Above: An underwater image from Canadian oil transport giant Enbridge shows deep grooves in the Straits of Mackinac lake bottom, going up and over one of the twin Line 5 oil pipelines and leaving damage to the pipe’s outer coating, the result of an April 1, 2018, anchor strike.
(Photo: Enbridge via U.S. Senate)
By Jim Olson
The disclosure by Enbridge that 81 feet of Line 5 has been undermined by powerful currents and is slumping points to something far more serious—and dangerous: The 66-year-old dual pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac are failing and also at risk of rupture from a ship’s anchor drag that hooks and rips the pipeline wide open. It is also a violation of the law that governs the protection of the public trust in the Great Lakes and the soils beneath them.
Since at least 2001, Enbridge has known of these risky violations of the easement that the State of Michigan granted in 1953 to conditionally authorized Enbridge to pump oil through twin pipelines, and changed the pipeline’s design by adding anchor supports to shore it up.
At first, it was a few anchors, but between then and now, Enbridge has added a total of 202 supports that elevate 3 miles of dual oil pipelines that were designed to lay on the lakebed of the Straits. The former Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) under the Snyder Administration was an accomplice allowing the supports, but without requiring authorization under Michigan law based on a necessary risk, impact, and alternative assessment.
Rather, the MDEQ until now has looked only at the impact to the lakebed from the screw anchors, nothing more. In other words, a completely new design is being built in the Straits for this dangerous Line 5 that carries nearly 23 million gallons of crude oil daily, and the design has never been evaluated or authorized by the DEQ, now the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE).
The State of Michigan now finally recognizes the greater risk of an anchor strike from the change in design; one dented the dual lines in three places in April 2018, and the State cited this serious risk in its lawsuit filed June 27 against Enbridge to shut down Line 5.
With 3 miles (almost 40 percent) of the Line 5 crude oil lines in the Straits now 2 to 4 feet above the lakebed, the next strike has a strong likelihood of hooking and rupturing the lines; causing a massive release that will devastate hundreds of miles of Lake Huron and Lake Michigan; shut down Mackinac Island, ferries, ships, drinking water, fishing, boating, and recreation; and destroy the habitat and ecosystem and economy for years to come—to wit: the Deep Horizons blowout in the Gulf of Mexico.
Fortunately, we have new leadership in Governor Gretchen Whitmer (call her office at 517-373-3400, or share your opinion here) and EGLE Director Liesl Clark (call her at 800-292-4706), who can correct this attack on the public trust rights of citizens in the Great Lakes, and restore the rule of law that was abandoned by the Snyder administration for 8 years.What should you do?Email or call Governor Whitmer and Director Clark , and urge them to take action immediately by sending a letter to Enbridge demanding it apply for authorization of this major change in design not covered by the 1953 easement, and never evaluated or allowed.
Jim Olson is FLOW’s Founder, President, and Legal Advisor.
Above: FLOW’s Liz Kirkwood speaking in opposition to a proposed oil tunnel in the Straits of Mackinac, during a November 8, 2018, hearing in St. Ignace.
In the world of public relations, there are facts, exaggerations, and untruths. Right now, Enbridge is bombarding the people of Michigan with hazy PR claims that it has safely operated the Line 5 oil pipelines in the open waters of the Straits of Mackinac for the last 66 years.
The Canadian energy pipeline giant, however, conveniently fails to tell the public that it has allowed the pipelines to deteriorate badly, bending and grinding on the lake bottom in the fierce currents. Enbridge also neglects to mention that on April Fools’ Day 2018, Line 5 threatened to dump its oil into the Great Lakes when a tugboat anchor struck, and risked breaching, the underwater pipelines.
Rather than seizing on this near-disaster to decommission the decaying pipeline infrastructure built in 1953, the Snyder administration instead spent its final eight months in office cementing a private pact with Enbridge. The backroom deal would leave Line 5 vulnerable to another anchor strike or rupture for up to a decade while Enbridge explores the feasibility of building an oil tunnel under the Straits.
Michigan’s new attorney general, Dana Nessel, in late March correctly determined that the tunnel law passed hastily in the waning days of the 2018 lame-duck legislature was unconstitutional. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer later that same day directed all state departments to halt work on tunnel permitting. But Gov. Whitmer’s recent opening of negotiations with Enbridge seeking to speed up the stalled tunnel process contradicts her own directive and circumvents a transparent public process.
Trying to hasten a bad idea won’t make it any better. While seeking to revive Snyder’s 99-year tunnel deal with Enbridge risks undermining Gov. Whitmer’s own goal to combat climate change risks and impacts.
And Enbridge and the former Snyder administration’s claims that the proposed oil tunnel would serve a public purpose by also housing electrical and other utilities is a ruse that masks an enormous risk of explosion, as experts advising FLOW determined in prior research.
Just today, in fact, an electrical supplier to the Upper Peninsula – American Transmission Company or “ATC” – issued a letter indicating that it has no intention of running its 138,000-volt electric lines through the proposed oil tunnel. “A tunnel of uncertain timing, later in the decade, does not serve the public,” the letter stated. “ATC does not believe that installing high voltage electric lines in close proximity to high pressure oil or gas lines is a good idea.”
It’s never been clearer that Enbridge is pretending there’s a public purpose to their private oil tunnel in order to gain access to the public waters and bottomlands of the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act requires there be a “public purpose,” no impairment or interference with fishing and other public trust uses and rights of citizens and communities, and a showing of no feasible and prudent alternative for transporting Canadian oil back to Canada. The state of Michigan must restore the rule of law and transparency by requiring Enbridge to apply to build a tunnel in the Straits under the law, not negotiate occupancy of public bottomlands behind closed doors.
The real solution to the Line 5 threat must protect the Great Lakes, which define Michigan, drive our economy, and provide drinking water to half the state’s population. Gov. Whitmer must heed her campaign promise to shut down Line 5, while implementing a common-sense backup plan for propane transport in the Upper Peninsula using truck, train, or a small new pipe that doesn’t cross the Straits of Mackinac.
Let’s cut through Enbridge’s PR-fog and get the facts straight. Line 5 is not vital energy infrastructure for Michigan. More than 90 percent of the oil in Line 5 comes from and flows back to Canada.
Enbridge’s dismal track record is underscored by its 2010 Line 6B Kalamazoo River disaster – known as the largest inland tar sands oil spill in U.S. history – and extends to Line 5, which has leaked in total over a million gallons of oil in Michigan and Wisconsin from at least 33 known spills since 1968.
Infrastructure needs abound in Michigan – ranging from our failing drinking water and wastewater infrastructure to the aging Soo Locks and a long-term clean energy plan for the U.P and the state as a whole. Let’s shut down Line 5 and create jobs focused on those real needs, instead of protecting Enbridge’s private interest in our public waters.
FLOW Statement on Negotiations Between Gov. Whitmer and Enbridge on Line 5 Tunnel, Pipeline
Traverse City, Mich. –FLOW (For Love of Water) issued the following statement on the disclosure that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Enbridge Energy will discuss expediting construction of an oil tunnel beneath the Straits of Mackinac while the company’s troubled Line 5 pipelines continue operation in the Straits:
“We are concerned about this development. Every day that the Line 5 pipelines continue to operate is a risk to our precious Great Lakes,” said FLOW executive director Liz Kirkwood. “State government’s efforts should first and foremost be devoted to shutting the pipeline down, not negotiating its continued operation while a tunnel is explored and possibly built.
“Now that the Governor has chosen to engage in this process, we hope and trust it will be a transparent one. It is unfortunate that her predecessor engaged in secret talks on agreements with Enbridge, and the lame-duck Legislature was so eager to benefit Enbridge that it passed a sloppy statute that the Attorney General ruled unconstitutional. We are confident this Governor will operate differently,” Kirkwood said.
“We are also hopeful that the Governor will restore and apply the rule of law to Enbridge’s operations in the Straits. Any easement or lease of Great Lakes bottomlands and any private control for a 99-year tunnel by a private company like Enbridge for a private operation must be authorized under the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act (GLSLA),” said Jim Olson, President of FLOW.
“The GLSLA ensures a public review, analysis, participation, and a determination under standards that protect the public trust in the waters of the Great Lakes and the soils beneath them from privatization and impairment. It also ensures a thorough evaluation of feasible and prudent alternatives, including ones that do not involve use or control of the Great Lakes. No agreement between the executive branch and a private company can override this fundamental law,” Olson said.
Now that Michigan’s governor and attorney general have sunk the oil tunnel scheme hatched by the last administration, I’m asked nearly every day: What can citizens and state leaders do to shut down the propped-up, banged-up Line 5 oil pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac for good?
Here’s my answer, as succinctly as I can distill it, accompanied by a summary of the law and political history in play.
So what should Governor Whitmer and Attorney General Nessel do?
Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel must take swift and comprehensive actions to review and reverse the improper failure of the former Snyder administration to bring Line 5-owner Enbridge under the rule of law. Enbridge has had its way with Michigan’s prior elected officials, and it is time to call a halt to this nonsense. Here are the steps to getting Enbridge out of the Great Lakes for good:
Proposed Oil Tunnel:
Send a Letter: Tunnel Deal Is Dead– Governor Whitmer and Attorney General Nessel should send a formal letter to Enbridge advising the company that its agreements calling for a transfer or occupancy of the Straits of Mackinac public trust bottomlands, the new state-granted easement, and 99-year lease for the proposed oil tunnel that would house a new Line 5 are unenforceable unless Enbridge has obtained authorization under state law – the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act (GLSLA).
Line 5 in the Straits:
Send another Letter: No Life Support for Line 5 – Governor Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), along with Attorney General Nessel, should send a letter to Enbridge advising it that the agreements purporting to grant Enbridge occupancy and use of waters and bottomlands the existing Line 5 for 10 years or more are unenforceable, because the former administration and Enbridge failed to obtain the required authorization under the GLSLA.
Apply the Law to the Redesign of the Ailing Pipelines – Governor Whitmer and the DEQ, along with Attorney General Nessel, should investigate and correct the lack of review and showings required by the GLSLA and public trust law for the substantial change in design implemented for the 3 miles of pipeline elevated above the lakebed under the guise of “repair.”Enbridge should be instructed that it must show the risks and magnitude of harm are minimal and that there exist no other alternative than the existing line in the Straits or Great Lakes.
How Did We Get Here on Line 5? Tracing the Law and the Politics
The plotting of former Governor Snyder’s administration and Enbridge to hand over the public trust soils and bedrock under the Straits of Mackinac for the company to build and operate a new crude oil pipeline in a tunnel for 99 years has been put on hold.
On her first full day in office, Governor Gretchen Whitmer asked Attorney General Dana Nessel for a formal opinion on whether the Snyder-Enbridge agreement and legislature’s stamp of approval through a lame-duck law known as “Act 359” to hand over the Straits for Enbridge’s tunnel to Enbridge was constitutional.In late March, Attorney General Nessel found it was not constitutional because the legislature tried to graft a private tunnel-pipeline project onto a public infrastructure law that governs a public icon—the Mackinac Bridge.
Revoke the Easement – Attorney General Nessel along with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), along with the above actions, revoke the 1953 easement because under the current circumstances the existing Line 5 is no longer in compliance with the common law standards of the paramount interests of the Great Lakes protected by public trust law; if Enbridge desires to continue using the existing line in the Straits, the company must submit an application for authorization of such use and occupancy along with the authorizations identified in this list.
Increase Insurance Requirement and Verify It – Governor Whitmer, the DEQ, and the DNR, with the Attorney General, should require Enbridge to submit financial assurances that cover the worst case economic and natural resources damages of at least $6 billion (significantly more than the current cap of $1.8 billion), retain qualified experts to determine the adequacy of those assurances, and require Enbridge to name the State of Michigan as an “additional insured” and/or “named insured” on its insurance coverage for Line 5. Inadequate insurance is another cause for revoking the easement.
Once the Governor and Attorney General do these things, they will have taken action consistent with their pledge in being elected to lead the State and protect the Great Lakes, by nullifying the improper actions and agreements of their predecessors and bringing Enbridge, finally, under the rule of law. Regardless of the outcome, the interested parties, communities, and persons in this controversy and the government will be required to make determinations concerning the fate of Line 5 in an open forum based on facts, science, and law.We are ruled by law, not by self-serving agreements that were plotted to avoid it.
Given President Trump’s executive orders this week to water-down or smooth over federal laws and regulations affecting water, the Great Lakes, and pipelines, it is more critical than ever that Governor Whitmer and Attorney General Nessel exercise the full jurisdiction and authority they and the State of Michigan under its exclusive power over use of the waters and bottomlands of the Great Lakes, its lakes and streams, public lands, and the public trust in the Great Lakes and navigable waters and public common property of Michigan. This trust imposes a duty on our leaders to protect the interests of citizens, the legal beneficiaries of this trust. Not the President, not Congress, not federal agencies, or state government can repeal, limit, or narrow the state’s duties and citizens’ individual and common rights under this public trust.
What Should Citizens Do?
It is quite simple: Citizens should do what they always do best. Continue to stay involved, increase communications to Governor Whitmer, Attorney General Nessel, and the Director of the DEQ, and the DNR.These communications should do the following:
FLOW supports attorney general’s process and opinion, which is binding on state agencies and rejects the fatally flawed law and undermines side agreements on Enbridge oil pipelines, proposed tunnel in Mackinac Straits
In a major step toward restoring the rule of law, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel issued an opinion today declaring unconstitutional a hastily crafted law that sought to give away Great Lakes public trust bottomlands to Enbridge for 99 years for a private oil tunnel, while allowing the aged, dangerous existing “Line 5” oil pipelines in the Straits to continue operating for another decade as the tunnel is considered and possibly built.
The move comes in response to a formal requestby Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and is critical to unpacking the layers of problems with the law creating the Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority that the lame-duck legislature rushed through in late 2018.
“We applaud Attorney General Nessel for clearly recognizing the legislative overreach, restoring the rule of law, and stopping the attack on the Great Lakes and the state constitution, which demands that the state’s air, water, and natural resources are treated and protected as ‘paramount,’” said Liz Kirkwood, an environmental attorney and Executive Director of FLOW (For Love of Water), a Great Lakes law and policy center based in Traverse City.
The attorney general’s opinion on Public Act 359 is binding on state agencies and voids the tunnel agreement called for by the law, and also nullifies the legal effect of the side agreements reached between the state of Michigan under then-Gov. Rick Snyder and Line 5-owner Enbridge. Those agreements allowed continued oil pumping through the Straits, where Lake Michigan meets Lake Huron, and an easement and 99-year lease of Great Lakes public bottomlands to Canadian-based Enbridge for private control of the tunnel for its own gain.
Public Act 359 and the related agreements for a tunnel and continued use of the existing, flawed Line 5 were not authorized under the standards of public trust law; the state and Enbridge flouted the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act (GLSLA) that requires transfers and agreements for occupancy of the soils of under the Great Lakes by trying to avoid and ignore this most basic law and public trust principles.
Public Act 359 and the side agreements are peppered with other serious problems, most of which are covered by the questions the Governor asked the Attorney General to answer, which include:
Adding the tunnel and corridor authority to the 1952 law that created the Mackinac Bridge Authority goes far beyond the original public purpose to build a public bridge;
Establishing a term for members of the board of the corridor authority that exceeds the 4-year limit under Article III of the Michigan Constitution;
Violating provisions of the state constitution that prohibit fostering private or special purposes, the commingling of the government to aid primarily private projects, the appropriation of public property for private purposes, and the entanglement of the credit and taxpayers of the State for primarily private purposes.
“We hope this critical first step by theAttorney General will be followed by an immediate and full review of the Snyder administration’s and agencies’ deliberate evasion of the rule of law and mishandling of the grave and continuing risks of the existing Line 5, and the real and imminent threat to the Straits of Mackinac, towns and cities like Mackinac Island, tribal fishing interests, private property interests, businesses, and the rights of the public in the soils and waters of the Great Lakes,” said Olson.
FLOW recommends that Gov. Whitmer take immediate action to end the massive threat posed by the existing Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac in a swift and orderly fashion based on the rule of law under our state constitution, statutes, and the public trust doctrine in the Great Lakes, including by:
Acknowledging that State of Michigan agencies are bound by the attorney general’s opinion.
Sending a letter to Enbridge indicating that the company should decide for itself, if it wants to build a new oil tunnel, and apply, if it chooses under the Great Lakes to construct a tunnel under the rule of law. The rule of law requires a full consideration of the risk to the paramount public rights in the soils and waters of the Great Lakes, and a showing that the company has no prudent and feasible alternatives to using the Great Lakes as a shortcut for western Canadian oil on its way to refineries in eastern Canada as well as overseas markets.If the company does not chose to do this, or cannot satisfy these mandatory requirements that protect the Great Lakes, then it should choose to use other parts of its several-thousand mile system.
Starting the process to decommission the 66-year-old Line 5 pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac, which are operating without lawful authority, in violation of the public trust and GLSLA, and in violation of their 1953 easement granted by the state. If Enbridge chooses to continue operating the existing Line 5 in the future, it can apply under the GLSLA for new authority to continue using Line 5 if it can demonstrate little risk and no feasible and prudent alternative to the unacceptable existing Line 5, but the state is not obligated to agree.
“Public Act 359, coupled with the State’s public entanglement with Enbridge, has put private gain and economic interests above the State’s and public’s paramount trust interest in the waters and soils of the Great Lakes,” said Olson. “The unconstitutional law and entangled state and Enbridge agreements represent one of the largest, if not largest, threats in the state’s history to the state’s ownership and public trust duty to protect the public’s rights and uses from private takeover or harm to the Great Lakes.”
On its 61st birthday, the Mackinac Bridge faces its biggest threat to date
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE November 1, 2018
Contact: Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director Email: Liz@FLOWforWater.org
FLOW (For Love of Water) Office: (231) 944-1568, Cell: (570) 872-4956
TRAVERSE CITY, MI – The use of the legal powers of the Mackinac Bridge Authority (MBA) to facilitate an oil tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac, as proposed by outgoing Gov. Rick Snyder in a secretly negotiated deal with Enbridge Energy Partners, violates environmental provisions of Michigan’s Constitution and laws, threatens the fiscal integrity of the MBA and its Mackinac Bridge, and could subject the authority and taxpayers to billions of dollars of liability in the event of a tunnel accident, FLOW said today in a letter to members of the authority.
FLOW called on the MBA to reject the proposed public-private partnership, or any other agreement with Enbridge, for the proposed tunnel or other privately owned utilities. The MBA Board on November 8 in St. Ignace will, for the first time, hold a public meeting to learn about and discuss its proposed role in the Snyder-Enbridge agreement that’s been hashed out covertly by Gov. Snyder for at least a year. Snyder in recent months has stacked the MBA Board with a majority that shares his tunnel vision.
“In law and practice since the day the Mackinac Bridge opened on November 1, 1957, exactly 61 years ago today, the MBA and the bridge have been jealously protected as a completely independent and stand-alone entity,” said FLOW Founder and President Jim Olson, who is an environmental attorney. “The bridge was a singular, and wholly public, state project for its citizens and the general motoring public connecting the people of both peninsulas. A key provision of the Snyder-Enbridge deal would do just the opposite. It demands that the MBA agree to and participate in a ‘public-private partnership,’ which is vastly different from a state-sponsored project for a singular public purpose like transporting the citizens and general public.”
The Snyder-Enbridge deal provides that the MBA would own the proposed oil tunnel and lease it to Enbridge for 99 years. However, while a lease in theory could provide for indemnification of the MBA for any liabilities, damages, or losses, these are only contractual assurances and will not prevent the MBA from being held liable for any occurrences, including catastrophic damages and losses, as owner and overseer of the project and its operation for essentially a private function. In essence, the MBA’s protection through such contractual promises is a fantasy.
“The MBA should postpone any hasty decisions that dilute its single-purpose mission to protect and maintain the Mackinac Bridge and that burden this authority for the next century to take ownership responsibility for a risky private tunnel venture,” FLOW wrote.
FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood observed, “Enbridge has other alternatives not threatening the Great Lakes that this foreign corporation can and should use its own financial resources and borrowing power to apply for the necessary lands, authorizations, and permits to implement those options.”
Michigan’s legislature enacted the Mackinac Bridge Authority in 1952 for the express and singular purpose of building, maintaining, and operating the Mackinac Bridge. The bridge was opened for traffic on November 1, 1957. To this public end, the MBA has operated for more than six decades as an independent authority designed to be free from outside influence and political pressure. Each of Michigan’s governors since that time has appointed members to the MBA who have fiercely defended its independence. The MBA’s singular mission is to maintain and govern this iconic infrastructure that spans and unites our Michigan peninsulas.
In 2004, the Michigan Department of Transportation sought to increase the control of over the MBA and its engineering, finances, and employees. In response, the state legislature voted the next year in unanimous, bipartisan fashion (107-0 in the house, 38-0 in the senate) to amend to the MBA law to prohibit state government interference. The 2005 amendment expressly directs that the MBA and its core tasks must be kept “independent” and free of interference by state agencies and officials.
“The principle of MBA independence, so critical to lawmakers for six decades, is too important to be cast aside by a lame-duck governor in the waning weeks of his administration,” Olson said.
The MBA’s stand-alone powers also do not satisfy the modern legal regime designed to protect the public interest and public trust resources. For example, the MBA Act exempts the actions of the authority to transfer public lands, bottomlands, and construct the bridge from “any approvals required from state boards or agencies.” However, using the MBA Act to authorize Great Lakes oil tunnel construction would be inconsistent with the mandates, policies, and standards of the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act; Article 4, Sec. 52 of the state’s 1963 Constitution; the 1970 Michigan Environmental Protection Act; and the 2002 Michigan statute banning oil and gas drilling under the Great Lakes.
The waters of the Great Lakes and the lands beneath them are held in and protected by a public trust, Kirkwood explained. “The public trust doctrine means that the state holds these waters and soils beneath them in trust for the public for the protection of preferred or dedicated public trust uses of navigation, fishing, boating, swimming, bathing, drinking water, and other recreation, said Kirkwood, an environmental attorney. “As a general rule, there can be no disposition, transfer, conveyance, occupancy, or use of any kind of these public trust waters and the soils beneath them, unless there is a statute authorizing this and the action predominantly serves a public interest, not a private one.”
Michigan Senator Gary Peters, ranking member of a Senate committee overseeing hazardous pipelines, held a public hearing in Traverse City, Michigan Monday, ground zero in a race to turn off Enbridge’s 65-year old Line 5 before it spills millions of gallons into the Straits of Mackinac and blackens the water, life, and economy of the Upper Great Lakes. Senator Peters called the hearing to open an investigation and find solutions to reform a patchwork of ineffective federal regulations that lack authority and power to shut down pipelines that threaten the health and safety of residents, businesses, schools, and communities across the country. What better place to start than Line 5 in the heart of the Straits and Great Lakes?
Senator Peters convened two panels: one made up of an Enbridge upper-level executive and federal officials from the Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), the Coast Guard emergency response team, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); the other filled with representative leaders from conservation, labor, and business across the region. After their testimony and questioning from a well-prepared, sometimes passionate Senator Peters, and applause from a sympathetic audience, the message was clear—we need legal reforms, and we need them now, to fix the holes and fragmentation in current regulations.
Monday’s public hearing may well be the tipping point to turn off the rush of 23 million gallons a day through a pipeline that is outdated and failing the dictates of its original design. It may also be the year of reckoning for the Snyder Administration’s and Attorney General Schuette’s game of footsie with Enbridge that has, in my opinion, imprudently gambled the soul of our state’s water, life and economy by helping Enbridge keep Line 5 open for gushing crude oil from Alberta to Sarnia far too long. Here’s why.
After four years of state task forces, boards, studies and exercises to clean up a mock spill, nothing has happened except permission to Enbridge to keep Line 5 going at full tilt. During this same time, National Wildlife Federation, FLOW, the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, and other tribes and organizations have filed compelling scientific, technical, and legal analyses and reports that have more than documented what is now obvious: Crude oil in Line 5 in the Straits and over or near tributaries that flow to Lake Michigan and Lake Huron constitutes what is known in the hazardous risk industry as a “Tier 1″ risk. It must be avoided, and reasonable alternatives exist– that is, Line 5 in the Straits or waters of the Great Lakes is not essential for Canada, Enbridge, or Michigan and its residents.
A “Tier 1″ risk means that the magnitude of harm is so devastating or grave, that principles of risk management require those responsible to implement both a temporary and a long-term solution that removes and avoids the risk entirely. In plain terms, this means that if there is an alternative to a pipeline that is unacceptable under any circumstances, the alternative must be implemented, as long as it reasonably achieves the overall purpose of avoiding the risk and allowing a means through some other route to continue transporting crude oil.
In the last four years, it has become clear, as reinforced by Senator Peters at the start of the hearing, that the Straits is “the worst place for an oil pipeline in the Great Lakes,” and that we must find a way to take hold of this unacceptable risk and end it. For example, strong currents have continuously scoured the rocks and soil under the heavy pipeline designed to lay on the bottom of the lakebed; in an attempt to patch a failing design, Enbridge, with the help of Michigan’s DEQ, has been able to install anchor supports to elevate the line above the lakebed since 2001 as a “repair,” with little to no notice to the public. There are now 150 supports holding up the line, and an application to the DEQ for 48 more. That means nearly three miles or one-third of the original design has been totally changed, and the stage is set for more and more “repairs” without any application, determination, and legal authorization as required for altered and new pipeline designs or structures on the bottomlands of the Great Lakes under our Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act. If our leaders forced Enbridge to apply for new authorization of this serious, never-before-reviewed change, Enbridge would have to show no “Tier 1″ risk and no alternative– finally, the substance and risk and fate of the Straits and Great Lakes and citizens would be under the rule of law.
Also, in the last four years, strategic organizing from Oil and Water Don’t Mix, a consortium of organizations like Groundwork Center, Michigan Environmental Council, Sierra Club, the tribes, Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council, and many others have fostered tens of thousands of letters, public comments, all urging state leaders to end this catastrophic risk that puts oil above the state’s and its citizens’ paramount interest and public trust in water and the Great Lakes.
Nearly 70 communities have passed resolutions calling for decommissioning or ending the flow of oil in Line 5, as have approximately 15 tribes and tribal organizations. This has led to a Pipeline Advisory Board questioning the lack of action by the state, conflicts of interest in a risk study, and questioning whether Line 5 should be allowed to continue in light of reasonable adjustments and alternatives elsewhere within Enbridge’s larger system.
Then, last fall, Governor Snyder announced he’d signed an agreement with Enbridge that allows Enbridge to pick an option to replace Line 5 with a new line in the Straits. In other words, Enbridge was given the green light to replace Line 5, continue Line 5 in the Straits until the replacement was operational in seven years, and avoid the rule of law.
No wonder Senator Peters held the hearing to launch a process to find out why the federal regulatory framework hasn’t done more. As urged by the Senator and agreed to by other panelists at the hearing, the Straits and Great Lakes demand a far more responsive legal framework than PHMSA safety code inspections and wrist slapping or Coast Guard after-the-fact response and cleanup actions. And it’s not just the Great Lakes. There are thousands of miles of crude oil pipelines and thousands of communities, lakes, streams, groundwater, drinking water and other sensitive environments that have been damaged or are threatened.
We need go no farther than the 2010 Enbridge Kalamazoo River rupture and disaster or the Deep Horizon debacle in and along the beaches of the Gulf of Mexico.
Based on the testimony of the panelists and careful questioning of Senator Peters, here is what the record looks like and what we might expect to address Line 5 and many other oil pipeline risks across the United States and, hopefully, beyond our borders.
First, after accidents like the anchor strike that broke the utility line, released pollutants into the Straits and was reported by Enbridge to have dented Line 5, inspections by PHMSA review the company’s evaluation and self-reporting, and the Coast Guard completes assessments of conditions and response actions only after a spill of pollutants. As it turned out, PHMSA did not independently inspect the dents. The Coast Guard has no jurisdiction except to respond to the spill of the pollutant from the utility line. Fortunately, an assessment and inspection performed 2.5 weeks later revealed a “gouge,” not just a dent.
Second, while PHMSA has legal authority to force shutdown of a pipeline, it has never ordered one decommissioned and removed. The state, through its public trust authorities, has the power to do so, but so far, it seems, has done everything possible not to shut down Line 5.
Third, Enbridge and others maintain that the Great Lakes and Line 5 are not “offshore” hazardous or crude oil pipelines, and are not regulated as strictly as offshore lines and oil wells. The U.S and Michigan supreme courts have consistently ruled that the Great Lakes are seas, like the oceans, and subject a high-degree of protection under the public trust doctrine.
Fourth, PHMSA has not certified the Great Lakes as a critical “environmentally sensitive” area that would impose, at least, stronger safety measures, inspections, or assessments.
Fifth, inspections and assessments are not “hands-on” and are often delayed or too late to quickly determine the gravity of the condition of a pipeline.
Sixth, there is no legal process under federal law or regulations that comprehensively regulates, assesses, and determines whether to shut down high risk pipelines– those that have failed or those in sensitive areas like the Great Lakes. So, while most states, like Michigan, have the authority to locate or terminate high risk pipelines, particularly where they are old, failing, and alternatives exist, the federal government has no framework to do much at all.
Senator Peters has done a great service, and his Senate Commerce Committee needs to carry the day by continuing, as directed by the senator, to record and investigate. The goal should be to establish a framework for the Senate, with the help of experts and citizens, to find a way to overhaul these laws and rules that are supposed to protect the public. For starters, here are some suggestions:
Amend federal laws, such as the Clean Water Act or the PHMSA authorizing law, to establish an authority for the certification of oil and other hazardous liquid or materials pipelines.
New pipelines would have to go through an application, hearing, full transparent information and disclosure, evaluation and study process to determine the risk, potential impacts and damage based on a true “worst case scenario,” and the full range of feasible and prudent alternatives.
Old pipelines, say older than 40 years, or less if beyond their “useful safe lifeline” would have to apply for certification, showing that they do not involve high risks or catastrophic harm or serious impacts based on a worst case scenario, and if the risk is high, they must be shut down if there exists a feasible and prudent alternative or the operation if continued could result in a high-magnitude of harm to the public health, safety, and welfare.
New pipelines proposed for the Great Lakes or equivalent paramount public trust waters or natural resources are prohibited.
Owners and operators of old pipelines in, over, or under the Great Lakes or equivalent public trust waters and natural resources must apply for certification and a determination that there is no feasible and prudent alternative with reasonable adjustments to other routes, design capacities, and locations within the overall crude oil pipeline system and logistics; if there is no feasible and prudent alternative, there would be a determination of remaining “useful life” and that the risks are less than a “Tier 1″ based on a competent credible worst case scenario.
All applications, and supporting materials would be public records and made available, all applications would be subject to public hearings, comments, and testimony by all interested persons and members of the public, and there would be direct citizen suit enforcement similar to that in the Clean Water Act.
All applications would be subject to the National Environmental Policy Act environmental impact statement process.
Federal agencies involved would cooperate with state agencies, including shared jurisdictional and information agreements, and the federal process would not preempt or supplant the state process. State proceedings involving use or potential impact to their sovereign water and other natural resources, or public trust interests in those resources, would not be preempted and could impose more stringent standards or otherwise reserve the state’s property power and public trust in its waters and natural resources to prohibit any existing or proposed new pipeline (which is the law in Michigan and other states today).
Jim Olson, President and Founder
In short, thank you, Senator Peters and the Senate Commerce committee, and those panelists who participated in the hearing Monday: It is far better to remove these regulatory holes with a comprehensive approach to prevent unacceptable risks entirely than to face the catastrophe of a gaping hole in Line 5 in the Great Lakes or other high-risk lines across the country.
Proposed “Line 5” Oil Pipeline Tunnel Under the Mackinac Straits Ignores Looming Disaster, Locks in Decades of Risk
Enbridge’s Snyder-commissioned tunnel report released today is a dead-end for the Great Lakes and Pure Michigan economy
A Canadian oil transport company would be assured billions of dollars in more profit, while the Great Lakes and Michigan’s tourist economy would face decades of more risk of an oil spill disaster from a new Line 5 pipeline tunnel or trench under the Mackinac Straits, as envisioned in a self-serving report released today by Line 5-owner Enbridge and commissioned by Gov. Rick Snyder.
“Citizens and leaders in Michigan agree that you wouldn’t approve an oil pipeline like Line 5 today given the extraordinary risk to our globally unique Great Lakes,” said FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood, an environmental attorney and a co-leader of the Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign seeking to shut down Line 5. “In a time of water shortages and changing climate in this century, it doesn’t make sense to even contemplate constructing Canadian oil pipelines in a tunnel under the world’s largest supply of fresh surface water.”
Spending up to a decade building a tunnel also would do nothing to address the immediate threat posed by the decaying, 65-year-old Line 5 oil pipelines in the open waters of the Mackinac Straits. Enbridge’s oil pipelines in the Straits are bent, cracked, gouged and dented by an anchor, scraped bare of their protective coating in places, and encrusted with corrosion-causing invasive mussels. Line 5 has exceeded its life expectancy and is more than two decades older than Enbridge’s pipeline that ruptured and dumped a million gallons of heavy tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River watershed in 2010.
A Line 5 oil spill in the Mackinac Straits could deliver a blow of more than $6 billion to Michigan’s economy from damage to natural resources, tourism, coastal property values, commercial fishing, and municipal water systems, according to a recent study by a Michigan State University economist commissioned by FLOW.
“The only way to prevent an environmental and economic catastrophe from a Great Lakes oil spill is to shut down Line 5 now,” said FLOW Senior Advisor Dave Dempsey. “Gov. Snyder and Attorney General Schuette have a legal duty to place protection of the public’s waters above the private pursuit of profit.”
Gov. Snyder so far has ignored the overwhelming call from citizens, businesses, and communities to shut down Line 5 and pursue alternatives such as sending the oil through other existing pipelines with excess capacity owned by Enbridge and its competitors. A recent poll showed that most Michigan voters wanted Line 5 shut down. Options for supplying propane to the Upper Peninsula also should be studied and implemented, including use of truck, rail, or a small, new pipeline.
Instead, Gov. Snyder’s tunnel vision bypasses his own Pipeline Safety Advisory Board, favors a Canadian company that has repeatedly misrepresented the safety and integrity of the pipeline, and raises legal, environmental, and other issues that he thus far has failed to address as his tenure as governor nears an end. Key concerns about tunneling or trenching oil pipelines beneath the Mackinac Straits include:
A Canadian tunnel under the Mackinac Straits is not permissible under Michigan’s Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act (GLSLA), common law public trust doctrine, and would violate the 1836 Treaty with Michigan Tribes protecting the Straits fishing grounds. These protections are meant to safeguard the Great Lakes. State officials must enforce them, and Enbridge can’t ignore them. One such protection requires Enbridge to prove that there are no other alternatives to Line 5 or the Straits, when in fact other alternatives exist.
Building a tunnel under the Mackinac Straits ignores the risk Line 5 poses to the other 245 water crossings,including ones that are direct tributaries of Lakes Michigan, Superior, and Huron. A tunnel in the Straits would do nothing to protect those Michigan and Great Lakes waterways from a Line 5 spill. The only effective way to eliminate an oil spill threat to the rest of our Great Lakes is to actually stop oil flowing through the Straits.
Climate change demands immediate, coordinated state, regional, and national energy policies that promote the expansion of renewable energies. By locking in continued investment in fossil fuel infrastructure like Line 5, the Governor would unilaterally undermine the economic benefit to Michiganders of the job-producing clean energy revolution spreading across North America.
A tunnel option would effectively give Enbridge the green light to expand its North American tar sands operations here in the heart of the Great Lakes. How? Even though Line 5 currently does not transport heavy tar sands under the State of Michigan’s 2015 ban, Enbridge could seek a court order to lift this ban and transport tar sands in Line 5.
Talk of building a tunnel is a distraction from the immediate and ongoing threat of a catastrophic multibillion-dollar oil spill. Aside from monumental legal and engineering challenges, building a tunnel demands years of construction and disruption to the region’s economy from tourism to fishing, according to the state’s alternatives report on Line 5.
A tunnel is no gift to Michiganders. We know that all pipelines – even in tunnels – have an inherent risk of spills in their operations. In fact, since 1968, Line 5 has leaked at least 29 times on land, spilling over 1.1 million gallons of oil into Michigan’s pristine lands and waters. The risk of having a spill cannot be completely engineered away because of the ever-present potential for human error contributing to, or causing, a spill event. Moreover, a Line 5 oil tunnel that also carries natural gas liquids—which Enbridge advocates—creates a new hazard for the Great Lakes—extremely flammable materials that under some conditions in a confined space such as a tunnel can be explosive.
Oil pipelines do not belong in our Great Lakes given the magnitude of harm and unacceptable risk they pose to our public waters, our economy, and our way of life. Half of all Michiganders, from Mackinac Island to the Motor City, rely on the Great Lakes for drinking water, as do more than 48 million Americans and Canadians in total.Let’s do the smart thing, work together to find reliable long-term energy solutions for Michigan, and shut down Line 5 before it’s too late.
FLOW’s organizing principle is the public trust doctrine. What sounds like an exotic concept is quite simple. This centuries-old principle of common law holds that there are some resources, like water and submerged lands, that by their nature cannot be privately owned. Rather, this commons – including the Great Lakes — belongs to the public. And governments, like the State of Michigan, have a responsibility to protect public uses of these resources. We explicitly address public trust concerns on what we’re calling Public Trust Tuesday.
The public trust doctrine is at the heart of FLOW’s efforts to shut down the antiquated Line 5 oil and gas pipelines that span the lakebed at the Straits of Mackinac. Enbridge, the pipeline owner and operator, has access to the lakebed only because the State of Michigan provided an easement to the company’s predecessor in 1953, subject to the requirements of the public trust doctrine.
Under the terms of that easement, the State, acting as a trustee of the public interest in the Great Lakes, cannot allow impairment of public uses of the affected Great Lakes waters and submerged land. Further, the State authorized the easement subject to Enbridge exercising “the due care of a reasonably prudent person for the safety and welfare of all persons and of all public and private property.” Multiple disclosures by Enbridge of shoddy stewardship of Line 5 have demonstrated the lack of due care.
Last week, FLOW submitted to the State six pages of comments and additional exhibits making the case that Enbridge’s patchwork approach to maintaining Line 5 has fallen well short of that standard. Further, FLOW argued that the major changes in structural support for the pipeline contemplated by Enbridge constitute a new project for the purposes of review by the state. This requires the State to insist that Enbridge demonstrate the absence of feasible and prudent alternatives to the proposed pipeline support changes – including alternate routes for the transport of oil and gas.
FLOW concluded, “the burden rests with Enbridge – not the State of Michigan or its citizens – to establish that there are no unacceptable risks or likely effects to waters, fishing, navigation, commerce, and public and private uses, and that no feasible and prudent alternatives to Line 5 based on existing or feasible capacity of overall pipeline system in the Great Lakes; the required scope of this showing of no alternatives includes determination of whether existing or improved pipeline infrastructure within the Enbridge system into and out of Michigan are a feasible and prudent alternative.”
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.
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.
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.