Tag: Straits of Mackinac

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 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.

Can the Mackinac Bridge be used to support the pipelines?

Gary Street bio photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Gary Street,

Chemical Engineer & FLOW Consultant

 

What if the two twenty inch diameter pipelines that cross the Straits (part of Enbridge Line 5) were hung from the Mackinac Bridge, rather than immersed in water in nearly 300 feet deep? The engineers on the staff at FLOW took a look at the concept. Is it possible? Does it make the situation less environmentally hazardous? What impact will it have on the Bridge? Was the Bridge designed for the extra load?

So we did some calculations.

The result: In addition to the regular car and truck traffic, for which the Bridge was designed, the pipelines would put the added weight of an additional 2000 to 3500 automobiles onto the Bridge. And not just for a short time, but continuously, 24 hours a day, 365 days per year.

Almost certainly the Bridge was not designed for all this extra weight. And what if the lines were to rupture? The oil still goes into the Straits.

Clearly, not a good idea!

U-M computer model shows Straits pipeline break would devastate Great Lakes

Click here to read the article on Detroitfreepress.com

By Keith Matheny – Detroit Free Press Staff Writer

July 10, 2014

A rupture of 61-year-old, underwater oil pipelines running through the Straits of Mackinac would be “the worst possible place” for a spill on the Great Lakes, with catastrophic results, according to a University of Michigan researcher studying potential impacts of a spill.

David Schwab, a research scientist at the U-M Water Center, retired from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, where he studied Great Lakes water flows and dynamics for more than 30 years. He’s the author of a new study done in collaboration with the National Wildlife Federation looking at different scenarios for potential oil spills in the Straits from Canadian oil transport giant Enbridge’s Line 5.

“I can’t think — in my experience — of another place on the Great Lakes where an oil spill would have as wide an area of impact, in as short of time, as at the Straits of Mackinac,” Schwab said.

Line 5 is a set of two oil pipelines that runs from Superior, Wis., through the Upper Peninsula, underwater through the Straits and then down through the Lower Peninsula before connecting to a hub in Sarnia, Ontario. The lines transport about 23 million gallons of oil and other petroleum products, such as natural gas liquids, through the Straits daily.

A July 2010 spill near Marshall caused by a ruptured Enbridge pipeline, and concerns about the underwater pipeline through the Straits, already has prompted state and federal scrutiny. Michigan U.S. Sens. Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow have sought information on Line 5, as have several members of Congress. And state Attorney General Bill Schuette and Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Director Dan Wyant late last month announced they will cochair a multiagency government task force to look at petroleum pipelines and the health, safety and environmental issues they potentially pose in Michigan.

Part 1: Three years after oil spill, a slow recovery haunts Kalamazoo River

Part 2: Enbridge’s expanded oil pipeline draws ire of homeowners in its path

Schwab looked at six different scenarios — and all spelled a catastrophe for the lakes. That’s due in large part to the Straits of Mackinac being “really, a strange place on the Great Lakes,” he said. The strength of water flowing through the Straits is 20 times the amount necessary to keep Lakes Michigan and Huron at the same water level, he said. And the flows go in both directions — sometimes from Michigan to Huron, sometimes from Huron to Michigan — and change directions every few days.

Schwab created six animation models looking at what would happen if Line 5 ruptured at the northern, middle and southern end of the Straits — both at times when the water is flowing into Lake Michigan and when it’s flowing into Lake Huron. His projection was for a 1 million gallon oil spill lasting 12 hours.

“One million gallons is conservatively the amount of oil that resides in the pipelines in the Straits at any time,” he said.

The spill scenarios show that, depending on current directions, a spill could be transported eastward into Lake Huron, westward into Lake Michigan and move back and forth through the Straits several times. Shoreline areas most impacted would be Mackinac Island, Bois Blanc Island and the Lake Huron shoreline east of Mackinaw City. Contamination could spread as far west as Beaver Island in Lake Michigan to Rogers City in Lake Huron, the study found.

“What this report shows is (that) a significant oil spill in the Straits would be an ecological disaster for the Great Lakes,” said Andy Buchsbaum, regional executive director for the National Wildlife Federation. “It would severely impact shipping and tourism.”

Such a spill would severely damage “the Great Lakes brand,” Buchsbaum said. “The Straits of Mackinac are iconic. They are what many people think of when they think of the Great Lakes. It would be a death blow for the Great Lakes ecology and economy.”

Line 5 is older than an Enbridge oil pipeline that ruptured near Marshall in July 2010, causing the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history and necessitating a $1-billion cleanup of the Kalamazoo River and Talmadge Creek that is still not complete.

Enbridge spokesman Jason Manshum said the company shares the National Wildlife Federation’s “views on the critical nature of the Great Lakes ecosystem in general, and the Straits in particular.” This new report will advance “continued and meaningful discussion on pipeline safety in the Straits,” he added.

Manshum noted that Line 5 “has been incident-free since it was constructed in 1953, and through even greater oversight, the use of new technology and ensuring all risks are monitored — and, where necessary, mitigated — Enbridge is committed to maintaining this incident-free record into the future.”

Contact Keith Matheny: 313-222-5021, kmatheny@freepress.com or on Twitter @keithmatheny

Enbridge Under the Bridge: What We Do and Don’t Know about the Underwater Oil Pipeline in the Great Lakes

FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood

FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood

FLOW and a number of organizations have come together over the last year to rally the public and raise awareness about the Canadian energy company Enbridge and their Line 5 pipeline, a 61-year-old pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac in the Great Lakes which has increased in flow and pipeline pressure and poses a great risk to our common water. On February 5, I carpooled up to St. Ignace, Michigan to attend a public meeting wherein Enbridge delivered a presentation to Mackinac County officials (and a packed room full of concerned citizens) to assuage growing concerns about the Line 5 pipeline expansion. My companions Jim Dulzo from Michigan Land Use Institute, FLOW intern Jonathan Aylward and I didn’t know what to expect, but we certainly all had a lot of questions that remained unanswered.

Background: The issue captured our attention after a critical 2012 report from National Wildlife Federation (NWF) titled Sunken Hazardpublished the scary facts: if Line 5 were to leak, then in the eight minutes that it takes for Enbridge to shut off the pipeline about 1.5 million gallons of oil would release, along with catastrophic impacts and dispersion across both Lakes Michigan and Huron. However, this is not even the “worse case discharge” given that it took the same company, Enbridge, 17 hours to respond to the worse inland oil pipeline spill in U.S. history along the Kalamazoo River just 3 years ago.  In short, the Great Lakes have never been more at risk and yet the public is largely uninformed.

Why FLOW is concerned:

  1. We know that Enbridge has “upgraded” Line 5 with new pump stations but we don’t know for sure what “product” (light or heavy, sweet or sour, dilbit, etc) is being transported 640 miles from Superior, Wisconsin through the Straits of Mackinac to Sarnia, Ontario;
  2. Heavy tar sands is the dirtiest and most carbon-intensive energy on earth and a spill would destroy our shared international waters and way of life;
  3. This “upgraded” pipeline is 61-years-old and is submerged under water in the heart of the Great Lakes that contains 20 percent of the world’s fresh surface water;
  4. Enbridge has a dismal pipeline safety record, underscored by the two recent heavy tar sands disasters in Marshall, Michigan along the Kalamazoo River (1 million gallons spilled in 2010) and Grand Marsh, Wisconsin (50,000 gallons spilled in 2012);
  5. Federal pipeline regulations do not provide for public disclosure in the event of a product change from light crude oil to heavy crude oil for example; and
  6. An unsettling feeling of lack of transparency and public disclosure about the safety of Line 5 for the Great Lakes.

The Enbridge “side of the story”

At 2 pm at Little Bear Arena in St. Ignace, Mackinac County Planning Commission (“the Commission”) Chairman Dean Reid stood before 175 people, amazed at the turnout, and explained the rationale for this special meeting. The fact of the matter was that the Commission “wanted to hear Enbridge’s side of the story” after receiving NWF’s Sunken Hazard, and video footage of the submerged Line 5 under the Straits of Mackinac. Interestingly, though, I learned from Beth Wallace at NWF who co-authored the report that the Commission did not invite NWF to participate as a panelist to publically present both points of view.

Commission officials and the audience listen to the Enbridge representatives' presentation.

Commission officials and the audience listen to the Enbridge representatives’ presentation.

Chairman Reid laid out the agenda, calling for Enbridge to address the integrity of their Line 5 pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac, the frequency of their testing, and emergency procedures in the event of a pipeline rupture. Recognizing the potential regional impact a spill would have in the Straits, the Commission invited other local units of government and organizations to attend this meeting. No public comments were allowed, but Enbridge panelists read and answer cards with written questions.

Next came Enbridge Community Relations Director Jackie Guthrie who described herself as a mom but also as a former lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army. She gave the audience a succinct and compelling PR presentation on Enbridge’s overall operations. “Think of Enbridge as the ‘Fed-Ex’ of the oil and gas industry,” she cleverly described, “Enbridge delivers 2.5 billion barrels of crude and liquid petroleum, 5 billion cubic/feet of natural gas, and 1,600 MW of renewable energy a day.” Her numbers underscored the amazing recent growth of this billion-dollar company coinciding with North America’s energy boom. For example, in the last seven years, Enbridge had doubled its employees to 11,000. Guthrie concluded her overview by noting that Enbridge was recognized as one of the Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations in the World.

This last claim got me thinking: if Enbridge can get that level of praise despite its shocking track record of 800 pipeline spills in the U.S. and Canada between 1999 and 2010, leaking 6.8 million gallons of oil and causing the largest inland heavy tar sands rupture in U.S. history, I wonder what the other energy companies are like.

Guthrie described the Line 5 as a 650-mile pipeline originating in Superior, Wisconsin traveling across the Upper Peninsula across the Straits of Michigan and down to Sarnia, Ontario. Line 5 is a 30-inch pipeline, except across the Straits where it divides into two 20-inch pipelines. Guthrie emphasized that Line 5 was carrying “light crude oil” which has “the consistency of skim milk.”

The view driving across the Mackinac Bridge: the Enbridge Line 5 oil pipeline is submerged beneath the same Straits of Mackinac that the Bridge traverses.

The view driving across the Mackinac Bridge: the Enbridge Line 5 oil pipeline is submerged beneath the same Straits of Mackinac that the Bridge traverses.

Blake Olson, Enbridge’s Escanaba Area Manager for over 400 miles of Line 5, followed with a presentation on the integrity of the Line 5 pipeline. He described Line 5 in the Straits as a one-inch thick seamless steel pipe, build with such a robust design that they just don’t build pipelines like this anymore. In fact, Olson commented that Line 5 at the Straits is the thickest pipeline in North America. Since 2012, Enbridge had increased the flow or volume of the product by 10 percent. Then he made the case that Enbridge had made a number of significant upgrades in their leak detection system within the last couple of years, including:

  • automatic shut-off valves at both sides of the Straits,
  • replacement of St. Ignace Valve Yard (2011) and Valve Yard containment system (2012),
  • the on-going installation of emergence flow restriction devices,
  • a back-up electric generator installed in 2013, and
  • a thermally imaging leak detection system to be installed this year.

In addition, Olson described Enbridge’s integrity protective system along Line 5, which included corrosion prevention with coal tar coating and cathodic protection, anchor strike prevention and brackets every 50 feet (coming this summer), monitoring with internal and external pipeline inspections, lighted shore signage and nautical charts stating DO NOT ANCHOR.

Too little, too late?

This was an impressive list to the casual listener/observer, but what troubled me was that a lot of these basic safety protections to ensure pipeline protection were recently instituted and this pipeline was 61-years-old. For example, in the 61 years of this pipeline’s history, the U.S. Coast Guard did not have nautical charts informing vessels about the very location of Line 5 until January 2014.  This change only happened because a number of concerned Michigan groups met with the Governor’s office to discuss Line 5’s safety in December 2013.

Olson assured the audience that Enbridge’s integrity program demonstrated that Line 5 under the Straits was “fit for service” with no dents or anomalies and met all federal pipeline regulations.

Before the Q&A session, Enbridge invited its contractor Bill Hazel from Marine Pollution Control to provide an overview of the emergency response measures set in place in the event of catastrophic spill on Line 5 under the Lakes. Hazel pointed to a number of simulated winter emergency response drills that Enbridge had participated in or serves as the lead in 2008, 2012, 2013, and this year. What became crystal clear was how catastrophic a Line 5 rupture would be especially during the wintertime. One follow-up question captured our imagination of this seemingly impossible mission: ‘May day, May day, May day!  It’s January 21, 2014 and it’s -9 °F and the wind chill is -25 °F, the Straits of Mackinac are frozen over, the ice four feet deep, and Line 5 has ruptured under the ice.  What are you going to do about it?’

Left to right: Jim Dulzo, MLUI; Jonathan Aylward, FLOW; Lee Sprague, Little River Band of Ottawa Indians; Anne Zukowski, Don't Frack Michigan; Jannan Cornstalk, Little River Band of Ottawa Indians

Left to right: Jim Dulzo, MLUI; Jonathan Aylward, FLOW; Lee Sprague, Little River Band of Ottawa Indians; Anne Zukowski, Don’t Frack Michigan; Jannan Cornstalk, Little River Band of Ottawa Indians

Enbridge answers (some) public questions

Following a final word from the local emergency manager in Mackinac, Guthrie gathered the 5×7 questions cards, proceeded to sort them into piles, and distributed them to the appropriate Enbridge representative for answers at the podium. Several illuminating points came out:

  1. Line 5 only transports light crude oil, the consistency of skim milk.
  2. Line 5’s light crude oil currently comes the Bakken oil fields.
  3. There are no plans to pump heavy crude oil through Line 5.
  4. Seamless pipe wasn’t really a seamless pipe as Enbridge had described previously, rather Line 5’s two 20-inch pipelines are seamless only up to the joints that repeat every 40 feet along the 4-mile stretch along the bottomlands of the Straits.
  5. A wintertime spill would present unprecedented challenges in mounting an emergency response.
  6. If a rupture occurred and the automatic shut-off valves turned off in a 3-minute period, 5,500 barrels would be released and disperse over an area 25-square-miles wide.  This number was down considerably from 15,000 barrels before Enbridge installed the automatic shut-off valves.

The last question was: ‘If tar sands were being transported through Line 5, what pipeline changes would Enbridge have to make?’ Enbridge’s Guthrie pulled the card aside and said, “let me hold off on this question because it is complex.”  But time was on Guthrie’s side as the meeting ended sharply at 3:30 pm and she never had to answer this telling question.

The composed Midwestern temperament of the room quickly changed as audience members shouted out that their questions had not been answered.  But it was clear that the meeting was over.

The bottom line for the bottomlands

I walked out into the 12 °F air, looked out over the Straits and felt an urgent need for additional public forums in Mackinac and the Great Lakes to further educate and inform all walks of life who live here about Line 5. Enbridge had attempted to calm the public’s concerns about Line 5, but they hadn’t been entirely forthright and it bothered me. Without public transparency, we will need to engage the State of Michigan to assert its authority as trustee of the waters and bottomlands of the Great Lakes for the benefit of the public.

What I’m talking about is the public trust doctrine, which legally requires Governor Snyder and both the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Environmental Quality, as state trustees, to ensure that Enbridge’s Line 5 under the Straits will not impair the public waters of the Great Lakes. This means that the State must demand full transparency and disclosure of all Enbridge’s activities not only for the people within range of a potential catastrophic spill, but for all residents of Michigan. Thus, if and when Enbridge decided to transport any type of heavy tar sands oil through Line 5, Enbridge has a duty to inform the state and the public and secure proper authorization under the Great Lands Submerged Lands Act. That’s FLOW’s take on the issue, and it’s what you will be hearing more about in the weeks and months to come. Stay tuned.

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