FLOW to Snyder and Schuette: Stop Delays, Scrap Side Deal, and Shut Down “Line 5” Pipelines to Prevent Great Lakes Oil Spill Disaster

TRAVERSE CITY, MI – Michigan is moving closer to a Great Lakes oil spill disaster and farther from a real alternative to the decaying oil pipelines in the Mackinac Straits, according to a Great Lakes law and policy center’s review released today of technical reports produced by Line 5-owner Enbridge at the direction of Gov. Rick Snyder.

Gov. Snyder also is operating outside the law and state constitution in striking a November 2017 side deal with Enbridge to study pipeline tunnel and trench options in the Mackinac Straits, according to FLOW’s review just submitted to the state. The legal process requires an application from the Canadian energy pipeline company to use the state’s Great Lakes bottomlands and the full study of other alternatives that do not use or threaten the Great Lakes.

“As his term comes to a close, Gov. Snyder is rushing toward his preferred outcome of building a Canadian oil pipeline tunnel under the Mackinac Straits,” said FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood, an environmental attorney. “The governor should know that taking shortcuts around the law and through the Great Lakes threatens Michiganders, their drinking water, and the Pure Michigan economy, and delays the pursuit of real solutions.”

FLOW is calling on Gov. Snyder to scrap his backroom deal with Enbridge and seek a court order to shut down the 65-year-old Line 5 pipelines before they burst. Recent investigative reporting has revealed a tightly intertwined relationship among Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration, Line 5-owner Enbridge, and the consulting and lobbying firms where Snyder officials have gone on to quickly land high-dollar state contracts, including on Line 5.

“The State of Michigan has a legal duty to protect the Great Lakes as a public trust – a priceless treasure for the public to use and enjoy, not as a private waterway for a Canadian pipeline company with a terrible track record in Michigan,” said environmental attorney Jim Olson, FLOW’s founder and president, noting that Enbridge’s Line 5 has spilled 1.1 million gallons of oil since 1968 across Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas and Line 6b in 2010 spilled more than 1 million gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River watershed.

The State of Michigan received public comment on the Snyder-commissioned Enbridge Line 5 reports here “before July 15,” allowing just two weeks for review of several dense technical reports on tunneling under the Mackinac Straits, protecting pipeline water crossings, using new technologies to detect underwater leaks and prevent pipeline coating loss, and employing methods to prevent future anchor strikes of Line 5. The state is collecting the feedback on the website of the Gov. Snyder-appointed Michigan Pipeline Safety Advisory Board, which the governor did not consult in striking a deal with Enbridge to pursue a tunnel under the Straits.

FLOW’s legal and technical review of the Gov. Snyder-commissioner Enbridge reports, and the governor’s side agreement with Enbridge, also found that the governor’s process:

  • Lacks authorization under the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act (GLSLA) to allow the use of Michigan’s Great Lakes bottomlands.
  • Fails to show there is no feasible and prudent alternative to the twin Straits pipelines and all of Line 5, including alternative design capacity, routes, and other measures throughout its system, contrary to the GLSLA and the Michigan Environmental Protection Act.
  • Unlawfully allows Enbridge to segment its study and replacement of Line 5 by moving forward with a replacement line horizontally drilled under the St. Clair River, also subject to the public trust of the State and citizens, without an overall consideration of potential impacts and alternatives to Line 5 in its entirety. This also increases the likelihood Enbridge will eventually seek to push heavy, highly polluting tar sands oil through Line 5.
  • Imposes substantial Michigan taxpayer costs to assist Enbridge in proceeding with a tunnel or similar replacement of a crude oil pipeline on, or in, the bottomlands of the Great Lakes.
  • Fails to include a comprehensive geotechnical study to identify the nature and extent, risks, and instability of soils, bedrock, and the geology generally under the Straits of Mackinac; as a result, no decision should, or can be, made on the feasibility of a tunnel or other alternative.
  • Imposes a minimum 7- to 10-year delay to plan and build a tunnel under the Mackinac Straits, if truly proven to be feasible and legal, while Line 5’s threat to the Great Lakes would grow larger.
  • Ignores the fact that most of Line 5’s oil goes to refineries in Sarnia, Canada, not Michigan.

“The only way to prevent an environmental and economic catastrophe from a Great Lakes oil is to shut down Line 5 now,” Kirkwood said. “Gov. Snyder and Attorney General Schuette have a legal duty to place protection of the public’s waters above Canadian corporate profit by shutting down Line 5 before it’s too late.”

FLOW (For Love of Water) is a Great Lakes water law and policy center and a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in Traverse City, Michigan. Our mission is to protect the common waters of the Great Lakes Basin through public trust solutions.

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