Enbridge’s “Maintenance” Application Masks Midwest Expansion, Easement Violations, and Imminent Threat to the Great Lakes
Under Michigan law, the state must stop Line 5’s oil flow and hold public hearings on the steel pipelines lying underwater in the Mackinac Straits as it considers Enbridge Energy’s application to remedy easement violations and shore up its aging underwater infrastructure, according to FLOW (For Love of Water), a Traverse City-based Great Lakes water law and policy center, in formal comments released today.
For the ninth time since 2001, Canadian energy transport giant Enbridge is seeking state permission to screw large pipeline anchors into Lake Michigan’s public bottomlands where the Straits’ powerful currents have eroded the lake bottom and left the dual Line 5 pipelines – installed in 1953 – unsupported for long stretches, in violation of the state easement agreement limiting unsupported spans to 75 feet. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) is receiving public comment through August 28, 2016, on Enbridge’s application, which also is being reviewed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
FLOW’s legal analysis concludes that Enbridge’s “maintenance” application to install up to 19 more anchors actually disguises Enbridge’s piecemeal actions that continue to significantly expand oil transport through and around the Great Lakes. In addition, the application fails to address Enbridge’s pattern of easement violations and perpetuates the imminent threat to the Great Lakes and the public’s protected uses thereof that include fishing, commerce, navigation, recreation, and drinking water. Line 5 transports nearly 23 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids each day through the Mackinac Straits, 80 percent more volume than its past design capacity after several of its so-called “maintenance” upgrades.
“Between Line 5 and the new Line 6B, Enbridge has quietly built its own massive crude oil pipeline system here in Michigan and the Great Lakes without adequate public notice, hearings, and the legally required analysis and determinations of potential risks, impacts, and alternatives for a project of this magnitude,” said Jim Olson, FLOW’s founder and president and a renowned water rights attorney.
Given the scope and risk, the state must stop the Straits oil flow at least temporarily, hold public hearings, and examine Line 5’s full range of potential impacts to the Great Lakes ecosystem and alternatives that do not pose such harm, rather than continue to rubberstamp Enbridge’s misleading maintenance applications. The Michigan Pipeline Safety Advisory Board is conducting a parallel review of Line 5 in the Straits slated for completion in late 2017 or early 2018, but that process is neither under the rule of law nor complies with the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act (GLSLA) or other state and federal law.
“It is time for our state’s leaders, specifically DEQ Director Grether and Attorney General Schuette, to bring this matter under the rule of law – the GLSLA and public trust law – that protects our Great Lakes, towns, and citizens, and subject Enbridge to a comprehensive review,” Olson said. “Such a review must address the fact that Line 5 is an unacceptable risk and that there exists a new Line 6B from Illinois and across Michigan that Enbridge replaced and doubled in size after its Kalamazoo River oil that will meet current and future Midwest demand.”
“Based on the evidence, it appears that Enbridge has shoved its own version of the ‘Keystone XL’ through the Great Lakes and on the backs of citizens without any review of the risks, harms, and alternatives. This is the worst place on the planet for it. We don’t need a ‘Great Lakes XL’ for crude oil near our Great Lakes or in the Straits of Mackinac, especially where alternative to Line 5 exist,” Olson said.
Of particular concern is Enbridge’s continued failure to predict and prevent the cumulative impacts on Line 5 of lakebed erosion caused by Straits currents that frequently reverse and can exceed 10 times the flow over Niagara Falls.
“Enbridge’s piecemeal approach to managing washouts and installing adequate support under the Straits crossing of Line 5 has resulted in the line frequently being out of compliance with easement support requirements since the 1970’s,” said Ed Timm, PhD, an engineer advising FLOW. “Washouts are inherently unpredictable and it is likely that damage to the pipe has already occurred because of unsupported spans that were not detected and repaired by Enbridge’s two-year inspection and repair schedule.”
While the state’s 1953 easement agreement granting Enbridge conditional occupancy of state bottomlands allows Enbridge up to 90 days to cure any violations, the erosion problem appears to be unfixable and worsening with time.
“The Achilles’ heel of the state easement agreement is that Enbridge has proven itself unable to remain in compliance and therefore frequently is operating illegally,” said Liz Kirkwood, FLOW’s Executive Director and an environmental attorney. “State law demands that the Great Lakes and their public uses must not be risked for Enbridge’s private benefit. It’s time for the state to defend the public’s rights and prevent a catastrophic oil spill into the drinking water supply for half of Michigan residents, and for a total 40 million people in the U.S. and Canada.”
Stopping Line 5’s oil flow in the Mackinac Straits to prevent a catastrophic oil spill would not disrupt Michigan’s or the Midwest’s crude oil and propane supply, contrary to assertions by Enbridge, according to a set of expert reports FLOW released in December 2015. Available capacity and flexibility to meet energy demand in the Great Lakes region already exists in the North American pipeline system run not only by Enbridge, but also by competitors supplying the same refineries in Detroit, Toledo, and Sarnia, Ontario.
“The fact is, Line 5 is not essential,” said Rick Kane, a Michigan-based hazardous materials risk management specialist advising FLOW. “The regional pipeline system can supply crude oil to Michigan and surrounding refineries while eliminating the risk that Line 5 poses to the Great Lakes,” Kane said. “Feasible and prudent alternatives exist to support domestic needs, as well as exports. However, pipeline company owners will not move to implement any alternatives as long as Line 5 operates and the public continues to carry the risk.”
For more information, visit:
- FLOW’s Public Comments on the Joint Application of Enbridge Energy to Occupy Great Lakes Bottomlands or Anchoring Supports to Transport Crude Oil in Line 5 Pipelines in The Straits of Mackinac and Lake Michigan [No. 2hb-Vgko-35je], submitted August 25, 2016.
- Technical Note Regarding Enbridge Line 5 Non-Compliance with 1953 Easement Requirements, A Mechanistic Analysis of Straits Pipeline Washout Phenomena, by Edward E. Timm, PhD, PE, August 20, 2016.
- Appendices: A & B
Enbridge’s application and public notice may be viewed at:
- https://miwaters.deq.state.mi.us/. The public can view the application or submit comments by clicking on the Public Notice Search and entering “Enbridge” in the Applicant Name section.