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Pressure Mounts Against Aging Enbridge Oil and Gas Pipeline Through
By Larry Buhl • Wednesday, September 21, 2016 - 11:06
Public pressure is mounting to decommission two 63-year-old underwater
pipelines that rest in an environmentally sensitive waterway between
Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.
About 540,000 barrels of oil and liquid natural gas flow daily through
the 20-inch pipelines, called Line 5, which lie in an exposed trench on
the public bottomlands of the Mackinac Straits west of the Mackinac Bridge.
Built in 1953, Line 5 is now owned by the Alberta, Canada-based
petroleum company Enbridge, Inc. Many fear the aging pipeline is an
accident waiting to happen, with recent modeling showing a single oil
spill could impact more than 150 miles of coastline.
Enbridge has been boasting about the findings of a state pipeline safety
task force report released a little over a year ago that found no signs
of internal or external corrosion on Line 5.
What the company doesn’t say is that even the authors of the report
aren’t convinced of its validity, due to “gaps” in information provided
by Enbridge on its own pipelines.
“Substantial questions remain and can only be resolved by full
disclosure of additional information, and rigorous, independent review
by qualified experts,” the 2015 report reads.
In a press conference following the release of the report, Michigan’s
Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette and Department of
Environmental Quality (DEQ) director Dan Wyant said Enbridge had not
been forthcoming about the methods of pipeline integrity inspections
performed by its contractors.
Enbridge says it continually monitors metal loss, cracks, and pipeline
movements, and in some cases sends divers to visually inspect the pipelines.
The company maintains the pipelines could operate safely for another
half-century, though it acknowledges that a heavy crust of invasive
mussels cover parts of the pipelines.
Environmental groups claim these invasive species are likely corroding
the pipeline coating.
Line 5's Days Numbered
Enbridge has been trying to assure the public through a series of
barbeques and community gatherings that Line 5 is completely safe.
Schuette said in 2015 that Line 5’s days “are numbered,” and that the
pipeline would never be built today under modern environmental
standards. Gov. Rick Snyder promised to address recommendations included
in the report quickly.
But critics say the state has been anything but quick to respond to the
concerns about Line 5. A pair of independent studies that could lead to
recommendations on Line 5’s future are planned but won’t be completed
until mid-to-late 2017.
“The state has been studying (Line 5) since 2014, using data from the
company,” Sierra Club’s Michigan Chapter Chair, David Holtz, tells DeSmog.
Holtz says an independent third party assessment of Line 5 would
probably refute the company’s claims that everything is fine.
“There is no real deadline for the state to do anything and no political
will to confront the oil industry,” Holtz says.
Environmental lawyers say the governor and the attorney general have the
authority to decommission the pipeline at any time as part of the 1953
easement agreement that granted the original owner of Line 5, Lakehead
Pipe Line Partners, the right to occupy the bottomlands.
Liz Kirkwood, an environmental attorney and director of the Traverse
City-based nonprofit Flow for Water, tells DeSmog that Michigan faces
all of the risks from Line 5 and gets almost none of the benefit.
She said, “The state of Michigan agreed to never allow private interests
to pollute public trust waters. Michigan has a heavy burden here because
20 percent of the world’s fresh water is in lakes bordering the state.”
Concerns were galvanized earlier this year when University of Michigan
computer modeling was released showing that 152 miles of shoreline on
Lakes Huron and Michigan were at risk from a single Line 5 oil spill.
Environmentalists and citizens in the region bring up the company’s 2010
pipeline break — the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history — as an
example of what could happen.
In July, Enbridge agreed to pay $177 million, including $61 million in
penalties, as part of a consent decree with the U.S. government tied to
the company’s 2010 pipeline rupture near Marshall, Michigan. The spill
affected nearly 40 miles of the Kalamazoo River. Enbridge did not admit
negligence in the rupture.
In a poll released by the National Wildlife Foundation in May, nearly
two-thirds of Michiganders said companies should not be allowed to
operate pipelines running under the Great Lakes.
A majority of Michigan’s 12 federally recognized Native American tribes
have passed resolutions opposing Line 5, and the Chairman of the Sault
Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians said Line 5 threatens the sovereign
rights of tribal members to fish the lakes.
More than 50 municipalities across Michigan — liberal, conservative, and
everything in-between — have passed resolutions calling for all
pipelines operating in the Straits of Mackinac to be shut down.
Calls For Risk Reduction
On September 14, the Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign sent a letter to
Michigan's Pipeline Safety Advisory Board co-chairs Heidi Grether and
Valerie Brader, urging the panel to endorse four actions before an
independent study commences. Their requests were to:
Require Enbridge to shut down the flow of oil in Line 5 in the
Straits during the winter months, when ice and strong currents make oil
capture nearly impossible.
Investigate at least eight alleged violations by Enbridge of
easement requirements for operating Line 5 in the Straits, including
Require Enbridge to hire an independent contractor to evaluate Line
5 before installing anchors that would keep the pipeline from popping
out of its trench.
Have the Michigan DEQ conduct a full environmental review of Line 5
under the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act before issuing a permit to
Enbridge to install 18 additional pipeline anchors.
Those recommendations were brought up by board member Craig Hupp of
Grosse Pointe when the Pipeline Safety Advisory Board met on Monday
night, September 19.
But according to the Environmental Council's spokesperson Andy
McGlashen, most of the two-hour meeting was spent discussing how to ease
public fears about the difficulty of cleaning up oil spills in the
winter and just paid “lip service” to the recommendations. “The board
basically said they didn't have the technical expertise to evaluate
those recommendations,” McGlashen told DeSmog, adding that the board
adjourned without a plan to find technical experts or take any action
before its next meeting on December 12.
Enbridge, like other companies operating pipelines, has pointed out that
the alternative ways of moving oil — by rail and by truck — are even
less safe, and that decommissioning Line 5 would ultimately increase the
risk of oil spills or explosions.
Holtz tells DeSmog he thinks the company’s line of reasoning is bogus,
saying, “There are other pipelines in the region that aren’t under
water. Line 5 is just a shortcut. Line 5 is Enbridge’s problem. It
shouldn’t be Michigan’s problem.”
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