Tag: Oil and Water Don’t Mix

FLOW Urges MPSC to Deny Enbridge’s Request for a Free Pass on Siting a ‘Line 5’ Oil Tunnel in the Straits of Mackinac

Photo of the Mackinac Bridge and Straits of Mackinac by Kathryn DePauw.


The Michigan Public Service Commission should reject Enbridge’s attempt to dodge the legal review process required to replace and relocate the segment of the Line 5 oil pipeline crossing the Straits of Mackinac into a $500 million proposed tunnel pipeline project, according to formal comments filed Wednesday with the MPSC by FLOW (For Love of Water).

In a convoluted request, Enbridge on April 17 applied to the MPSC to approve a tunnel pipeline project under the Straits of Mackinac to replace the existing four-mile Line 5 pipeline on the lakebed. At the same time, Enbridge filed a request for a declaratory ruling from the MPSC that no approval is actually necessary, claiming the massive tunnel project is just “maintenance” of the 67-year-old dual oil pipelines already approved by the MPSC in a 1953 Order.

“Enbridge wants to circumvent the law by arguing that the 1953 Easement and Order authorized the construction of a tunnel and subterranean pipeline,” said Liz Kirkwood, executive director of FLOW, a Great Lakes law and policy center based in Traverse City. “The truth is this proposed pipeline tunnel infrastructure intended to transport oil for another 99 years beneath the Great Lakes, the world’s greatest supply of fresh surface water, despite the plummeting demand for oil and the climate crisis, bears absolutely no resemblance in design or location to the original pipeline project approved in 1953.”

The MPSC on April 22 issued an order putting Enbridge’s application on hold and opened a public comment period that ended May 13 on the request for the declaratory ruling. The MPSC also set May 27 as the deadline for any replies to comments received regarding the declaratory ruling request.

FLOW’s comments cite several reasons why the MPSC should deny Enbridge’s request and go forward with a full and comprehensive review and determinations of the necessity, alternatives, and overarching public interest of Enbridge’s proposed tunnel and tunnel pipeline infrastructure project under the Great Lakes. The reasons for denial include:

  • Not maintenance – Enbridge’s proposal is not maintenance of a previously approved project but, under state law, a “new” oil pipeline to be located in a new tunnel that constitutes a “structure or facility” related to the pipeline in an entirely new horizontal and deep subterranean, vertical location.
  • Bear no resemblance – The location, magnitude, and nature of the proposed tunnel and oil pipeline infrastructure for the Straits bear no resemblance to the specific location and design incorporated into the former Public Utility Commission’s 1953 Order that approved the existing dual Line 5 pipelines 67 years ago. The 1953 Easement from the State of Michigan and the corresponding 1953 MPSC Order authorizes the dual pipeline infrastructure siting limited to the exact location on the lakebed floor, not a deep subsurface tunnel and tunnel pipeline proposed to be sited 60 to 250 feet below the Straits.
  • Not the legal successor – The Enbridge subsidiary Enbridge Energy, Limited Partnership, is not the legal successor in interest to the original 1953 Easement Agreement between Lakehead Pipe Line Company and the State of Michigan and the 1953 MPSC Order, and cannot rely on these legal documents to avoid a certificate of necessity review by the MPSC.
  • Inseparable – The tunnel and tunnel pipeline are inseparable in Enbridge’s own descriptions and assertions in this and other applications, and one cannot be applied for, nor approved, without the other.
  • Not authorized – Enbridge lacks a lawfully authorized property interest to locate or construct the tunnel and oil pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac. Because the bottomlands under the Straits are owned and held by the State in public trust, Enbridge is required to obtain authorization for a public utility easement from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and then obtain authorization for the conveyance and 99-year lease from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy under the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act.

“There’s no free pass here,” said Jim Olson, FLOW founder and legal advisor. “The MPSC is charged with the responsibility of assuring this project is necessary and in the public interest of the people of Michigan in  2020, not 1953. The world has changed and with the current COVID-19 pandemic and global climate crisis, the MPSC’s decision will be momentous.”

“We’re talking about water, climate, and the plummeting demand for crude oil,” Olson said. “The MPSC by law should fully consider and determine the effect on, and potential impairment to, the substantial risks, alternatives, costs, and damages, and the future of the State of Michigan under the public trust in the Great Lakes, environment, fishing, fishery habitat, and the communities, including tribal interests under long-standing treaties.”

A Clear Plan to Decommission Line 5

Advocates of shutting down dangerous Line 5 at the Straits of Mackinac presented a detailed plan for its decommissioning yesterday.  The plan gives the state officials who are accountable, Attorney General Bill Schuette and Governor Rick Snyder, a detailed, realistic plan for protecting the Great Lakes from a catastrophic oil spill while assuring energy to meet Michigan’s needs.
 
Enbridge has been using publicly-owned lakebed at the Straits as a conduit for its shipments of oil and gas underneath the Straits under a 65-year-old easement granted by the state on the condition that the company operates prudently.  But repeated disclosures of shoddy maintenance, structural flaws in the pipelines and concealment of critical information from state officials demonstrated Enbridge is not acting prudently.
 
FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood said, “It’s time to move forward with legal action to compel strict enforcement of the current easement and to set a timetable for ending the easement.” 

For more information, please visit:


Tilting at Tunnels and a Brighter Tomorrow

As a native Michigander and optimist, I’ve always welcomed the first day of winter as a harbinger of longer, hopefully sunnier days just over the horizon. But I was recently reminded by a friend that, of course, the winter solstice that occurred Thursday at 11:28 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, actually marks the shortest day and longest night in the Northern Hemisphere.

So depending on the tilt of your perspective, the solstice is cause for deepening dread, a condition aptly summed up as “SAD,” or relative hope: There’s scientific evidence to suggest that without the tilt of the earth’s axis, we might not be here at all.

As we at FLOW take stock of our shared efforts in 2017 to prioritize and protect the Great Lakes and look ahead to challenges and opportunities to come in the new year, consider this dichotomy related to the battle to shut down the decaying Line 5 oil pipelines in the Mackinac Straits that suggest from my viewpoint that Great Lakes protectors are growing stronger and there indeed are brighter days ahead.

First the Dark: In October, Enbridge admitted misleading both Michigan and federal officials on the condition of its Line 5 oil pipelines for over three years, concealing the existence of at least 48 bare metal spots and/or coating gaps near anchor locations in the straits.

Then in late November, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder bypassed his own advisory board and announced his sweetheart, backroom deal with Enbridge to tilt the search for alternatives to a looming Great Lakes oil spill disaster toward a tunnel under the Mackinac Straits. Gov. Snyder, however, inadvertently lit a spark under those who recognize that the drinking water supply for half of all Michiganders is no place for oil pipelines.

Then the Firelight: FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood correctly called it a “reward for failure” for bumbling Enbridge. The governor’s spurned advisory board found its voice in early December and passed resolutions, in part, calling for an amendment to the deal to require the temporary shutdown of Line 5 until there has been the full inspection of and repair of the coating breaches and urging the state to conduct a much more robust assessment of alternatives to Line 5.

Apparently preferring a rubber-stamp board, Gov. Snyder was quick to dismiss his advisors, saying, “I’m not sure I view that as a regular meeting in terms of that resolution.” But the public was buoyed by the board’s backbone, with hundreds of outraged residents turning out and piping up in public meetings in Taylor, St. Ignace, and Traverse City to object to the governor’s deal and support a shutdown.

Meanwhile, members of the growing Great Lakes Business Network sharpened their questioning of why the state would allow – even promote – a Canadian pipeline company’s business model that rakes in profit by threatening to torpedo the Pure Michigan economy. And the Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign co-led by FLOW, tribes, and several other stewardship groups scheduled a Shut Down Line 5! Snyder/Schuette Accountability Rally for noon Thursday, with dozens of people expected to carry the torch for shutting down Line 5 on what would otherwise be the darkest day and give a final push for public comment that ends Friday on the state’s flawed alternatives analysis.

More Illumination in 2018: Stay tuned in early 2018 when the campaign will release its detailed plan to decommission Line 5 while ensuring propane still flows to the Upper Peninsula and Michigan’s other energy needs are met. FLOW’s technical advisors have done some of that decommissioning groundwork, as summarized in fact sheets here and here.

In addition, Michigan Technilogical University will lead a Line 5 risk study in 2018. The Snyder-Enbridge deal calls for completion of the Line 5 review process by August 15, when the state is expected to make a final decision to replace the pipelines or shut them down.

Shining Brighter Together: For FLOW, the broader context is that the Great Lakes belong to all of us, so all of us who love and benefit from these magnificent waters must share in the vital task of helping protect them.

That’s why we work so hard to educate the public and ensure these freshwater inland seas remain and become even more drinkable, fishable, and swimmable for generations to come. Together we must understand the risks facing our Great Lakes and very way of life so that we can pursue real solutions rooted in the public trust. And one very real solution is for the state of Michigan to shut down Line 5.  

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Kelly Thayer, FLOW Contributor


PR: Citizens Respond to Attorney General Schuette: Get Off the Sidelines on Line 5 and Protect Great Lakes

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Media Contacts: Leonard Page 231-268-8430/ leonard@thepages.net
David Holtz 313-300-4454/david@davidholtz.org

 

Citizens Respond to Attorney General Schuette:

Get Off the Sidelines on Line 5 and Protect Great Lakes

Responding today to a letter from Attorney General Bill Schuette, citizens groups from across the state told state officials that their decision to “stand on the sidelines” by failing to enforce legal requirements on pipeline operator Enbridge Energy Partners is putting the Great Lakes at risk from a catastrophic oil spill in the Straits of Mackinac.

In a March 8 letter to the Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign, the attorney general, Dept. of Natural Resources Director Keith Creagh and Dept. of Environmental Quality Director Heidi Grether responded to revelations that protective anti-corrosion coatings were missing from 18 areas of Enbridge’s Line 5 in the Straits.  In their letter, Schuette, Creagh and Grether said they would investigate findings in a late 2016 report detailing the missing coatings as well as other evidence calling into question claims by Enbridge that Line 5 is safe.

In their response letter today to state officials, citizens groups told Schuette and other state officials that their failure to assert regulatory authority over Line 5 in the Straits could result in an oil spill that would “devastate our public drinking waters and our water-dependent economy.”

“It is not enough to stand on the sidelines or fail to take action that has the effect of complicity by deferring to Enbridge,” the groups said in their letter to Schuette.  “For nearly two years, we have heard our state leaders declare that the days of this pipeline are numbered and that Line 5 wouldn’t be built today.  However, the State of Michigan has not taken a single preventative measure to make our Great Lakes safer from a catastrophic oil spill.”

The missing Line 5 coatings, the groups said, violated a 1953 easement agreement with the state and should, at a minimum, have resulted in enforcement action against Enbridge.  By instead deferring to Enbridge, the state’s failure to act allows Enbridge to avoid comprehensive review of Line 5 and delays any potential action for months while the state continues to study the pipelines. 

“Attorney General Schuette’s urgency in protecting the Great Lakes and our communities from an oil spill seems to be missing,” said attorney Leonard Page of the Straits Area Concerned Citizens for Peace, Justice and the Environment.  “We need action now, before Line 5 ruptures and destroys our way of life and economy.”

In April 2016 the Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign wrote Schuette and other state officials, identifying eight violations of the 1953 easement, including missing pipeline anchors, emergency oil spill response plan violations along with issues related to pipeline coatings in the Straits.  While the state notified Enbridge of easement violations, it has yet to require Enbridge to submit to a comprehensive environmental assessment under state law.  A current series of studies being done by the state with $3.6 million in funding from Enbridge are advisory.

“What Attorney General Schuette or any state official can’t tell us is how the structural integrity of these pipelines in the Straits are holding up against age, strong currents, missing anchors and missing coatings,” said David Holtz, chair of Sierra Club Michigan Chapter Executive Committee.  “They can’t tell us that because they are not taking the kind of enforcement actions that could produce answers.  They are not prioritizing protecting the Great Lakes over Enbridge’s profits.”

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Oil & Water Don’t Mix is a campaign supported by 22 organizations and thousands of citizens businesses who want to end the threat of a Great Lakes oil spill by shutting down the flow of oil through Enbridge’s Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac.

The March 27, 2017 letter to Attorney General Schuette, the March 8 letter to OWDM from Schuette and OWDM’s original letter to Schuette are located here:

http://www.oilandwaterdontmix.org/owdm_response_to_ag_schuette_michigans_legal_duty

PR: State of Michigan Takes a “Holiday” from Preventing Line 5 Oil Spill Disaster in Great Lakes

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                         March 9, 2017

Contact:  Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director                                               Email: Liz@FLOWforWater.org

FLOW (For Love of Water)                                                     Office: (231) 944-1568, Cell: (570) 872-4956

 

State of Michigan Takes a “Holiday” from Preventing Line 5 Oil Spill Disaster in Great Lakes

Snyder Administration Watches and Waits as the 64-year-old Dual Pipelines Missing Their Anti-Rust Coating and Structural Supports Continue to Use Mackinac Straits as a High-Risk Shortcut to Private Profits

TRAVERSE CITY, MI – The Snyder administration, in two letters (here and here) released Wednesday, indicated it will seek more information, but take no enforcement action, while continuing to accept Enbridge’s assurances that all is well with dual oil pipelines in the Mackinac Straits that the Canadian company itself has indicated are missing portions of an external, anti-rust coating and lacking 18 anchor supports to prevent the pipes from grinding and bending along the bottom and bursting.

The letters – signed by Attorney General Bill Schuette, Michigan Department of Natural Resources Director Keith Creagh, and Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Director Heidi Grether – describe “inviting” Enbridge to explain the company’s September 2016 report that identifies 19 areas along the submerged steel pipes where the anti-corrosion coating is missing. Enbridge’s report euphemistically calls the missing portions “holidays,” industry jargon for areas where the coating has worn or fallen off. The report outlines a plan for assessing Line 5’s integrity where the coating is gone and acidic waste excreted by invasive mussels that blanket the pipes could be causing corrosion.

Enbridge claims that the report is merely “hypothetical,” even though the report flatly states that the external coating is missing and the words “hypothetical” and “theoretical” are not found in the document.

“The State of Michigan is moving in slow motion to question Enbridge’s claims that its own report doesn’t mean what is plainly says,” said Liz Kirkwood, an environmental attorney and executive director of FLOW, a Traverse City-based water law and policy center dedicated to upholding the public’s rights to use and benefit from the Great Lakes. “When the pipelines finally fail, will the state invite Enbridge to explain what the thick, black substance is pouring out of the 64-year-old pipes and into the drinking water source for nearby Mackinac Island, St. Ignace, and roughly 5 million Michiganders?”

The state issued its March 8 letter in response to February 17 correspondence from the Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign, which FLOW co-leads with several other leading organizations, that raised grave and detailed concerns about the condition of Line 5 and called for its immediate shutdown.

An Enbridge representative is expected to explain its report at the March 13 quarterly meeting in Lansing of the governor-appointed Michigan Pipeline Safety Advisory Board, whose members include Attorney General Schuette. The advisory board is overseeing the completion of two nominally independent studies funded by Enbridge: one on the financial risk to communities and the Pure Michigan economy of a Line 5 oil spill in the Mackinac Straits and the other on alternatives to the aging pipeline that could avoid such a disaster. These two studies are expected by June 2017.

Enbridge is infamous for leaking more than one million gallons of heavy tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River watershed near Marshall, Michigan, in 2010, fouling nearly 40 miles of the river and shore, sickening numerous people, harming wildlife, and forcing more than 100 families to permanently abandon their homes and property.

The failure to adequately maintain the Line 5 pipelines, including a lack of supports to prevent bending of the pipeline – is a breach of Enbridge’s 1953 legal easement agreement with the State of Michigan that allows the company to occupy public waters and state bottomlands. The failures documented in the Enbridge report add to the mounting evidence of the unacceptable risk that this infrastructure poses to the Great Lakes.

A three-minute video of Line 5 pipelines in the Straits, researched and edited by FLOW’s engineering expert Dr. Ed Timm, reveals the physical deterioration of Line 5, with missing and dislodged coating, broken bands, detached wooden structural slats, unsupported segments, and possible rust and pitting.

In addition, a just-released technical note prepared by Dr. Timm regarding Line 5 reinforces the urgent need for the state to immediately shut down Line 5 while it evaluates the integrity of the aging infrastructure that pumps nearly 23 million gallons of oil a day through the Mackinac Straits before eventually reaching refineries in Sarnia, Ontario. Specifically, this technical note concludes the following:

  • Line 5 is not immune to corrosion and stress cracking despite its thick walls, contrary to Enbridge’s claims;
  • The asphalt enamel based coating system is compromised or missing on many areas of the pipe;
  • The extent of the coverage by invasive mussels on the pipelines makes it “impossible” to evaluate how much of the coating system is compromised;
  • The easement-required wooden slats that were designed to protect from point loads and abrasion are missing entirely on portions of the pipelines; and
  • The peak currents in the Mackinac Straits are nearly twice the maximum velocity considered when the pipeline was designed, adding significant stress;
  • A full study of the integrity of the coating system that includes a careful examination of the impact of the biofouling on the pipelines is critical to making a proper fitness-for-service evaluation.

“The evidence demands that the State of Michigan respond and fulfill its affirmative fiduciary duty,” wrote Jim Olson, an environmental attorney and FLOW’s president, in a March 9 follow-up letter to the State of Michigan. “It is not enough to stand by the sidelines and merely request additional information from Enbridge given the high risk of a catastrophic oil spill in the Great Lakes that would devastate our public drinking waters and our water-dependent economy. ‘Pure Michigan’ should not just be an advertising slogan.”

For more information, visit the FLOW website at www.FLOWforWater.org

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FINAL FLOW-Line 5 Media Release-Pipeline Coating 3-9-2017

As Long as Oil Flows through the Straits Pipelines, the Great Lakes Remain at Unacceptable Risk

The Great Lakes are no safer from an oil pipeline spill today despite yesterday’s release of the State of Michigan Pipeline Task Force’s 80-page report and recommendations.

The Task Force report included four recommendations directed at Enbridge’s twin 62-year-old petroleum pipelines located on the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac: (1) Ban transportation of heavy crude oil through the Straits pipelines; (2) Require an independent risk analysis and full insurance coverage for the pipelines; (3) Require an independent analysis of alternatives to the existing pipelines; (4) Obtain more inspection data from Enbridge relating to the pipelines.

Yet, oil still flows through Line 5.  The Task Force rejected shutting down Line 5 while gathering additional information on the basis that they had “inadequate information at this time to fully evaluate the risks presented by the Straits Pipelines.” (P. 57)

Impose Emergency Measures Immediately

At a minimum, however, the Task Force should impose immediate emergency measures on the pipeline given (1) potential violations of the 1953 Easement related to Enbridge’s inability to demonstrate that it has adequate liability coverage to cover all damages from an oil spill; (2) the Coast Guard’s admission that it is inadequately prepared to clean up an open water spill in freshwater let alone under frozen winter conditions; (3) Enbridge’s failure to disclose inspection, maintenance, and repair records to document internal and external corrosion rates under the Straits and inherent limitations related to inline inspection tools.

The question remains: how much more information do we need to unveil before our trustee – the State – takes swift protective action that prioritizes the paramount interests of citizens over private corporations?

The Task Force and the public have rejected the idea that the Straits Pipelines can last indefinitely.  In fact, the Attorney General Bill Schuette has declared that “the days of letting two controversial oil pipelines operate under the Straits of Mackinac are numbered.”  This is hopeful news, but every day counts, and until we have specific measures in place that prevent a catastrophic spill, the State of Michigan is placing the Great Lakes at risk.