State Urged to Get Involved at Line 5

By Paul Gingras of the St. Ignace News

Oct. 9, 2014

Citizens called on Governor Rick Snyder Monday, October 6, to exert state authority to prevent a potentially catastrophic oil spill from Enbridge Energy’s Line 5 petroleum pipeline beneath the Straits of Mackinac. Increased conveyance of petroleum products and the potential for heavier forms of oil to be pumped through the two pipes continues to raise the concern of residents.

The state should apply the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act to Line 5, according to attorney Liz Kirkwood of the Oil and Water Don’t Mix campaign, enabling an open public process to unfold that would include an analysis of the pipeline by the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). To obtain rights to pump petroleum across the bottomlands, the DEQ would have to conclude that the pipeline poses no significant danger to public or private interests. The act did not initially apply because the pipeline was laid in 1953, two years before the act was adodpted.

The Michigan Petroleum Pipeline Task Force, intended to assess pipelines, does not go far enough to protect citizens, Ms. Kirkwood says. Speaking on behalf of the group entitled For Love of Water (FLOW), she said the task force closed-door meetings are “not an appropriate response to the scale of the threat.”

If the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act is brought to bear on Line 5, Enbridge will be under much more scrutiny than that required by Public Act 10 in 1953, when the company attained its original easement with the state. The state should have invoked the act in 1955, Ms. Kirkwood contends, adding that none of the state’s underwater pipeline was grandfathered in when the act was established.

By invoking the act would, outside experts and the public could participate. The authority for governing Line 5 rests with the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), a division of the United States Department of Transportation. So far, the state has deferred to federal authority in the matter, but Ms. Kirkwood says the agency cannot provide the strong, local oversight needed, and her group is calling upon the state to step in.

In Lower Michigan, she said, a spill would threaten drinking water, but little attention has been paid to this concern. She thinks pipelines should be removed from the Great Lakes altogether.

The Coast Guard is not prepared to handle spills involving heavy forms of petroleum commonly known as “tar sands,” it recently reported. Although Line 5 does not carry heavy oil, Enbridge line 6B in Michigan does carry it, and nothing in the existing easement regarding Line 5 prevents Enbridge from pumping tar sands beneath the Straits of Mackinac, she said.

Ms. Kirkwood said tar sands were unknown to the state when Line 5 was authorized in the 1950s. Applying the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act would enable the state to revisit the easement agreement, assert control, and prevent tar sands from being pumped beneath the Straits.

Enbridge and the federal government have not released enough information about the line, said Andy McGlashen of the Michigan Environmental Council.

Aaron Payment, chairman for the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, said the state’s pipeline task force lacks a sense of urgency. He is also concerned about Enbridge’s track record. Having worked with Kalamazoo area Native American groups in 2010, when Line 6B spilled about one million gallons of oil near Marshall, Mr. Payment said initial estimates suggested cleanup costs of $5 million. Since then, he said it has topped $1 billion, and the effort continues.

A pipeline spill concerns the Sault Tribe in particular because it would damage territory ceded to the federal government in trade for permanent hunting and fishing rights. The tribe considers a potential spill a serious threat for subsistence, commercial, and sport fishing. An oil spill could affect Bois Blanc and Mackinac islands, he said, and damage tributaries connected to lakes Michigan and Huron.

The tribe’s focus is not to assess how to respond to an oil spill, Mr. Payment said, but to prevent one. He called for the state and tribes to pressure the federal government to step up pipeline oversight.

“We don’t want to look back and say, ‘I wish we would have done something,’” he said.

George Goodman of the Mackinac Island Community Foundation said an oil spill at the Straits could eliminate the local drinking water supply and could lead to evacuation from the Island. In terms of the economy, he noted that Mackinac Island is promoted by the Pure Michigan campaign. An oil spill would be “devastating to the tourism industry.” He urged the governor to consider Line 5 an “urgent priority.”

Chris Shepler, president of Shepler Mackinac Island Ferry, highlighted the responsibility of citizens to be freshwater stewards and expressed concern over the Enbridge Energy track record.

Many Michigan residents were surprised to learn that Enbridge was running oil beneath the Great Lakes at all, said Jim Lively of the Michigan Land Use Institute. He learned of the issue about one year ago from a National Wildlife Federation report. Since then, he has been part of public awareness efforts. A member of the growing Oil and Water Don’t Mix campaign, he said thousands have lent support through the organization’s Web site. At the Labor Day Mackinac Bridge Walk, a petition demanding the state address the pipeline issue yielded 1,300 signatures.

“Clearly this is a state issue,” he said.

Susan Lenfestey, a resident of Mackinac Island, said the thrust of Enbridge Energy’s response to public concern about Line 5 has rested heavily on the rarity of oil spills. She said that she never believed she would see a freighter run aground in the Round Island Passage, either, but September 4, she saw the 1,004- foot American Spirit bulk carrier run aground by stormy weather. The incident, she said, reminded people that accidents can happen.

(Source:, Accessed 10-9-14)

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