The Great Lakes are a global hub of oil refining. There are many pipelines traversing the state of Michigan. In 2010, a pipeline (6B) owned by Enbridge discharged over 1 million gallons into the Kalamazoo River. A series of dams prevented it from reaching Lake Michigan, but the damage was extensive.This was the warning that awoke Michigan’s concerns. Enbridge made the largest settlement for the largest inland “spill”. It must be told that not all the oil was removed. Because this was a heavy tar sands oil, it dropped to the bottom of the river, trapped in sediment. After extensive dredging, it was determined that to do anymore, would cause great harm to the river’s ecosystem. Lessons learned from this accident demonstrated that Enbridge’s claims that they employ technology designed to detect and shut down the oil flow, should such an event occur, is not true.The Kalamazoo River oil discharge went on for 17 hours before residents reported the leak.
The 2010 Kalamazoo River discharge prompted a National Wildlife Federation review of existing pipelines in Michigan. One pipeline was highlighted because of it’s age and location. Pipeline 5 travels from Wisconsin, through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, under the Straights of Mackinac through the Lower Peninsula and exits at a refinery in Sarnia, Ontario. It is estimated that only 5-10% of this oil is used by Michigan. The rest is shipped, with a great deal going to Great Britain. The pipeline portion under the Straights of Mackinac become a set of twin pipelines running 5 miles. They are 64 years old and carry over 500,000 barrels of light crude oil and natural gas per day. The transport of liquified natural gas through pipeline, as occurs here, is unusual. About half of this natural gas is used to heat rural, upper Michigan homes. These needs can be addressed by other transportation modes such as rail and truck. It would take 4-5 tanker trucks or 1-2 rail cars daily.
A 2014 study by the University of Michigan found that the Straights of Mackinac are the “worst possible place” for an oil spill in the Great Lakes. The shifting currents where Lake Michigan and Lake Huron meet are 10X the force of Niagara Falls. An easement agreement with the State of Michigan requires support bracing every 75 feet. Enbridge has been out of compliance many times and frequently needs to apply for permits to add the required anchors. The strong, shifting currents create an unstable bottomland. Response to a clean-up incident during the winter when the Straights are frozen, would be impossible. The harsh currents at this location would make containment unmanageable. Anti-corrosive coatings are missing in 19 areas. Enbridge’s response to State of Michigan requests for inspection information has been difficult. As a lobby group they proposed legislation to protect themselves from FOIA requests due to national security concerns.
Regulation of pipelines is done by the federal government. But the State of Michigan has responsibility for this portion of the bottomlands of the Great Lakes through the Public Trust Doctrine. All other pipeline disputes involve installation of new pipeline. This is the first challenge to an existing pipeline. The Governor established a Michigan Pipeline Advisory Board in 2015. Two studies were commissioned. An alternatives analysis will evaluate alternative routes or complete replacement of the pipeline. The risk analysis study will establish adequate financial assurance should a discharge occur. These studies are being conducted by private contractors, hired by Enbridge. They are due the end of June. Enbridge will have the opportunity to review, before it is submitted to the state. The contractors will present the draft on July 6, 2017, when public comment will begin. Public hearings will be held on July 24-25. After the public comment period concludes, the state will prepare their recommendations with a final draft in the Fall.
Information on the pipeline and comment process can be found at: www.oilandwaterdontmix.org
LWVMI has joined the Oil and Water Don’t Mix Coalition and is on the steering committee. We support the decommissioning of Pipeline 5.
We support Senator Rick Jones’(R) and Senator Steve Bieda’s (D), SB 292.
LWVMI supports House Resolution 0051 (2017) urging the Governor and Attorney General to exercise their authority, immediately, to terminate the 1953 easement and shut down Enbridge Line 5 under the Straights of Mackinac. This has been referred to the House Policy Committee.
Both Senators Stabenow and Peters introduced a package of bills that would increase pipeline safety in and around the Great Lakes and account for the unique needs of the Great Lakes ecosystem. The bills would:
This proposal builds on a previous bill they passed in 2015, which was signed by President Obama. The Protecting Our Infrastructure of Pipelines and Enhancing Safety Act, or PIPES Act. This Act strengthened pipeline oversight and improves response plans for oil spills under ice-covered waters.
Thanks to Suzanne Dixon, a representative to the LWVLMR Board from Michigan, for submitting this article.