet.org • • Sierra Club Michigan Chapter • Sturgeon For Tomorrow •The Watershed Center ~ Grand Traverse Bay • Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council • Upper Black River Council • Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition • West Michigan Environmental Action Council

The Honorable Cynthia I. Quarterman

Administrator Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration

U.S. Department of Transportation

East Building, 2nd Floor

1200 New Jersey Ave.,SE

Washington, DC 20590

Director Linda Daugherty

Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration

Office of Pipeline Safety

Central Region Office

901 Locust Street, Suite 462

Kansas City, MO 64106

July 7, 2014

RE: Water Crossing Survey of Michigan Pipelines

Dear Administrator Quarterman and Director Daugherty:

The undersigned organizations hereby request that the United States Department of Transportation, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) conduct a water crossing study to evaluate the risk of ruptures and leaks in all sections of pipeline that cross Michigan’s rivers, streams, and lakes.

The Great Lakes represent one-fifth of the world’s fresh surface water. Forty million people rely on the Great Lakes for their drinking water, and millions more benefit from the commerce and business that depend on the waters of the Great Lakes.

Michigan is the Great Lakes state with more freshwater coastline than any other state in the nation. Our lakes, rivers, and streams define not only our boundary but also provide a path to environmental, economic, and social progress. The health of the people of Michigan, our economy, and our quality of life depends on clean water. The Great Lakes ecosystem provides unparalleled recreational and economic opportunities to the 10 million people that call Michigan home. Studies show that the Great Lakes provide Michigan with 823,000 jobs that represent nearly 25 percent of Michigan’s payroll. Additionally, Great Lakes tourism generates billions of dollars each year from those who spend leisure time around our lakes and streams.

Pipelines crossing Michigan’s rivers, streams, and Great Lakes put these resources at risk – threatening our health and economic viability. These treasures demand increased attention from the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration to accomplish its pipeline safety mission by ensuring the safety of pipeline crossings in Michigan waterways.

We request that PHMSA conduct a water crossing survey of Michigan pipelines to:

  • Develop a comprehensive map of pipeline waterway crossings;
  • Determine the status of all existing pipelines running underneath Michigan’s water bodies;
  • Evaluate the pipeline integrity and risk of ruptures and leaks at each pipeline crossing; and
  • Outline what should be done to prevent future pipeline failures.

We request that PHMSA review all the documentation necessary to determine the status of all pipelines running under Michigan’s rivers, streams, and lakes. PHMSA should analyze and critique the structural integrity of each pipeline and the standards required at the time of installation of each pipeline to assess the risk of ruptures and leaks. The review should include a variety of factors including each pipeline’s age, thickness, and degree of corrosion; the condition and operation of all shut-off valves; the valve distances from the streams or rivers; what products the pipelines are carrying; the pipeline diameters and burial depth; and what pressures the pipeline products are under. It should also include identification of any critical information gaps that exist in the pipeline network within Michigan.

In addition, PHMSA should work directly with pipeline operators to complete the water crossing survey. PHMSA should request any and all information related to structural integrity and potential risks from pipeline operators whose infrastructure crosses a river, stream, or lake. PHMSA should also require that companies fill any critical information gaps found during the analysis. This may prompt operators to perform in-depth studies/analyses on all their major pipeline water crossings. All of this information can then be used to make recommendations to prevent any future failures that damage Michigan’s pristine rivers, streams, and lakes.

The state has various programs related to the regulation of pipelines. However, the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) is the only state agency with direct regulatory authority over safety of pipelines. The MPSC’s authority is restricted to natural gas pipelines. All other safety-related authority, including jurisdiction of hazardous liquid pipelines, rests with PHMSA and preempts state regulation of safety factors. Therefore, it is incumbent upon PHMSA to fulfill its mandate and conduct a study to ensure the protection of Michigan’s citizens and environment from the risks that are inherent in the transportation of hazardous materials by pipeline.

The Great Lakes and inland waters are Michigan’s natural resource treasures; they shape our state, our lives, and our economy. The waters of Michigan have already suffered as a result of a July 26, 2010 pipeline rupture that released an estimated 843,000 gallons of crude oil into Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River, a Lake Michigan tributary. It is imperative that history not be repeated elsewhere in Michigan. It is critical to ensure the integrity of pipelines at major water crossings that affect rivers, streams, and lakes in Michigan. To do this, PHMSA must compile a comprehensive inventory of pipelines at water crossings and determine if they are currently safe.

Therefore, the undersigned organizations formally request that the United States Department of Transportation, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration conduct a water crossing survey of Michigan pipelines.

If you have any questions regarding this request or would like to discuss further, please contact Jennifer McKay at Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council at (231) 347-1181 or by email at jenniferm@watershedcouncil.org.

Sincerely,

Bruce Pregler President Anglers of the Au Sable

Nic Clark Michigan Director Clean Water Action

Robert Burns Detroit Riverkeeper

Duane De Vries President Dwight Lydell Chapter Izaak Walton League of America

Rebecca Fedewa Executive Director Flint River Watershed Coalition

Liz Kirkwood Executive Director FLOW (For Love of Water)

Jacque Rose Co-Founder Friends of the AuGres-Rifle Watershed

Carl J Wehner President Friends of The Boyne River

Kenny Price President G.R.E.A.T (Grand River Environmental Action Team)

Wendy Ogilvie Director of Environmental Programs Grand Valley Metro Council

Jim Schramm President Great Lakes Council of the International Federation of Fly Fishers, Inc.

Nick Schroeck Executive Director Great Lakes Environmental Law Center

Susan Houseman Vice President Gull Lake Quality Organization

Laura Rubin Executive Director Huron River Watershed Council

G.K. Herron Treasurer Les Cheneaux Watershed Council

James Clift Policy Director Michigan Environmental Council

Hans Voss Executive Director Michigan Land Use Institute

Erica Bloom Policy Manager Michigan League of Conservation Voters

John Walters Vice Chairman Michigan Trout Unlimited

Gregory Walz President Miller-Van Winkle Chapter Trout Unlimited

Gary A. Noble Executive Director Muskegon River Watershed Assembly

Andy Buchsbaum Director, Great Lakes Office National Wildlife Federation

Matt Wandel Founder & Managing Director respectmyplanet.org

Alexandra Thebert Executive Director Save the Wild U.P.

Anne Woiwode State Director Sierra Club Michigan Chapter

Brenda Archambo President Sturgeon For Tomorrow

Christine Crissman Executive Director The Watershed Center ~ Grand Traverse Bay

Gail Gruenwald Executive Director Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council

Carol Moncrieff Rose Chair Upper Black River Council

Nancy Warren Acting President Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition

Nicholas Occhipinti, MPP Policy and Community Activism Director West Michigan Environmental Action Council

Mike Meyer President Saginaw Field and Stream Club

cc: Rick Snyder, Governor, State of Michigan

Dan Wyant, Director, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality

Bill Schuette, Attorney General,

State of Michigan State of Michigan Congressional Delegation

Allan Beshore, CATS Manager, PHMSA Harold Winnie, CATS Manager, PHMSA

Harold Winnie, CATS Manager, PHMSA

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

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

Click here to read and download PDF

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

oil and water dont mix photo