When the police pulls a resident over for going 100 mph in a 55-mph zone, they don't cluck their tongues -- they click their ticket books.
But when Michigan’s state government catches Enbridge Energy putting the Great Lakes at risk by failing again to disclose dangerous conditions on its Line 5 oil pipelines in the Mackinac Straits, the response is paralysis. The state has again caught Enbridge ignoring its legal obligation to be a proper steward of the submerged land that the state allows the company to occupy with its pipeline.
But all we're hearing out of Lansing, and particularly Attorney General Bill Schuette is an expression of disappointment.
The difference between strict enforcement of laws against individuals and giving an oil transport giant chance after chance to meet its fundamental responsibility not to harm public waters is as stark as the difference between a single speeding motorist and a catastrophic oil spill fouling the drinking water source for millions.
The accumulation of studies, evidence of pipeline delamination and bends in June, and now exposed metal with likely corrosion, signals a dangerously flawed and ultimately incurable pair of sunken pipelines.
It’s time for our state government to stop treating the 1963 Constitution, statutes, and common law that protect our lakes as nice but meaningless environmental policy statements and start treating them as the duty the people through the Constitution and our courts have mandated. More than ever, it’s time to shut down Line 5.
FLOW's senior advisor, Dave Dempsey, has 35 years experience in environmental policy. He served as environmental advisor to former Michigan Governor James Blanchard and as policy advisor on the staff of the International Joint Commission. He has also provided policy support to the Michigan Environmental Council and Clean Water Action. He has authored several books on the Great Lakes and water protection.
Since our A.G. has emphasized the importance of public trust in the Great Lakes and navigable lakes and streams, including Great Lakes, we’ve analyzed the doctrine, applied it to fish farming in Great Lakes, and the answer is: it cannot be authorized under the public trust doctrine, not even by legislative amendment to expand the definition of aquaculture as implied by the A.G.’s opinion.
Read the recent Attorney General opinion on Aquaculture in the Great Lakes: Click here!
Citing new research and documentation revealing cracks, dents, corrosion, and structural defects in the twin oil pipelines in the Mackinac Straits, 22 environmental and tribal groups today formally requested that Gov. Snyder and Attorney General Schuette shut down “Line 5” oil in the Straits based on Enbridge’s multiple easement violations. The violations mean Enbridge is operating illegally and has broken its legal agreement with the state and people of Michigan.
Enbridge’s ongoing violations related to pipeline design threaten the very safety and health of the Great Lakes, and thus trigger the state’s duty to enforce its agreement with Enbridge. Under the 1953 easement, the state must provide Canadian-based energy transporter Enbridge 90 days to resolve any known easement violations. The state now has substantial legal and factual cause to terminate the agreement with Enbridge to stop the oil flow and protect the Great Lakes, public water supplies, and the Pure Michigan economy, according to an April 13 letter to Snyder and Schuette, signed by partner groups in the Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign.
“The law and this easement agreement are clear: state leaders cannot wait another year or more while Enbridge continues to violate safety conditions it agreed to and withholds safety inspection and other data from the public and the state,” said environmental attorney Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director of FLOW (For Love of Water) in Traverse City. “Gov. Snyder and Attorney General Schuette must start the clock to terminate the state’s easement agreement that allows Enbridge to operate the Line 5 pipelines on state-owned bottomlands and waters.”
In their letter, the groups identified eight specific violations of the easement and state law, including:
Concealing information about cracks, dents, and corrosion with continued, sweeping assertions and misrepresentations that the Straits pipelines are in “excellent condition, almost as new as when they were built and installed” and have “no observed corrosion.” Of the nine rust spots on the eastern Straits pipeline, corrosion has eaten away 26 percent of the pipeline’s wall thickness in a 7-inch-long area, according to newly released company data.
Failing to meet the pipeline wall thickness requirement due to corrosion and manufacturing defects. Newly released Enbridge data reveals that manufacturing defects in the 1950s resulted in pipeline wall thickness of less than half an inch in perhaps hundreds of sections and up to 41 percent less thick than mandated on the west Straits pipeline. Enbridge continues to boast about its “nearly one-inch-thick walls of Line 5’s steel pipe travelling under the Straits.”
Failing to meet the “reasonably prudent person” provision by claiming that its steel pipelines lying underwater just west of the Mackinac Bridge since 1953 can last forever and do not require a plan for eventual decommissioning. The 63-year-old pipelines were built to last 50 years.
Failing to demonstrate adequate liability insurance, maintain required coating and wood-slat covering to prevent rust and abrasion and adequately support the pipeline, resulting in stressed and deformed segments.
Failing to adhere to federal emergency spill response and state environmental protection laws, including Act 10 of P.A. 1953, the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act (“GLSLA”), the Michigan Environmental Protection Act (“MEPA”), and public trust law.
The twin Enbridge Line 5 oil pipelines lying exposed in the Mackinac Straits, where Lake Michigan and Lake Huron meet, are a high-risk shortcut moving up to 23 million gallons of oil and propane a day primarily from western Canadian oil fields to eastern Canadian refineries, as well as on to Montreal and export markets. FLOW’s research shows there are alternatives to Line 5 that do not threaten the Great Lakes, which hold 20 percent of the world’s fresh surface water, and do not disrupt Michigan’s oil and gas supply.
“Enbridge has consistently failed to provide appropriate documentation to the state and the public that supports its position that Line 5 is fit for service”, said Ed Timm, PhD, PE, a retired chemical engineer and former senior scientist and consultant to Dow Chemical’s Environmental Operations Business, who advises the Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign. “The historical record and the documentation that Enbridge has provided raise many questions that suggest this unique pipeline no longer conforms to its original design specifications and easement requirements.”
“I think pipelines are the safest way to transport oil, but because of the conditions of the Straits and the age of the pipelines, it is past time for an independent analysis to ensure the safety of this line for the citizens of Michigan,” said James Tamlyn, Chair of the Emmet County Board of Commissioners, which passed a resolution in December calling on the Snyder administration to shut down Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac. “There’s one thing we all agree on and that’s the importance of protecting our clean water. It defines us and without it, our communities and businesses would be wiped out.”
To date, more than 30 cities, villages, townships, and counties across Michigan have voted to call on the governor and attorney general to stop the oil flowing through the Straits, including Mackinac Island, Mackinaw City, and the cities of Cheboygan, Petoskey, Charlevoix, and Traverse City. Dramatic new research from the University of Michigan released in late March shows an Enbridge oil pipeline rupture in the Mackinac Straits could impact more than 700 miles of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron coastlines, as well as more than 15% of Lake Michigan’s open water and nearly 60% of Lake Huron’s open water.
“The effects of an oil spill in the Mackinac Straits would have catastrophic consequences for our area and for all Michiganders for years to come,” said Bobie Crongeyer, a community leader with Straits Area Concerned Citizens for Peace, Justice & the Environment, which has advanced resolutions to shut down Line 5 in many communities. “Tourists will find other places to vacation, while we will be left with the devastation that Enbridge leaves behind, including a poisoned fishery and drinking water supplies and a shattered economy.”