Tag: Enbridge

The Pipeline in the Straits: Learning About Line 5 with Enbridge in St. Ignace

By FLOW intern Jonathan Aylward. Jonathan has been with FLOW since January 2014 and also works on food-related projects throughout the Grand Traverse region.

There is an oil pipeline running through the Great Lakes underneath the Mackinac Bridge. The pipeline, called Line 5, is owned and operated by Enbridge, a Canadian energy corporation. Enbridge has pumped crude oil through the less than one-inch-thick pipeline for sixty-one years along the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac. Built under Dwight Eisenhower’s administration at a time before modern pipeline regulations, Enbridge increased the output of Line 5 by 50,000 gallons per day in 2013. While Line 5’s capacity has increased, neither regulatory scrutiny nor corporate transparency have followed suit. The Great Lakes, which contain 84% of North America’s and 20% of the planet’s surface freshwater, are at a greater risk than ever.

Line 5 is part of a vast network of Enbridge pipelines that transports crude oil and natural gas liquids originating in Western Canada (mainly the Athabasca tar sands) and North Dakota around the country. Line 5 is the section that passes from Superior, Wisconsin through the Upper and Lower Peninsulas of Michigan into Sarnia, Ontario.

Enbridge put on a public presentation in St. Ignace, MI, on February 5, 2014 in response to mounting public concern spurred in part by an alarming report released in 2012 and an unsettling video released last year, both by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF). Some of the most illuminating segments can be heard and read below.

First, a quick reminder of why Michiganders should be especially wary of Enbridge’s Line 5 and its 1,900 miles of pipeline surrounding the Great Lakes.

Enbridge’s Dilbit Disaster in Kalamazoo, MI

Bitumen is the type of oil that is extracted from the Athabasca tar sands, a region of Alberta the size of New York state. It’s not normal liquid oil; bitumen is more solid than it is liquid, and it has to be strip mined or boiled to be released from the ground. It is the heaviest form of petroleum in the world, which makes it especially hazardous to transport because in the event of a spill it can sink. From extraction to refinement, it has the largest carbon footprint of any type of petroleum.

Since 1999, Enbridge has been responsible for 983 spills, the largest of which happened in Marshall, MI (near Kalamazoo, MI) in 2010. That spill, on Line 6b, was the largest on-land oil spill in US history.  About one million gallons of diluted bitumen (dilbit) leaked into Talmadge Creek, a tributary of the Kalamazoo River. The pipeline was forty years old, twenty years younger than Line 5. Enbridge has responded with negligence ever since the initial rupture:

  • The Line 6b leaked for 17 hours, and during the spill operators actually increased the pressure to release what was thought to be a blockage.
  • Enbridge monitors weren’t the ones to discover the spill; it was a local utility man that reported it to local authorities.
  • 180,000 gallons of bitumen still sits on the bottom of the Kalamazoo River three and a half years later.

The Kalamazoo spill has forced Michiganders to wake up to the interrelated threats to public health, the economy, and our environment that Line 5 poses. Pressing questions about the age and condition of the pipeline and the type of crude being pumped quickly surface.

  • After Kalamazoo, why should the public continue to entrust Enbridge as stewards of the Great Lakes?
  • Why is Enbridge using a sixty year old pipeline if their forty year old pipeline ruptured in Kalamazoo?
  • Which type(s) of tar sands oil product are shipped through Line 5?
  • Why is there a pipeline going through the Great Lakes at all?
  • Under what conditions was the pipeline approved and why is it still there?

Enbridge Comes to St. Ignace

Enbridge sent a public relations advisor and two of their engineers along with their cleanup contractor to St. Ignace to present “their side of the story” at the Mackinac County Planning Commision meeting. The room was packed with around 175 attendees. No representatives from NWF or other concerned organizations were present on the Q&A panel.

The environment was carefully controlled. Two Enbridge employees in the front row acted as a whispering counsel to the panel throughout the event. Instead of an open floor question and answer format, Enbridge opted to have the public write their questions down. Then, through an unexplained process, Enbridge proceeded to answer certain question cards. The mood shifted from respectful concern to outright frustration over the course of the hour and half long event. Many questions were left unanswered, and even more questions arose.

The Potential Disaster

1. Enbridge says 5,500 barrels (231,000 gallons) of light crude oil could leak into the Great Lakes.

Listen:

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Watch:

In the audio build-up to the video clip, the public relations advisor initially dismisses a question about the company’s assessment on a worst-case discharge. A minute passes (which has been edited out), and the citizen that wrote the question stands up and demands that they revisit his question. In the video, after more audience questioning, the Enbridge Engineer gives the number off the top of his head.

2. “Extremely conservative” estimate says 25 square miles could be covered.

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3. In the winter, “Mother Nature will dictate.”

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Winter ice is not the only force of nature present at Line 5’s Straits crossing that would enhance the complexity and difficulty of a clean-up. Here is an excerpt from the NWF report “Sunken Hazard” about the powerful currents in the Straits:

“The Straits of Mackinac in northern Michigan is a unique area of the Great Lakes, a four-mile-wide channel that funnels colossal amounts of water between Lakes Michigan and Huron. Powerful storm-driven currents that cause water to oscillate back and forth between the two lakes can move water through the Straits at a rate of three feet or more per second. At times, the volume of water flowing beneath the Mackinac Bridge is 50 times greater than the average flow of the St. Clair River, one of the largest rivers in the Great Lakes basin. Those currents also make the Straits one of the worst places in the Great Lakes for an oil spill. There are few other places in the lakes where an oil spill could spread so quickly.”

What’s Inside the Pipeline?

4. Question: Are there any plans to pipe tar sands through this pipeline?
Answer: “There are no plans to pump what’s known as heavy crude, and sometimes called tar sands, through that pipeline.”

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This was the first question selected by Enbridge in the Q&A segment. Enbridge openly reports on their website that they are piping several types of tar sands oil through Line 5, mainly the product called synthetic crude, and not the heavier dilbit. Bitumen from the Athabasca tar sands becomes transportable in two ways: it’s either diluted with other chemicals to create dilbit, or it is partially refined at an upgrader facility in Alberta and mixed with chemicals to create a lighter product called synthetic crude. This document on Enbridge’s website reports “Light Synthetic” as one of four groups of products piped on Line 5, and this other Enbridge document lists the specific products that are commonly shipped through Line 5. All of the Light Synthetic products are derived from tar sands bitumen, and some of the “Light & High Sour” products are as well.

5. Question: What procedure does Enbridge have to follow if they change their mind and want to start shipping tar sands?
Answer: “It’s complicated, let me come back to that.” She didn’t.

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Again, Enbridge is already shipping a variety of tar sands crude products through Line 5. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), the federal pipeline regulatory agency, treats all crude oil the same despite the fact that spill consequences vary by type and product. Enbridge can pump anything that classifies as crude oil or natural gas liquids through their pipelines, from conventional light crude oil to dilbit. On page three of this document from Enbridge’s website, it says that even if a product is not marked as permissible or existing for a specific pipeline (e.g. dilbit in Line 5), transporting it would simply “require prior authorization from Enbridge”. It appears that pipeline companies do not even have to document changes in batches or the chemical composition of its current products.

6. Line 5 currently pipes low density crude oil and natural gas liquids in 10,000 barrel batches.

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540,000 barrels pass through Line 5 per day.

7. Most of the product comes from the Bakken Shale in North Dakota.

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Over half of the products listed on Enbridge’s website that pass through Line 5 can be traced to the Athabasca tar sands’ region. Here is the link again.

Kalamazoo River Spill

8. All oil floats, but some oil floats better than other oil.

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The 180,000 gallons of bitumen on the bottom of the Kalamazoo River demonstrate otherwise.

9. All questions that mention the Kalamazoo River spill were rejected.

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Enbridge says Lines 5 and 6b are ”two different lines that do different things”, so all questions that mention the spill are rejected.

The Condition of Line 5

10. Enbridge inspects for dents, cracks, and wall thickness. Line 5 under the Straits has no dents and good wall thickness.

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11. In 2012, Enbridge documented hundreds of “abnormalities or cracked features” on Line 5.
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12. “They don’t build it like this anymore.”

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13. “The seamless pipeline under the straits is in fact seamless.”

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At this point in the event, the word seamless had been used a lot.

14. The pipeline is welded every 40 feet. The seamlessness of the pipeline is referring to the side-seam.

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For an hour and a half, the audience pondered how it was possible to make, transport, and install a 5-mile long seamless pipeline. The question was finally answered near the end of the meeting. An Enbridge engineer clarified that the each pipeline piece is welded to the next section every 40 feet, and that the “seamless pipeline” is referring to the lack of a side-seam.

15. “There were no regulations that had to be met when that line was built,” but Enbridge looked it over in 2004 and concluded that Line 5 to par.

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16. People got angry that Enbridge didn’t answer all their questions at a public meeting about Line 5.

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For audio and video transcripts, click here.

TRANSCRIPTS: The Pipeline in the Straits: Learning About Line 5 with Enbridge in St. Ignace

Want more? Here are the transcripts of the clips from the February 5 Enbridge meeting with Mackinac County officials and the public regarding the expansion of the Line 5 oil pipeline that is, in part, submerged underwater at the Straits of Mackinac in the Great Lakes.

(RUSH TRANSCRIPT AND STATEMENTS SIC)

1. Enbridge says 5,500 barrels (231,000 gallons) of light crude oil could leak into the Great Lakes.

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One of our residents would like to know, if there is a, um, break, uh, leak, in that 3 minute period from a 20 inch line at 300 pounds per second, what are we looking at, how much oil or volume would be lost to the on site?
Um, you know, I’m going to be completely honest, we talked about how to address this question, and the bottom line is we can speculate all day on worst case scenarios, what I can tell you, and I’ve tried to show you are all of the different safety mechanisms we have in place to ensure that hopefully we don’t have any incidents, but if we do, we work with our Osrow, and the Coast Guard, and all these other places to ensure that we contain it as quickly as possible, and return it to, um, return it back to the state in which it was. And, there’s more questions, you know, related to , um, who is going to pay for it, and of course we do assume that responsibility, um. What materials do you have in the straits? We talked about that. We have stuff on both ends of the straits, with boom, and our people that live and work here. Um, this a an um, I found this kind of interesting: are you planning for the Madrid earthquake? I can tell you that, um, not necessarily Enbridge, nor osrow =, but i can tell you from my past life that the Madrid earthquake is practiced every year by the department of defense, so that’s a homeland security issue and they are dealing with it. (huh?–crowd.)
Simple math problem about the oil spill–crowd
Compensations to businesses would be the same to county and private residents.
Sorry, you didn’t exactly answer my question with quantity. And, surely you know how much is flowing through just like if i spill a 2 cup, uh pale of water i know how much spilled. so, if there was a breach, what would be the release, because you know the quantity right?
Blake: Well, ok, we’d call that a worst case discharge.
Repeat the question!
Jackie: the question is how much is oil is in the pipeline between the two places in which we can isolate it
After the two minute shutdown
After?
There’s 3 minutes before you totally shut down, you said that earlier. So let’s take the worst scenario of 3 minutes of oil flowing at 100%. Like you said, that’s a simple math problem.
Yeah, that’s a simple math problem. Ok, uh, it’s uh, like, without the automatic shutoff system, it was like 15000 barrels, and then when we installed the automatic shutoff system, that cut it down to like 5,500 barrels, but it’s at a pressure, like i showed you, the pressure is like say 150 psi, or less, and i imagine if those valves shut, it’s going to be less, because they wouldn’t shut unless it was less. And we’ve talked about this, so, we have to give them a figure, and it’s on volume, so the very worst case, and it’s very unlikely, is 5,500 barrels. But, you know, one thing that was interesting, some of our engineers were saying, that the water pressure at the bottom of the straits is almost that much, so. not like we are actually going to open and it up and find out what happens, but there’s a good chance that there’s gonna be water going in at one point and holding the oil in. and the oil wants to float up, and it goes down like this. So I really doubt that even close to even a percentage of that would even leak in a scenario.

2. “Extremely conservative” estimate says 25 square miles could be covered.

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So, the first one, given the shutdown response stated, what is the volume of discharge during the time frame stated? That was answered right? Ok, what is the surface area that would result? 5,500 barrels? I’m sorry, I don’t have this exact calculation ready for you, but if anybody needs it, but if anybody needs the exact number, uh, predictive number, we can talk about it, but it’s substantial, very substantial, a figure, and I’m probably very low estimating it, 25 square miles, to figure something like that.

3. In the winter, “Mother Nature will dictate.”

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Next question: May Day, May Day May Day, it’s January 21, 2014, -18, -40 below wind chill, ice is 4 feet htick, oil leak alarms start sounding at 3 locations under the Straits of Mackinac. What are you, Enbridge, and the US Coast Guard going to do about it?
How soon will you have the critical response personal on site, and time to stop the leak. We’ve talked a lot about winter operations, and it should be very clear to everyone that it is a much more difficult type of approach. Now, from a response perspective, we have two ways to access oil under the ice. If it’s thick enough, we can walk out and start drilling holes to get to it. So if this oil spill of one of these 3 leaks that is proposed here, occurs near shore, then we’re going to go out from shore and start doing that. How quick can that happen? First boots on the ground, our first partner companyy is here in St. Ignace, Mackinac Environmental, that provides some assessment, then we start rolling personnel in. And equipment in. As we saw in my slide, we have a 6 hour mainframe model, and a 12 hour time frame model. Now, we need to put a lot of boots on the ground to do that, and to give you an idea of what i would conceive of an operation like that, we’re talking about 100’s of people having to be mobilized in 6-12 hours, so we’re prepared in our planning standards to achieve those kinds of concepts, but to answer the question, in the winter, mother nature will dictate, we need those kinds of resources, and it will complicate it that way, that’s the reality of it.

4. Question: Are there any plans to pipe tar sands through this pipeline?
Answer: “There are no plans to pump what’s known as heavy crude, and sometimes called tar sands, through that pipeline.”

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Are there any plans to pipe tar sands through this pipeline? As I said earlier, um, Line 5 is a light crude, um, pipeline, there are no plans to, um, pump what’s know as heavy crudes, and sometimes called tar sands through that pipeline. There are no plans to pump, um, heavy crude through Line 5.

5. Question: What procedure does Enbridge have to follow if they change their mind and want to start shipping tar sands?
Answer: “It’s complicated, let me come back to that.” She didn’t.

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If you decide at some point to change what you…to pipe tar sands oil through the straits, what procedure do you have to follow? I’m going to come back to that one because..it’s complicated. Let me come back to that one.
There was a question that she was asked that she said she would defer. I’d like to hear the answer to that question. “She’s ended answering the questions” She deferred that question, she said she would answer it!

6. Line 5 currently pipes low density crude oil and natural gas liquids in 10,000 barrel batches.

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Blake Olson – Enbridge Engineer: “Mixtures of petroleum, does that flow through this pipe? Well, It’s light density crude oil and natural gas liquids, that’s what flows through the pipe. Uh, they’re batched in like 10,000 barrel batches, and they have different names by who produced them and from where they came, but they are basically the lighter density oil. Line 5 is designed for piping that type of fluid. If we were to switch to heavy crude, we would have to change a lot of things on the pipeline, including all the pumps and whatnot. That’s all, I guess, I can explain, petroleum dense…light density oil and natural gas liquids, which is raw propane and butane.”

7. Most of the product comes from the Bakken Shale in North Dakota.

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Where does that product come from? Our light crude comes mostly from the Bakken.

8. All oil floats, but some oil floats better than other oil.

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The question here was: Does all oil float? Well, all the oil has, you know, a density less than water, so it should float. Uh, The, uh, light crude oil has lower density than the heavier crude oil service, and this is the light oil, so, uh, it floats better on line 5 than, it, uh, maybe on the heavier oil lines. But it all floats.

9. All questions that mention the Kalamazoo River spill were rejected.

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There were a lot of questions here about Kalamazoo. Line 5 and line 6 are two different lines that do different things I’m not going to get into discussing Kalamazoo here today. We’ve learned a lot from it. “It’s still not cleaned up” We’re in the process of finishing that.

10. Enbridge inspects for dents, cracks, and wall thickness. Line 5 under the Straits has no dents and good wall thickness.

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The monitoring efforts and inline inspection: the inline inspection tools in our sophisticated electronic vehicles move inside the pipe along with the oil, they obtain detailed measurements in the pipeline condition, they’re look at, these are three of the different types: they look at corrosion or wall thickness of the pipe, that’s how they can tell that the pipe is still the same thickness. They also look for dents in the pipe. And they look for, uh, cracks in the pipe. And the, uh, data, at the end of last year, the new data shows that the wall thickness is still almost an inch thick, and it also shows that there’s no dents on any of the straits.

11. In 2012, Enbridge documented hundreds of “abnormalities or cracked features” on Line 5.

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Based on Enbridge 2012 documents, hundreds of abnormalities or cracked features have been documented on line 5, and these abnormalities, they say, are similar to 6b which ruptured and caused that largest inland heavy sands spill. And uh, so, what, specific measures is Enbridge taking to remediate these abnormalities on the pipeline through the straits? Well, that’s what I was talking about, that;s what we’re doing; we beefed up the whole division that works on those, and we keep, just, and then, of course the straits piping, we’re running the tools, and we’re not finding any indications. So, uh, it’s because, that’s the thickest pipe we have in our whole system in all of North America. They just over-designed the whole straits crossing, that special seamless pipe.

12. “They don’t build it like this anymore.”

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Hello, thank you for coming. Ok, Enbridge, uh, strives for a safe delivery of liquid petroleum, and transport. The seamless steel pipe is a very robust design, it’s, you, we really have to give credit to the engineers that designed it, it’s really built to last. It’s really one of those stories where “they don’t build it like this anymore”. The, uh, pipeline is nearly 1 inch thick of steel, the two 20-inch lines.

13. “The seamless pipeline under the straits is in fact seamless.”

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Um, there’s a question about seams, the pipeline, the seamless pipeline under the straits is in fact seamless.

14. The pipeline is welded every 40 feet. The seamlessness of the pipeline is referring to the side-seam.

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Ok, just a clarification probably: how is a pipeline 5 miles long created without any seams. And, as you can see on the pipeline, there’s a different process to make a seamless pipe than there is to make a regular piece of pipeline. A regular piece of pipeline you take a flat piece of metal, it get’s rolled and folded, it gets welded, kind of like your pantleg, you’ve got a seam going down your pant leg, and that’s the side seam. As far as that piece of pipe it’s more continuous, there’s a whole different process that produces a seamless pipe. Now, there are joints in the pipe, so to be clear on that, the pipe did come out in 40 foot sections, so they are welded every 40 feet along there, there’s a butt welded to a joint, but there’s not a seam going all the way down there.

15. “There were no regulations that had to be met when that line was built,” but Enbridge looked it over in 2004 and concluded that Line 5 to par.

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A question that is a 2 part one: if teh pipeline were to be installed today, how would it differ from the way it was designed originally? Would it be done differently to meet design requirements? For example would a double walled pipe be required?
Just a little history, I used to work for the Minnesota office of pipeline safety, so I was trained with PHMSA, and so I got a pretty good background on the requirements. This pipeline going across the straits was built before PHMSA existed, so there were no regulations that had to be met when that pipeline was built. Now that said, Enbridge went back in 2004, went back through all the orignial design calculations just to double check how it was built and if it was still built to an acceptable standard today, and it was far in excess of what PHMSA requires.

16. People got angry that Enbridge didn’t answer all their questions at a public meeting about Line 5.

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Um, we’ve exceeded the time that the commission has allowed us, we hope we’ve answered your questions. (Audience angry yelling) I realize that. I’m sorry, this is going to end, if you want to have your question answered after this session by Enbridge employees, uh…we could go on for hours but uh, this is what was sessioned…(audience yelling)

Enbridge Under the Bridge: What We Do and Don’t Know about the Underwater Oil Pipeline in the Great Lakes

FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood

FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood

FLOW and a number of organizations have come together over the last year to rally the public and raise awareness about the Canadian energy company Enbridge and their Line 5 pipeline, a 61-year-old pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac in the Great Lakes which has increased in flow and pipeline pressure and poses a great risk to our common water. On February 5, I carpooled up to St. Ignace, Michigan to attend a public meeting wherein Enbridge delivered a presentation to Mackinac County officials (and a packed room full of concerned citizens) to assuage growing concerns about the Line 5 pipeline expansion. My companions Jim Dulzo from Michigan Land Use Institute, FLOW intern Jonathan Aylward and I didn’t know what to expect, but we certainly all had a lot of questions that remained unanswered.

Background: The issue captured our attention after a critical 2012 report from National Wildlife Federation (NWF) titled Sunken Hazardpublished the scary facts: if Line 5 were to leak, then in the eight minutes that it takes for Enbridge to shut off the pipeline about 1.5 million gallons of oil would release, along with catastrophic impacts and dispersion across both Lakes Michigan and Huron. However, this is not even the “worse case discharge” given that it took the same company, Enbridge, 17 hours to respond to the worse inland oil pipeline spill in U.S. history along the Kalamazoo River just 3 years ago.  In short, the Great Lakes have never been more at risk and yet the public is largely uninformed.

Why FLOW is concerned:

  1. We know that Enbridge has “upgraded” Line 5 with new pump stations but we don’t know for sure what “product” (light or heavy, sweet or sour, dilbit, etc) is being transported 640 miles from Superior, Wisconsin through the Straits of Mackinac to Sarnia, Ontario;
  2. Heavy tar sands is the dirtiest and most carbon-intensive energy on earth and a spill would destroy our shared international waters and way of life;
  3. This “upgraded” pipeline is 61-years-old and is submerged under water in the heart of the Great Lakes that contains 20 percent of the world’s fresh surface water;
  4. Enbridge has a dismal pipeline safety record, underscored by the two recent heavy tar sands disasters in Marshall, Michigan along the Kalamazoo River (1 million gallons spilled in 2010) and Grand Marsh, Wisconsin (50,000 gallons spilled in 2012);
  5. Federal pipeline regulations do not provide for public disclosure in the event of a product change from light crude oil to heavy crude oil for example; and
  6. An unsettling feeling of lack of transparency and public disclosure about the safety of Line 5 for the Great Lakes.

The Enbridge “side of the story”

At 2 pm at Little Bear Arena in St. Ignace, Mackinac County Planning Commission (“the Commission”) Chairman Dean Reid stood before 175 people, amazed at the turnout, and explained the rationale for this special meeting. The fact of the matter was that the Commission “wanted to hear Enbridge’s side of the story” after receiving NWF’s Sunken Hazard, and video footage of the submerged Line 5 under the Straits of Mackinac. Interestingly, though, I learned from Beth Wallace at NWF who co-authored the report that the Commission did not invite NWF to participate as a panelist to publically present both points of view.

Commission officials and the audience listen to the Enbridge representatives' presentation.

Commission officials and the audience listen to the Enbridge representatives’ presentation.

Chairman Reid laid out the agenda, calling for Enbridge to address the integrity of their Line 5 pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac, the frequency of their testing, and emergency procedures in the event of a pipeline rupture. Recognizing the potential regional impact a spill would have in the Straits, the Commission invited other local units of government and organizations to attend this meeting. No public comments were allowed, but Enbridge panelists read and answer cards with written questions.

Next came Enbridge Community Relations Director Jackie Guthrie who described herself as a mom but also as a former lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army. She gave the audience a succinct and compelling PR presentation on Enbridge’s overall operations. “Think of Enbridge as the ‘Fed-Ex’ of the oil and gas industry,” she cleverly described, “Enbridge delivers 2.5 billion barrels of crude and liquid petroleum, 5 billion cubic/feet of natural gas, and 1,600 MW of renewable energy a day.” Her numbers underscored the amazing recent growth of this billion-dollar company coinciding with North America’s energy boom. For example, in the last seven years, Enbridge had doubled its employees to 11,000. Guthrie concluded her overview by noting that Enbridge was recognized as one of the Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations in the World.

This last claim got me thinking: if Enbridge can get that level of praise despite its shocking track record of 800 pipeline spills in the U.S. and Canada between 1999 and 2010, leaking 6.8 million gallons of oil and causing the largest inland heavy tar sands rupture in U.S. history, I wonder what the other energy companies are like.

Guthrie described the Line 5 as a 650-mile pipeline originating in Superior, Wisconsin traveling across the Upper Peninsula across the Straits of Michigan and down to Sarnia, Ontario. Line 5 is a 30-inch pipeline, except across the Straits where it divides into two 20-inch pipelines. Guthrie emphasized that Line 5 was carrying “light crude oil” which has “the consistency of skim milk.”

The view driving across the Mackinac Bridge: the Enbridge Line 5 oil pipeline is submerged beneath the same Straits of Mackinac that the Bridge traverses.

The view driving across the Mackinac Bridge: the Enbridge Line 5 oil pipeline is submerged beneath the same Straits of Mackinac that the Bridge traverses.

Blake Olson, Enbridge’s Escanaba Area Manager for over 400 miles of Line 5, followed with a presentation on the integrity of the Line 5 pipeline. He described Line 5 in the Straits as a one-inch thick seamless steel pipe, build with such a robust design that they just don’t build pipelines like this anymore. In fact, Olson commented that Line 5 at the Straits is the thickest pipeline in North America. Since 2012, Enbridge had increased the flow or volume of the product by 10 percent. Then he made the case that Enbridge had made a number of significant upgrades in their leak detection system within the last couple of years, including:

  • automatic shut-off valves at both sides of the Straits,
  • replacement of St. Ignace Valve Yard (2011) and Valve Yard containment system (2012),
  • the on-going installation of emergence flow restriction devices,
  • a back-up electric generator installed in 2013, and
  • a thermally imaging leak detection system to be installed this year.

In addition, Olson described Enbridge’s integrity protective system along Line 5, which included corrosion prevention with coal tar coating and cathodic protection, anchor strike prevention and brackets every 50 feet (coming this summer), monitoring with internal and external pipeline inspections, lighted shore signage and nautical charts stating DO NOT ANCHOR.

Too little, too late?

This was an impressive list to the casual listener/observer, but what troubled me was that a lot of these basic safety protections to ensure pipeline protection were recently instituted and this pipeline was 61-years-old. For example, in the 61 years of this pipeline’s history, the U.S. Coast Guard did not have nautical charts informing vessels about the very location of Line 5 until January 2014.  This change only happened because a number of concerned Michigan groups met with the Governor’s office to discuss Line 5’s safety in December 2013.

Olson assured the audience that Enbridge’s integrity program demonstrated that Line 5 under the Straits was “fit for service” with no dents or anomalies and met all federal pipeline regulations.

Before the Q&A session, Enbridge invited its contractor Bill Hazel from Marine Pollution Control to provide an overview of the emergency response measures set in place in the event of catastrophic spill on Line 5 under the Lakes. Hazel pointed to a number of simulated winter emergency response drills that Enbridge had participated in or serves as the lead in 2008, 2012, 2013, and this year. What became crystal clear was how catastrophic a Line 5 rupture would be especially during the wintertime. One follow-up question captured our imagination of this seemingly impossible mission: ‘May day, May day, May day!  It’s January 21, 2014 and it’s -9 °F and the wind chill is -25 °F, the Straits of Mackinac are frozen over, the ice four feet deep, and Line 5 has ruptured under the ice.  What are you going to do about it?’

Left to right: Jim Dulzo, MLUI; Jonathan Aylward, FLOW; Lee Sprague, Little River Band of Ottawa Indians; Anne Zukowski, Don't Frack Michigan; Jannan Cornstalk, Little River Band of Ottawa Indians

Left to right: Jim Dulzo, MLUI; Jonathan Aylward, FLOW; Lee Sprague, Little River Band of Ottawa Indians; Anne Zukowski, Don’t Frack Michigan; Jannan Cornstalk, Little River Band of Ottawa Indians

Enbridge answers (some) public questions

Following a final word from the local emergency manager in Mackinac, Guthrie gathered the 5×7 questions cards, proceeded to sort them into piles, and distributed them to the appropriate Enbridge representative for answers at the podium. Several illuminating points came out:

  1. Line 5 only transports light crude oil, the consistency of skim milk.
  2. Line 5’s light crude oil currently comes the Bakken oil fields.
  3. There are no plans to pump heavy crude oil through Line 5.
  4. Seamless pipe wasn’t really a seamless pipe as Enbridge had described previously, rather Line 5’s two 20-inch pipelines are seamless only up to the joints that repeat every 40 feet along the 4-mile stretch along the bottomlands of the Straits.
  5. A wintertime spill would present unprecedented challenges in mounting an emergency response.
  6. If a rupture occurred and the automatic shut-off valves turned off in a 3-minute period, 5,500 barrels would be released and disperse over an area 25-square-miles wide.  This number was down considerably from 15,000 barrels before Enbridge installed the automatic shut-off valves.

The last question was: ‘If tar sands were being transported through Line 5, what pipeline changes would Enbridge have to make?’ Enbridge’s Guthrie pulled the card aside and said, “let me hold off on this question because it is complex.”  But time was on Guthrie’s side as the meeting ended sharply at 3:30 pm and she never had to answer this telling question.

The composed Midwestern temperament of the room quickly changed as audience members shouted out that their questions had not been answered.  But it was clear that the meeting was over.

The bottom line for the bottomlands

I walked out into the 12 °F air, looked out over the Straits and felt an urgent need for additional public forums in Mackinac and the Great Lakes to further educate and inform all walks of life who live here about Line 5. Enbridge had attempted to calm the public’s concerns about Line 5, but they hadn’t been entirely forthright and it bothered me. Without public transparency, we will need to engage the State of Michigan to assert its authority as trustee of the waters and bottomlands of the Great Lakes for the benefit of the public.

What I’m talking about is the public trust doctrine, which legally requires Governor Snyder and both the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Environmental Quality, as state trustees, to ensure that Enbridge’s Line 5 under the Straits will not impair the public waters of the Great Lakes. This means that the State must demand full transparency and disclosure of all Enbridge’s activities not only for the people within range of a potential catastrophic spill, but for all residents of Michigan. Thus, if and when Enbridge decided to transport any type of heavy tar sands oil through Line 5, Enbridge has a duty to inform the state and the public and secure proper authorization under the Great Lands Submerged Lands Act. That’s FLOW’s take on the issue, and it’s what you will be hearing more about in the weeks and months to come. Stay tuned.

The Greatest Threat to the Great Lakes that No One Seems to Know About

The Greatest Threat to the Great Lakes and No One Seems to Know About It: Expanding Enbridge’s Line 5 Through the Straits of Mackinac

Click here to read and download PDF

How often do you hear a story in the news and then feel utterly shocked that you didn’t know anything about it? Well, that’s how all 40 million of us living in the Great Lakes should feel about the Enbridge Line 5 expansion across the Straits of Mackinac—a pipeline expansion project that will transport tar sands oil directly through the heart of the Great Lakes. In a nutshell, this just may be the greatest threat facing the Great Lakes at this time in history. “An oil spill in the Straits of Mackinac isn’t a question of if—it’s a question of when,” according to National Wildlife Federation’s (NWF) comprehensive report on this issue, Sunken Hazard.

What would a tar sands oil spill the size of Exxon-Valdez mean for the Great Lakes? Goodbye fisheries, aquatic food links, goodbye wildlife, goodbye municipal drinking water, goodbye Mackinac Island, goodbye tourism and property values, and goodbye to one of the world’s largest freshwater inland seas.

What company is stealthily completing this hazardous energy venture with limited public scrutiny? Enbridge—the same Canadian company responsible in 2010 for a million gallon tar sands oil pipeline rupture and a $1 billion cleanup along a 35-mile stretch of Michigan’s Kalamazoo River. Known as the largest transporter of crude oil, Enbridge is requesting a permit from the State Department’s U.S. Transportation Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to expand its existing pipeline—Line 67 also known as the Alberta Clipper—to transport heavy tar sands oil originating from Alberta, Canada to Superior, Wisconsin. From there, Enbridge, according to company officials, has already expanded the capacity of a second existing pipeline—Line 5—that travels directly through the Straits of Mackinac to a refinery located in Sarnia, Ontario. The 1,000+ mile Alberta Clipper pipeline route will double the tar sands oil that it currently carries and will deliver even more tar sands oil than the highly publicized and controversial TransCanada Corp’s Keystone XL pipeline.

Built sixty years ago in 1953, Line 5’s twin pipelines that cross the Straits of Mackinac—each 20 inches in diameter—were designed to transport light conventional crude oil, not Enbridge’s viscous, heavy tar sands oil or “bitumen” blended or diluted with volatile natural gas liquid condensate, also known as “dilbit.” Dilbit spills are particularly difficult to remediate because the bitumen and diluents separate, releasing toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and heavy, sticky bitumen material. And in Lake Michigan, who knows how long it would take to actually clean up these pollutants. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates that it takes an average of 99 years to rid of pollutants in Lake Michigan.

Now let’s dig a little deeper into Enbridge’s depressing track record. According to NWF, “Enbridge’s pipelines had more than 800 spills in the U.S. and Canada between 1999 and 2010, leaking 6.8 million gallons of oil.” So with the combination of strong currents along the Straits, Enbridge’s inexcusable track record, its weak emergency response, and a strong likelihood of mechanical pipeline failure in this fragile ecosystem, we must ask ourselves: is this a risk we as citizens, inheritors, and future protectors of the Great Lakes are willing to accept?

This Enbridge pipeline expansion is a perfect example of why we have the public trust in our navigable waters—an ancient legal doctrine dating back to the Roman times—designed to protect our common shared resources like the Great Lakes. The public trust empowers us as a democratic and thoughtful people to question the impacts of proposed actions like Enbridge’s and determine whether they will impair, pollute or irreparably harm our water resources, and jeopardize protected water uses like fishing, swimming, and navigation.

This proposed action is a clear violation of the public trust as the pipeline threatens to destroy the Great Lakes’ common waters, which support the region’s $62 billion economy with 1.5 million jobs, drinking water for 40 million citizens, as well as our very social fabric, quality of life and enjoyment, and shared ecosystem with wildlife. The unprecedented scale of such an ecological and economic disaster also would undermine the $1 billion already invested in the U.S. government’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. This is why the public trust and its protection of the commons is more important than ever.

What this debate really boils down to is a much-needed larger national conversation about our country’s future energy policy. Not only does President Obama need to have the Keystone XL pipeline on his radar, but all pipeline expansions like this project, in assessing the impacts of climate change. It’s time that our nation makes good energy choices that respect the Great Lakes as a shared common resource protected by the public trust. We need to put the safety of our water and our future generations before our overzealous energy development. If we do this, we can chart a future with clean and abundant water, food, energy and a prosperous economy.

Looking for something concrete to do about this pressing pipeline issue? Come join FLOW, TC350, 350.org, National Wildlife Federation, Michigan Land Use Institute, Food & Water Watch, and many other organizations and attend the Oil and Water Don’t Mix: A Rally for the Great Lakes on July 14th at the St. Ignace Bridge View Park, just north of the Mackinac Bridge. The purpose of the rally is to bring attention to the dangers of this pipeline and its expansion, and to organize a response to these risks. We want to pressure our leaders to put safety measures in place to prevent a devastating oil spill in the heart of the Great Lakes. Click here to sign up and RSVP via this Facebook event.

oil and water dont mix photo

Take it from a Fifth Grader: Shut Down Line 5 Now

The Line 5 pipelines at the Straits of Mackinac—which Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has called on Enbridge to shut down by May 12—pose a multigenerational threat to citizens of the Great Lakes.

Take it from Sage, an 11-year-old from Oxford, Michigan, who chose to do her 5th grade final project on Line 5.

“My love for the Great Lakes,” Sage opens her essay.

I was swimming in the crystal clear blue waters of the Great Lakes. Splashing in the refreshing water in my swimsuit and new goggles. It was a sunny day and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.  The golden sand on the beach shimmered when the sunlight hit it.  I could see tiny little fish swimming around me.  It felt like I was in a tropical paradise. I plunged into the water feeling refreshed and relaxed. As the big waves came towards my sister and I. We jumped into them feeling the coolness of the water. We swam out towards the big rock. When we got there, we saw Mom, Dad, Nana and Papa waving to us. We waved back as we stood on top of the rock. We cannonballed into the water, plunging in like someone putting ice cubes into a drink. Now imagine dark oily, dirty water with dead fish floating at the top. This could happen if Line 5 is not shut down. Enbridge Line 5 needs to be shut down.”

Read the rest of Sage’s project below:

What Is Enbridge Line 5?

Enbridge Line 5 is an oil pipeline owned by the Canadian company Enbridge Energy Inc.  The Line 5 runs underneath the Straits of Mackinac.  It was built in 1953 and was only meant to last 50 years. Even though the pipeline is 68 years old today, and not in  good condition, it still exists. Every day, Line 5 transports 22.68 million gallons of oil.  The pipeline is 645 miles long. It transports oil to Sarina, Canada.  So that means that the oil pipeline is not even benefiting Michigan, in any way shape or form.  Line 5 should be shut down because according to Oil And Water Don’t Mix: Every day, nearly 23 million gallons of oil flow through two aging pipelines in the heart of the Great Lakes,  just west of the Mackinac Bridge. Constructed during the Eisenhower administration in 1953, the two 20-inch-in-diameter Line 5 pipelines owned by Canadian company Enbridge, Inc., lie exposed in the water at the bottom when they cross the Straits of Mackinac” (Oil And Water Don’t Mix) This is just unsafe. This is a recipe for a disaster.

Six decades of metal being underwater has to cause some damage.  It is covered in algae and other sea life. It is rusty. Since Enbridge Line 5 is so old it has had to have many repairs. Just like an old person, things age and  require more maintenance.  As people get older, they need more procedures, surgeries, and medicine.  Enbridge line 5 is the end of its life.  For example, in the article, (Oil And Water Don’t Mix) Enbridge installed several support structures under the pipelines in 2006 and again in 2010 and 2018, following the company’s oil spill into the Kalamazoo River.

Now, hundreds of supports elevate 3-miles of the pipeline off the lakebed into the turbulent current. This design was never approved and makes the pipeline unsafe. In other words the pipeline is very old and could rupture at any moment. Even though Enbridge has added updates to Line 5, the pipeline is still unsafe. What are they going to do with Line 5? Because of Enbridge’s past, there is a lack of trust in them. On July 26, 2010 there was a giant oil spill operated by Enbridge. 

According to Wikipedia: “The Kalamazoo River oil spill occurred in July 2010 when a pipeline operated by Enbridge burst and flowed into Talmadge Creek, a tributary of the Kalamazoo River. A 6-foot break in the pipeline resulted in one of the largest inland oil spills in U.S. history”When the Kalamazoo oil spill occurred almost 1,000,000 gallons of light crude oil was spilled. Because of that, the future of The Great Lakes right now should not be in the hands of Enbridge. As the Line 5 Pipeline ages, it increases the risk of an oil spill in The Great Lakes. If the Pipeline were to rupture in The Great Lakes, then it would cost more than $1.9 BILLION DOLLARS AT LEAST to clean it up! That is a lot of money.

Here is something to help you imagine $1.9 billion dollars better. According to: Research Maniacs If you had $1.9 billion, you could buy 63,333 cars at $30,000/each or 9,500 houses at $200,000/each. If you were to travel 1.9 billion miles, you could fly around the world 76,302 times, or take a round trip to the moon 3,977 times.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan [has given] Enbridge 180 days to shut-down the Line 5 Pipeline PERMANENTLY. But Enbridge will not shut-down the Line 5 Pipeline without a fight. So until then, The Great Lakes will be at stake.

What Can Go Wrong With Line 5? And What Would Happen To The Surrounding Areas?

Not only is Enbridge Line 5 unsafe, but it also threatens many ecosystems and the Great State of Michigan. According to the Sierra Club: “The  Enbridge company is playing with fire.” and I agree. The longer the pipeline stays, the longer we risk damaging The Great Lakes and other ecosystems. The Great Lakes ecosystems include a large variety of habitats  and more than 3,500 different species of animals and plants. If the Line 5 pipeline were to rupture then, it would negatively impact people, the environment and animals. Here is an example: All living things need water to survive. So if oil were to spill in the water we drink we would die. Not just people would die, but animals would die too.

Here is another example: Let’s say that we had another source of water. We would be fine for now, but all of the fish and animals would die. So then we would run out of food. If we dont start taking action, then the examples that I talked about could become the reality. The Enbridge Line 5 Pipeline is unnatural and unsafe.If Line 5 where to rupture then we would be DOOMED. First things first, we would lose 20% of the world’s fresh surface water. Second of all, everything in The Great Lakes would be dead! The fish, the and all of the ecosystems. A lot of bears and deer and a bunch of other animals would die too. That would happen because if they were to drink water from The Great Lakes after an oil spill. Then they would die because the water would be toxic. If Line 5 were to rupture, then the oil would spread through the whole Great Lakes. That would happen because all of The Great Lakes are connected and have strong currents. Lake Huron, Lake Michigan, Lake Superior, Lake Erie and Lake Ontario would all be flooded in oil if Line 5 were to rupture. Michigan would lose all tourism as no one would go to Mackinac Island, Traverse City (The Cherry Capital Of The World), and other popular lakefront destinations. The economic impact would be felt for decades and recovering the state would cost billions of dollars. Michigan’s slogan “Pure Michigan”, would turn into “Crude Michigan”. That slogan does not have as good a ring as “Pure Michigan”. All outdoor activities such as fishing, camping, hunting and lots of others would disappear forever.  Imagine oily, dirty water. With dead fish floating at the top and black greasy beaches with brown foam floating at the top of the water. Birds that are covered in oil drying skin and feathers being polluted.

This could become Michigan’s reality if we don’t take action and shut-down Line 5 today.