Tag: Enbridge

Oil & Water Don’t Mix with the Public Trust in the Great Lakes

Jim Olson is FLOW’s Founder, President, and Legal Advisor

By Jim Olson

In the end, their legal duty under public trust law, and the clear and present danger from the anchor strikes and currents of the 67-year-old dual oil pipelines, left only one choice for Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and her Department of Natural Resources Director Daniel Eichinger: Revoke and terminate the easement allowing Line 5 to occupy the Straits of Mackinac, as they did on November 13 in a strong and necessary action. 

The Governor and other top state officials have a duty as trustees under the Public Trust Doctrine to prevent unacceptable harm to the Great Lakes and the public’s right to use them. This duty lasts forever. By the very nature of its easement to use public trust bottomlands and waters in the Straits, Line 5-owner Enbridge accepted the easement subject to the state’s paramount perpetual duty to prevent injury to the public trust in the Great Lakes. The dual pipelines and conditions in 2020 surrounding it are not the same as the original understanding of engineers and State officials back in 1953, when Line 5 was installed in the open waters of the Straits connecting Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. Under public trust law, the Governor and state officials’ hands are not tied by what state officials understood and did 67 years ago.

Public trust law and circumstances would condemn any state leader, elected or appointed, for gross negligence and reckless breach of their trust duty if he or she failed to take action. When Michigan joined the Union in 1837, it took title to all navigable waters, including the bottomlands and waters of the Great Lakes. It took the title subject to an irrepealable public trust duty to prevent alienation of this title for private purposes and to prevent impairment of these trust lands and waters from impairment in perpetuity—meaning for present and future generations.

Attorney General Dana Nessel and her experienced and seasoned staff have been steadfast in enforcing the binding rule of public trust law that protects the Great Lakes and the public’s trust interests as legal beneficiaries. No matter what Enbridge argues, the Canadian company took the easement to use the bottomlands and waters of the Straits of Mackinac subject to the Public Trust Doctrine, recognized by the courts of every state and the United States Supreme Court, including in the landmark 1892 Illinois Central Railroad case

That decision revoked a grant of the bottomlands of Lake Michigan for a private industrial complex on Chicago’s waterfront because it violated the public trust law that protects the Great Lakes. Grants of easements or the right to use public trust lands and waters have always been, and always will be, subject to the inherent legal condition that it can be revoked when the risk or danger of devastating harm passes the threshold of a risk of impairment; that is, what would be an unacceptable set of conditions and danger to a reasonable, sensible person. 

Line 5 passed that threshold many years ago. 

To reach that conclusion, Michigan’s leaders dug into the facts, data, and studies finally disclosed by Enbridge after demands from the DNR, the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE), and the Attorney General’s office, and the order entered by the Circuit Court for Ingham County last summer. The reality is that strong currents, anchor and cable strikes, storms, continued scouring of bottomlands under the pipes, the suspension of more than 3 miles of pipeline on 228 anchor posts screwed into the bottomlands as “repairs”—when, in fact, there has been an overall, massive design change in the structure—have put the dual pipes in the Straits on the brink. This danger is compounded by the fact that these newly discovered and uncontrollable conditions, events, and grave dangers have never been evaluated or authorized under the State’s public trust laws by any governmental agency.

Enbridge has enjoyed a nearly free ride, reaping several hundred million dollars a year in revenues from Line 5 the past two decades; the dual lines, in fact all of Line 5, are well past the safe and reasonable life of a pipeline built 67 years ago. The company now has 6 months to make the transition to a permanent shutdown of Line 5, and there will be little if any negative effect on gasoline prices and energy supplies, according to extensive research, as well as recent experience, when damage to Line 5 in the Straits caused it to be fully and then partially closed for several weeks this past summer. Meanwhile, the positive effect will be that all can rest more peacefully knowing that a bright line is drawn and the time is coming for Enbridge to adjust its massive North American pipeline network to meet any needs not filled by competing pipeline companies for crude oil at regional refineries. 

There will be plenty of jobs tied to the proper decommissioning of the lines, and more jobs in adjusting the existing capacity of Enbridge’s overall pipeline system in Michigan, like the extra 400,000 barrels of oil per day of design capacity in Line 78 that replaced Enbridge’s smaller Line 6B that ruptured in 2010 and devastated the Kalamazoo River. And clean energy will provide many more Michigan jobs than Enrbidge ever has, without risking the Great Lakes.  

A risk and economic study commissioned by FLOW and conducted by a Michigan State University ecological economist estimated that the damages from a spill or leak from the dual pipes in the Straits would exceed $6 billion. Although the concerns about propane supplies for customers in rural areas of the Upper Peninsula are important, the U.P. Energy Task Force propane report and other independent reports show that new competition and infrastructure adjustments for propane service in the U.P. should be encouraged and can be in place by May of 2021. Moreover, the reality right now is that the need for crude oil is rapidly declining because of the United States’ and the world’s shift to renewable energy to diminish the deadly, crippling, and unaffordable and irreparable damage from climate change.

This is not 1953, when Line 5 was built and color TV was a brand new innovation in the United States. This is not 2003 either, when Line 5 reached the end of its intended lifespan and Enbridge started adding screw anchors in an attempt to “repair” a failing design because of unanticipated strong currents in the Straits of Mackinac—well documented by data and science. This is 2020, a far different world, facing a climate crisis and global freshwater scarcity. It’s a world in which our leaders are elected to make hard decisions to protect their citizens, as any trustee has a fiduciary duty to do regardless of politics or popularity. The Great Lakes, and the protected public trust rights therein to drink, fish, boat, bathe, and otherwise benefit from these public waters, are paramount. 

Under public trust law, Michigan’s Governor, Attorney General, and DNR Director have put the public interest and good of all above the self-interests of a private corporation that will continue to survive only if it accepts that it is doing business in 2020, not 1953. Indeed, it’s time for all of us to accept and conform to this realization.

Fact Check: When Line 5 Shuts Down, Detroit Jets Will Still Fly and Union Refinery Jobs Will Still Exist

Photo credit: Kathryn DePauw

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By FLOW Staff

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the State of Michigan have taken legal action to shut down Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac by next May to prevent a catastrophic oil spill in the Great Lakes from the 67-year-old pipeline. Meanwhile, Line 5-owner Enbridge and its allies continue to engage in a Chicken Little “sky is falling” campaign, with the Canadian company claiming in recent days that, “shutting down Line 5 would cause shortages of crude oil for refineries in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and eastern Canada, as well as propane shortages in northern Michigan. It also would boost shipments of oil by rail or trucks, Enbridge said, without providing any evidence.

Enbridge’s drumbeat of fear has been building for a few years, for example, with a full-page advertisement in 2019 in the Traverse City Record-Eagle, alleging that “Shutting down Line 5, even temporarily, would mean lost union jobs, refinery closures, gas price spikes and greater harm to the regional economy every year.”

In fact, none of those predictions materialized when both legs of the dual Line 5 pipelines in the Straits were shut down for more than a week last June and one leg remained closed until about mid-September following damage that the U.S. Coast Guard said likely was caused by an Enbridge-contracted vessel. Research conducted during the partial shutdown by former Dow Chemical engineer Gary Street found that in August after more than 50 days with at least one leg of Line 5 closed, gasoline prices and supply were unaffected in Michigan and Canada.

The research results are consistent with these studies forecasting little if any change in energy costs after Line 5 shuts down for good:

Upon the shutdown of Line 5, available capacity and flexibility to meet energy demand in the Great Lakes region already exists in the North American energy pipeline system operated by Enbridge and its competitors.

  • Available capacity and flexibility to meet energy demand in the Great Lakes region already exists in the North American energy pipeline system operated by Enbridge and its competitors without threatening our public waters and Pure Michigan economy, according to FLOW’s experts.
  • A Line 5 shutdown could increase the cost of gasoline in metro Detroit by only about 2 cents a gallon, according to a 2017 study commissioned by the former Snyder administration.
  • Shutting down Line 5 would add just five cents to the cost of a gallon of propane, which has hovered around $2 for the past year, according to a 2018 study by London Economics International LLC, a Boston-based consultancy, and commissioned by the National Wildlife Federation.
  • The Upper Peninsula has viable options to Line 5 for its propane supply and economy, according to FLOW’s research.
  • Oil & Water Don’t Mix has a great animated video showing how the Upper Peninsula does not need Line 5’s propane.

Another claim regarding the impact of a Line 5 shutdown emerged last year from management of the PBF refinery in Toledo, Ohio. Likely at Enbridge’s behest, PBF warned of a refinery shutdown and loss of a thousand jobs if the supply provided by Line 5 is no longer available. The Toledo refinery, PBF suggested, has no other source of petroleum.

This assertion immediately raised the question: What kind of refinery management would leave itself vulnerable by receiving crude from only one source? It also directly contradicts statements PBF says in its own investor filings, as well as reports from market analysts. They emphasize the PBF refinery has several sources of supply and can adjust them depending on market conditions.

“The [PBF] refinery only processes light/medium and sweet crude and gets most of its WTI crude through pipeline from Canada, the mid-Continent, the Bakken region and the U.S. Gulf Coast,” an analyst says.  Another credits PBF with using “its complex crude processing capacity to source the lowest cost input.” PBF says in its 2016 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that crude is delivered to its facility through three primary pipelines, Line 5 from the north, Capline from the south, and Mid-Valley from the south. Crude is also delivered to a nearby terminal by rail and from local sources by a truck to truck unloading facility in the refinery property.

The fact is that multiple alternative pipelines, rail, and truck sources are and will be available to enable PBF to continue refining petroleum as it is today. No evidence points to job loss in Toledo from a Line 5 shutdown. And PBF itself said in a September 2017 news story challenging EPA regulations because of alleged job losses that the Toledo refinery employed 550, not 1,000 workers.

After Line 5 is shut down, the small percentage of its light crude coming to the U.S. could be supplied by other sources currently serving the region, including the Capline and Mid-Valley pipelines, along with crude from Northern Michigan oil wells.

Fanning employee and community fears with inflated claims is the latest in a series of tactics deployed by Enbridge and its allies to pressure Michigan officials into letting the company continue to occupy the Straits of Mackinac with its antiquated Line 5 pipeline, and later, a proposed oil pipeline tunnel under the lakebed.

PBF also claims that a feared Toledo refinery shutdown, which research cited above dispels, would seriously impinge on the supply of jet fuel at Detroit Metropolitan Airport, driving up fares or reducing flights, or both. The claim is that 40% of the jet fuel used at the airport comes from refined Line 5 petroleum. But PBF and the Marathon Detroit refineries appear to supply only about 9% of the jet fuel used at the airport each day, and again alternative pipeline sources can more than make that up.

It is worth noting that prior to PBF’s claims made in 2019, the impacts of a Line 5 shutdown on Metro Airport jet fuel had never before been raised as an issue in the Line 5 debate. Now Canadian officials are singing the same tune to bring political pressure on the Whitmer administration, claiming this week that Line 5 “is the single largest supply for gasoline, ultimately, in southern Ontario; for aviation fuel out of the Detroit airport; for heating fuel in northern Michigan; for the refineries in northern Ohio that fuel much of the Midwest U.S. economy.”

For its part, Enbridge has a track record of misleading the public and governments about its performance, including failure for 3 years to report bare spots in the protecting coating on Line 5 in the Straits, violating for several years the safety conditions of its easement agreement to occupy the public waters and bottomlands of the Straits, and running a dubious advertising campaign claiming to protect Michigan’s water. Enbridge’s and allies’ recent claims are consistent with the company’s apparent philosophy of avoiding transparency and saying anything to keep Line 5 petroleum and profits flowing.

Key Facts, in a Nutshell

Jobs, let’s talk jobs! 

Continuing to operate the decaying Line 5 risks jobs. Many jobs. Shutting down Line 5 will protect hundreds of thousands of jobs in Michigan’s tourism economy. According to a FLOW-commissioned report in May 2018 conducted by an Michigan State University ecological economist, direct spending by tourists supports approximately 221,420 jobs, and the total tourism economy in 2016, including direct, indirect and induced impacts, supported 337,490 jobs—approximately 6.1% of total employment in Michigan.

Toledo PBF Refinery 

  • Enbridge’s and fossil-fuel industry allies have a track record of false and unsubstantiated claims and a lack of transparency.
  • The numbers are inflated:
    • Enbridge and refineries and some politicians are misleading the public. They falsely claim that the two Toledo refineries and one Detroit refinery, and by extension the jobs there, are fully and wholly dependent on Line 5, including a large number of jobs at these refineries. The refineries supposedly affected are: Marathon-Detroit; BP-Husky-Toledo — which carries no Line 5 feedstock because it’s a tar sands refinery that takes feedstock from Line 78 (formerly Line 6B), and PBF-Toledo. PBF states in its 2018 annual report for stockholders that it “processes a slate of light crude oils from Canada, the Mid-continent and the U.S. Gulf Coast.”
    • The refineries rely on multiple pipelines and suppliers, and they say so in writing.
    • Marathon refinery primarily uses dilbit, which Line 5 doesn’t currently carry.

Detroit Metropolitan Airport

  • In a letter to Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine claimed, “our refineries supply the majority of aviation fuels to Detroit Metro Airport” and asserted shutdown of Line 5 would lead to airline schedule disruptions.
  • But 2020 jet fuel consumption at Detroit Metro will total 1,658,000 gallons per day, according to a 2010 estimate by the airport. Based on numbers published by PBF, BP Husky and Marathon Refineries, Line 5 appears to supply only about 10% of the jet fuel at Detroit Metro Airport, not 40% as claimed by Ohio Gov. DeWine. Both Marathon and PBF have other crude oil sources, and therefore other pipelines could provide feedstock to satisfy regional jet fuel needs. Alternatively, other nearby refineries in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio could make up this shortfall.

Bottom line: Shutting down Line 5 will protect hundreds of thousands of jobs. A Line 5 shutdown would not significantly impact jobs at Toledo refineries. There is absolutely no evidence that a shutdown would impair operations at Detroit Metro Airport.

Sources:

FLOW Praises Gov. Whitmer for Upholding Public Trust Law on Line 5 by Revoking and Terminating Easement

paddleboarders protesting

Today’s announcement by Governor Whitmer and Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Director Eichinger that the State of Michigan, under the public trust doctrine, is revoking and terminating the 1953 easement allowing Enbridge to operate dual pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac—due to repeated violations of the easement—represents a clear victory for the Great Lakes and the citizens and tribes of Michigan, said FLOW executive director Liz Kirkwood today.

“As public trustees of our waters, the State of Michigan is affirmatively upholding the rule of law and protecting the public’s treasured Great Lakes from the clear and present danger of an oil spill catastrophe from Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline.”

“This is an historic day of state leadership by the Whitmer administration brought about by many years of dedicated action by environmental groups, Indian tribes, communities, businesses, faith communities, families, and individuals. People of diverse backgrounds have come together to work tirelessly on a common purpose—protecting the Great Lakes, drinking water, fishing rights, the economy, coastal communities, and a way of life from the most dangerous oil pipeline in America.

“While this is a moment to celebrate, we must remain vigilant until the oil stops flowing for good in May 2021 because Line 5 remains exposed to uncontrollable and powerful forces, including exceptionally strong currents, lakebed scouring, new anchor and cable strikes, and corrosion. These forces dramatically increase the risk of this elevated, outdated pipeline collapsing and causing the unthinkable: a catastrophic oil spill in the heart of the Great Lakes.”

Since 2013, FLOW has filed extensive legal and technical reports with the State of Michigan, including most recently in November 2019, citing extensive evidence of Enbridge operating Line 5 illegally and risking the public’s water. For more information, see FLOW’s original news archive.

To view the State of Michigan documents relating to today’s announcement, click the links below:

Line 5 Oil Tunnel in the Great Lakes: Is the Die Cast for the Next 99 Years?

Photo: Jim Olson, FLOW’s Founder and Legal Advisor, makes arguments in a Sept. 30, 2020, court hearing conducted online. The hearing considered motions made by Enbridge regarding the proper scope of the Michigan Public Service Commission’s review of the proposed Line 5 oil tunnel.

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By Jim Olson

There was good news and bad news in a state administrative law judge’s October 23 ruling that addressed legal arguments over what the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) can and cannot evaluate when deciding whether to permit the siting of Enbridge’s proposed oil pipeline tunnel project under the Straits of Mackinac, where Lake Michigan meets Lake Huron. 

First, the good news: Judge Dennis Mack rejected Enbridge’s attempt to escape accountability by restricting the MPSC’s review to the impacts associated with the mere installation of a new Line 5 oil pipeline into the tunnel after it is built. The MPSC must consider the impacts from construction to nearby surface waters, wetlands, and the overall safety of the location and construction of both the pipeline and the tunnel that would house it.

Now, the bad news: The judge granted the Canadian energy pipeline giant’s bid to exclude evidence from the MPSC’s review that the oil pipeline tunnel would worsen the climate crisis and cause other environmental harm. The judge also excluded from the MPSC’s consideration of the public necessity to transport up to 8 billion gallons of oil a year for 99 more years in an era of falling demand for crude oil and an economy rapidly shifting to renewable energy. 

Absent a successful appeal by FLOW or other intervening parties in the case to the three-member MPSC to overturn the ruling, as Julius Caesar said when he crossed the Rubicon, Alea iacta est—the die is cast.

Clockwise from top-left: Dennis Mack (Administrative Law Judge); Spencer Sattler representing MPSC staff; Assistant Attorney General Robert Reichel representing the Michigan Department of the Attorney General; Chris Bzdok, representing Michigan Environmental Council, Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians; Christopher Clark representing Bay Mills Indian Community; Margrethe Kearney, ELPC attorney representing the Environmental Law & Policy Center and Michigan Climate Action Network.

September Court-Zoom Drama

Judge Mack’s ruling on the scope of evidence the MPSC can consider followed sharply divided legal arguments on September 23 in a Zoom call from lawyers for Enbridge, the Michigan Public Service Commission, the Michigan Department of Attorney General, Native American tribes, FLOW, and several other public interest organizations. The judge heard a wide range of legal arguments over the scope of the MPSC’s review of impacts, necessity, and alternatives to Enbridge’s proposed utility tunnel and tunnel pipeline. The tunnel would extend the life of Line 5 and facilitate the transport of as much in total as 800 billion gallons of crude oil through Michigan and under the bottomlands and waters of the Straits of Mackinac for almost another century. Nothing less than the authority of the MPSC to protect the people of Michigan, the environment, the climate, and the future public interest of the citizens of Michigan is at stake, according to arguments made orally and also filed by FLOW and others.

Lawyers for Enbridge, in court and in their filing, pushed to strip the MPSC of its authority to review anything but a simple replacement of old plumbing with new plumbing for Line 5 in the Straits. In short, Enbridge argued that the MPSC could not evaluate any impacts from the massive tunnel, the need for the tunnel in a rapidly declining market for crude oil, or the billions of dollars in damage and cost from rising Great Lakes water levels, flooding, and collapsing of infrastructure in Michigan tied directly to the burning of fossil fuels and climate change. Rather, lawyers for Enbridge argued the MPSC could look at only the physical impacts of removing old dual pipelines and replacing them with a new pipeline put in a new tunnel in the bedrock and mixture of rock and soil under the lakebed.

In contrast, the lawyers for intervening parties in the case—including on behalf of Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, Bay Mills Indian Community, Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, FLOW, Environmental Law and Policy Center, Michigan Climate Action Network, Michigan Environmental Council, National Wildlife Federation, Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council—argued for a broader scope of review concomitant with the magnitude of the proposed 99-year $500 million+ tunnel and new pipeline. They argued that the tunnel and pipeline are inseparable, and that it is a single project that would commit the state of Michigan to the environmental and public health impacts of the transport of up to 8 billion barrels of crude oil a year, carried from Canada under the Straits of Mackinac and back into Canada to Sarnia’s Chemical Valley cluster of refineries and chemical plants.

Public Need, Public Interest, Public Trust, and a Private Tunnel

Lawyers challenging Enbridge pointed out that Act 16, the law that defines the MPSC’s scope of review, imposes three standards and findings before a utility project like this can be legally approved: (1) the demonstration of need to realize a true public need; (2) safety and consistency with the public interest; and (3) the project is a reasonable alternative. Lawyers for FLOW and the other groups and tribes also pointed out that the MPSC has a duty under the Michigan Environmental Protection Act (MEPA) to prevent and minimize likely impairment to the air, water, and natural resources, and the public trust in those resources, and to find there is no feasible and prudent alternative to the project. 

The question of a public need for the project faces the reality of rapidly falling demand for oil and a sea change in investment toward renewable energy and a conservation economy. There are alternatives to continuing to risk the Great Lakes and our water-based economy, including the obvious use of excess capacity in Enbridge’s greatly expanded oil pipeline across southern Michigan to Sarnia that replaced the corporation’s aged line that ruptured and caused the devastating 2010 Kalamazoo River oil spill disaster. Lawyers for the tribes made clear that the environmental impacts of the proposed oil tunnel pose serious threats to tribal fishing and sovereignty over their treaty waters. Feasible and prudent alternatives clearly exist that are more consistent with the public interest of the citizens of Michigan, and the Michigan Supreme Court has made it abundantly clear that the state has a duty to comprehensively consider the likely effects and range of alternatives in deciding the necessity of a project like the century-spanning tunnel and pipeline. [Highway Comm’n v Vanderkloot, 392 Mich 159 (1974)]

The public interest in this proceeding includes our environment, protected by the MEPA, but it is also defined by what the public trust in the air, water, and environment of our Great Lakes—an ancient, irrevocable legal principle that protects the overarching rights of the public to enjoy the Great Lakes for navigation, fishing, drinking water, sustenance, boating, and swimming. [Obrecht v National Gypsum Co., 361 Mich 399 (1960); Illinois Central R Rd v Illinois, 146 U.S. 387 (1892)] This public trust imposes an affirmative and perpetual duty on governmental agencies, like the MPSC, to protect these legal-beneficiary rights of citizens.

Enbridge’s Narrow View of Public Oversight

Enbridge tried unsuccessfully to avoid or narrow the MPSC’s review of the crude oil tunnel project last April, when it asked the MPSC to rule that the tunnel proposed today was covered by its ruling existing 67 years ago on the existing Line 5 pipelines in the Straits. Agreeing with FLOW and others, the MPSC rejected the attempt, and issued an order on June 30, as FLOW chronicled, that concluded, “the Commission finds that the Enbridge’s Line 5 Project involves significant factual and policy questions and complex legal determinations that can only be resolved with the benefit of discovery, comprehensive testimony and evidence, and a well-developed record.” [MPSC Order, June 30, 2020, Case No. U-20763]

The October 23 ruling by Administrative Law Judge Mack rejected Enbridge’s argument that the authority of the MPSC was restricted to replacing the old dual lines with a new single line in a tunnel. The judge ruled definitively, as argued by the organizations and tribes, that the tunnel is inseparable from the pipeline, and the impacts and operation of both must be considered. On the other hand, the judge interpreted more narrowly the MPSC’s June 30 order that signaled a desire for a “well-developed record” on all of the complex issues involved in the oil pipeline tunnel project. The judge’s decision rejected arguments by the Attorney General, organizations, and tribes that the MPSC must undertake a comprehensive evaluation of the need, safety, impacts, and alternatives, including the inherent commitment by the state to permit the transport of nearly a trillion gallons of oil over the next 99 years, the lack of need for this oil, and the devastating effects of climate change.

Context is King: Construction Project or Climate Change Nightmare?

All of the parties in the case will be evaluating the effect of the judge’s decision to allow consideration of the impacts of the tunnel and pipeline construction, but exclude consideration of overall necessity, impacts, and alternatives of the century-spanning tunnel and pipeline project. Any party has a right to request a full review and decision by the three members of the MPSC itself. The parties, conversely, could choose to proceed in a hearing set for February 12, 2021, with testimony and evidence limited by the judge to just the impacts of building the tunnel and moving the pipeline. If the latter course is taken, then indeed Michigan will have crossed the Rubicon on the climate crisis and protecting the Great Lakes and ourselves from the worst of it.

FLOW & Straits-Area Citizens Groups Call on State of Michigan to Deny Permits for ‘Line 5’ Oil Pipeline Tunnel in Straits of Mackinac

Citing inadequate legal authorization, an incomplete application, and lack of a comprehensive state review, FLOW and two Straits-area citizen groups called today in formal comments on the State of Michigan to deny pending permits sought by Enbridge to construct and operate a roughly four mile-long tunnel under the Great Lakes. 

The Canadian corporation’s giant tunnel, at roughly 20-feet in diameter, would house a new Line 5 pipeline to continue for another 99 years carrying up to 23 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids a day through the public trust bottomlands of the Straits of Mackinac, where Lake Michigan connects to Lake Huron.

The comments by FLOW, the Straits of Mackinac Alliance (SMA), and the Straits Area Concerned Citizens for Peace, Justice, and the Environment (SACCPJE) came at today’s deadline in legal and technical comments directed to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) and Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The groups’ comments identify critical deficiencies in the project’s construction permit application filed in April, its legal authorization, and the review by state environmental agencies of expected impacts to wetlands, bottomlands, and surface water, including from the daily discharge of millions of gallons of wastewater during construction.

“Enbridge’s attempted private takeover of the public’s bottomlands under the Straits of Mackinac for the tunnel project is not authorized by the state, not good for the climate or Gov. Whitmer’s goals, not good for public health, safety, and welfare, and not consistent with public need as the nation and world turn to clean energy for survival,” said Liz Kirkwood, executive director of FLOW, a Great Lakes law and policy center based in Traverse City. 

“We share the public’s deep concerns about the Canadian pipeline company’s tunnel proposal and its lack of necessity, and risks it would pose to the Great Lakes, drinking water, the fishery in the Straits, Tribal rights, the Pure Michigan economy, the climate, and a way of life,” said Kirkwood. “The biggest consequence right now of this proposed project is that it distracts the government from its duty to shut down the current Line 5 oil pipelines that pose a clear-and-present danger to the Great Lakes.”

To date, more than 2,600 members of the public—including individuals, families, business owners, community leaders, organizational leaders, and others—have filed comments with EGLE urging the agency to reject Enbridge’s proposed tunnel permits. Many groups, including FLOW and Oil & Water Don’t Mix, have articulated scientific and legal deep concerns about the Canadian pipeline company’s tunnel proposal and its lack of necessity, and risks to the Great Lakes, drinking water, the fishery in the Straits, Tribal rights, the Pure Michigan economy, the climate, and a way of life.

The comments Enbridge’s proposed oil pipeline tunnel submitted today by FLOW, SMA, and SACCPJE determined that EGLE:

  1. Cannot properly proceed on administering the Enbridge permit applications unless and until the December 2018 easement and tunnel lease have been authorized under the Public Trust Doctrine (PTD) and Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act (GLSLA);  
  2. Must undertake an analysis of the lifetime greenhouse gas emissions attributable to the proposed tunnel, particularly in light of Governor Whitmer’s Executive Directive 2020-10 setting a goal of economy-wide carbon neutrality by 2050. Extending the life of Line 5 for the next 99 years with  the tunnel project is fundamentally at odds with the reduction of greenhouse gases necessary to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change.
  3. Is required to measure the benefits of the proposed tunnel against its reasonably foreseeable detriments, under Part 303 of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act (NREPA), which includes determining the:
    1. Public and private need for the project; and 
    2. Availability of feasible and prudent alternative locations and methods to accomplish the expected benefits from the activity; and
  4. Is required to comprehensively and independently consider and determine whether the tunnel project is consistent with protection of Michigan’s natural resources under the Michigan Environmental Protection Act (MEPA). The state must determine whether extending the life of an oil pipeline that will emit approximately tens of  million tons of greenhouse gases annually for the next 99 years, under the state NREPA, “is consistent with the promotion of the public health, safety and welfare in light of the state’s paramount concern for the protection of its natural resources from pollution, impairment or destruction.”

EGLE expects to issue its final decision on the oil pipeline tunnel permits and for wastewater impacts in late November and impacts to wetlands and submerged lands in early December. While Enbridge takes an estimated 5-10 years to study, seek permits, and build an oil tunnel, the 67-year-old Line 5 oil pipelines in the Straits would continue to decay and endanger the Great Lakes, jobs, and the drinking water supply for half of Michiganders. 

“The unique characteristics of the Straits of Mackinac make the area incredibly susceptible to disruption and destruction if EGLE approves the permits for Enbridge’s proposed tunnel,” said Patty Peek, Chair of the Straits of Mackinac Alliance. “The surrounding wetlands, shorebirds, waterfowl, and aquatic species will be in jeopardy from the millions of gallons of wastewater to be discharged daily into the surface waters of the Great Lakes. Local drinking water wells may be polluted and/or drilling operations may imperil the aquifer. Missing information and a lack of specificity on applications cannot be acceptable. The risk to our precious waters is too great to allow this tunnel project to move forward.”

For more information, see:

Comment by Oct. 19 on Permits for Risky Line 5 Oil Tunnel

enbridges-line-5-under-the-straits-of-mackinac

On Monday, October 19, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) will conclude its public comment period on pending state permits for the expected wetland and wastewater impacts, and alternatives to constructing and operating Enbridge’s proposed, roughly four mile-long oil tunnel under the Great Lakes. The proposed tunnel, at roughly 20-feet in diameter, would house a new Line 5 pipeline to continue for another 99 years carrying up to 23 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids a day through the public trust bottomlands of the Straits of Mackinac, where Lake Michigan meets Lake Huron.

It’s important for the members of the public—including individuals, families, business owners, community leaders, and others—to submit comments. Many people and groups, including FLOW and Oil & Water Don’t Mix, already have expressed deep concerns about the Canadian pipeline company’s tunnel proposal and its lack of necessity, and risks to the Great Lakes, drinking water, the fishery in the Straits, Tribal rights, the Pure Michigan economy, the climate, and a way of life. 

Below is guidance from FLOW on what to include in your written comments and how to submit them online by Monday’s deadline. EGLE expects to issue its final decision on the oil tunnel permits and for wastewater impacts in late November and impacts to wetlands and submerged lands in early December.

Points to Make in Public Comments by Oct. 19

FLOW is providing this content for you to draw from and supplement with your own information and perspective in your comment to EGLE on the proposed Line 5 tunnel permits:

  • Not authorized by the state — EGLE cannot properly proceed on administering the Enbridge permit applications unless and until the December 2018 Easement and tunnel lease have been authorized under sections 2 and 3 of the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act and the Public Trust Doctrine.
  • Not good for the climate or Gov. Whitmer’s goals  — EGLE must take into account the lifetime greenhouse gas emissions attributable to the proposed petroleum tunnel, particularly in light of Governor Whitmer’s Executive Directive 2020-10 setting a goal of economy-wide carbon neutrality by 2050. Extending the life of Line 5 for the next 99 years with  the tunnel project is fundamentally at odds with the reduction of greenhouse gases necessary to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change.
  • Not good for public health, safety, and welfare — EGLE is required to determine whether extending the life of an oil pipeline that will emit approximately tens of  million tons of greenhouse gases annually for the next 99 years, under the state Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, “is consistent with the promotion of the public health, safety and welfare in light of the state’s paramount concern for the protection of its natural resources from pollution, impairment or destruction.”
  • Not a public need for the oil tunnel — EGLE must make a number of specific determinations, including whether the benefits of the project outweigh reasonably foreseeable detriments, the extent to which there is a public and private need for the project, and whether there are feasible and prudent alternatives to the tunnel project. Unless these determinations are clearly demonstrated by the applicant Enbridge, the permit is prohibited by the Michigan Environmental Protection Act and the Wetlands Protection Act.

How to Submit Your Comments to EGLE by Oct. 19

Be sure to submit your comments on Enbridge’s proposed Line 5 oil tunnel by the Monday, Oct. 19 deadline. The public can submit comments either by email to EGLE-Enbridge-Comments@Michigan.gov — referencing Application Number HNY-NHX4-FSR2Q — or via two EGLE web pages for commenting separately on each of the permits. Click on each link below and follow the instructions provided by the state:  

  • EGLE public comment page for Part 303 wetland impacts and Part 325 Great Lakes submerged lands impacts.
  • EGLE public comment page for National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) wastewater impacts.

How to Learn More about Line 5 and the Risky Oil Tunnel

To learn more about Enbridge Line 5 and the proposed oil tunnel, see these resources on FLOW’s website:

Thank you for speaking up for the Great Lakes, drinking water, and a way of life here in the Great Lakes State!

Speak Up for the Great Lakes at EGLE’s Line 5 Tunnel Hearings Starting Tuesday

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Starting Tuesday, Sept. 29, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) will host four online public hearings and receive public comment on the expected wetland and wastewater impacts of constructing and operating Enbridge’s proposed, roughly four mile-long oil tunnel under the Great Lakes. The tunnel would house a new Line 5 pipeline to continue carrying up to 23 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids a day through the public trust bottomlands of the Straits of Mackinac, where Lake Michigan meets Lake Huron.

It’s important for the members of the public—including individuals, families, business owners, community leaders, and others—to sign up ASAP to comment at these online public hearings using the links below because public comment during the meetings likely will be first-come, first-served.

To assist you, FLOW is providing guidance below on the public hearing schedule that runs from Sept. 29 to Oct. 8, how to sign up to comment, key points to consider making, and a template email you can tailor and submit as your written comment too by the Oct. 19 written comment deadline.

Hearing Schedule—Click a link below to register via Zoom and select “Yes” where it asks, “Would you like to make an official comment at this hearing?”:

Points to Make in Public Comments at the Public Hearings — FLOW is providing this content for you to draw from and supplement with your own information and perspective. EGLE will provide up to 3 minutes for each public comment. Start by stating your name, where you live, and if you are representing an organization, indicate which one. Here’s our guidance:

Not in Support:

  • I urge EGLE and the state of Michigan to deny Enbridge’s wetlands resource and NPDES wastewater permit requests to build a tunnel for the Line 5 oil pipeline through the public trust bottomlands of the Straits of Mackinac for the following reasons: 1. Enbridge’s application and project description is too narrow, and does not consider the cumulative effects, the existence of alternatives to the tunnel and wetlands related project purpose pursuant to Sections 303011(1) and 30311(4)(b) of the Wetland Protection Act.

Not Lawful:

  • Not authorized — The new easement (December 2018) granted by the former Snyder administration to the Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority and assigned to Enbridge for the proposed tunnel is invalid because it has not been authorized based on the required determinations of the Part 325 of the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act and/or section 2129 of the public utility easement in bottomlands of Great Lakes law, MCL 324.2129.

Not a Solution, nor the Best Alternative:

  • It is clear that taking 5-10 more years to study, seek permits, and build a crude oil tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac is not a solution because it fails to address Line 5’s immediate threat to the Great Lakes and Pure Michigan economy and the risk posed by the pipeline’s more than 400 stream and river crossings in the Upper and Lower Peninsulas. 
  • Enbridge’s proposal to allow electrical lines and other infrastructure to occupy the proposed oil pipeline tunnel is a bad idea that poses an explosion risk.

Not Fully Disclosed:

  • Enbridge has indicated that the size of the proposed tunnel will increase from a 10 ft diameter to an 18-21 foot diameter, yet Enbridge continues to use the original estimate of $500 million. Since consumers will ultimately pay for the tunnel, it is important to determine the new estimated cost.  
  • The announcement by EGLE that it will defer to other agencies or the MPSC to consider the likely effects and alternatives of the proposed tunnel project is contrary to the law of Michigan under the Michigan Environmental Protection Act (MEPA). MCL 324.1701 and applicable court decisions.

Not Acceptable — Wastewater and Wetland Impacts:

  • Enbridge is requesting to release up to 5 million gallons/day of treated wastewater back into Lake Michigan on the south shore and up to 14 million gallons daily during storm events. What chemicals will be used in the tunneling process and how will the wastewater be treated to remove those chemicals? 
  • If the waters of the Straits are contaminated, there would be extremely negative impacts to fish populations, tribal fishing rights, and communities who rely on drinking water from the lake and tourism business. How can EGLE consider this permit without having the full details about treatment plans and what chemicals will be used?
  • Doubling the tunnel diameter also results in quadrupling the volume, with four times as much excavated materials to be removed, staged, and disposed of. What are the increased environmental risks associated with the excavation, staging and disposition of these materials?
  • Michigan courts have consistently recognized that the Michigan Environmental Protection Act (MEPA) imposes additional environmental review requirements that are supplemental to existing administrative and statutory requirements. Is EGLE conducting a thorough review under MEPA?

Not in the Public Interest:

  • A permit under Part 303 Wetland Protection “shall not be approved unless the department determines that the issuance of a permit is in the public interest… In determining whether the activity is in the public interest, the benefit which reasonably may be expected to accrue from the proposal shall be balanced against the reasonably foreseeable detriments of the activity.” Clearly this project is not in the public interest when considering the impacts to public surface waters, public bottomlands, public drinking water supplies, the climate, and economy.
  • A permit under Part 303 Wetland Protection Act “shall not be approved” unless the applicant demonstrates the “need” for the project; clearly, this project is not needed given the obvious decline in demand for oil in the U.S. and world, and because Enbridge’s and Michigan’s future needs for crude oil can be satisfied by the existing crude oil pipeline system in North American and the U.S; and, because the design capacity of Line 6b (now 78) across southern Michigan from Indiana to Sarnia and Detroit or Toledo was doubled when replaced in 2012-2014, which can reasonably handle all of the volume of crude oil and natural gas liquids transported by Line 5 and Straits dual pipelines.

Not Good for the Climate nor Economy:

  • Line 5 conveys approximately 8.4 billion gallons of oil and natural gas liquids per year, and when burned, yield over 57 million metric tons of CO2 annually. How can EGLE authorize the tunnel in the face of the incontrovertible evidence of environmental and economic harm caused by climate change? 
  • Oil when burned, releases carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, and unburned hydrocarbons, impairing air quality and having monetizable environmental and health impacts. EGLE must compare the social costs against the benefits.
  • Continued capital investment in fossil fuel infrastructure is fundamentally at odds with addressing the existential threat of climate change.
  • Federal agencies must determine the carbon emissions attributable to projects under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA); EGLE and the MPSC must undertake the same analyses under MEPA.
  • The construction of Enbridge’s proposed tunnel and pipeline project for the next 99 years is contrary to Governor Whitmer’s Executive Order on Building a Carbon Neutral Economy.  

Not the Best Alternative:

  • Under Part 303, EGLE must consider “the availability of feasible and prudent alternative locations and methods to accomplish the expected benefits from the activity.” EGLE must evaluate the following:
    • To what extent did the 2010 catastrophic failure and oil spill from Enbridge Line 6B into the Kalamazoo River watershed and the more recent temporary, full and then partial closure of Line 5 result in constriction of supply, market disruption, or price increases to end users?
    • Does Enbridge Line 6B in southern Michigan, now reconstructed with a larger diameter as Line 78, have the capacity to meet market demand if the tunnel is not built and Line 5 closes?
    • Is the carrying capacity of the existing network of North American pipelines sufficient to meet future needs? According to FLOW’s experts, available capacity and flexibility to meet energy demand in the Great Lakes region already exists in the North American energy pipeline system operated by Enbridge and its competitors without threatening our public waters and Pure Michigan economy.
    • Would cessation of Line 5 result in a new pipeline system equilibrium capable of meeting existing and future demand for oil and natural gas liquids?
    • What is the potential for the tunnel project to become a stranded asset and liability to the State of Michigan in the event market trends play out as predicted?

Written Comment Also Accepted — The public also can comment in writing at any time until EGLE’s comment deadline on Oct. 19. Here’s the:

  • Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign’s public comment form for you to personalize — drawing from FLOW’s guidance provided above — and send, or you can use the EGLE links below.
  • EGLE public comment page for Part 303 wetland impacts and Part 325 Great Lakes submerged lands impacts.
  • EGLE public comment page for NPDES wastewater impacts.

Background — To learn more about Enbridge Line 5 and the proposed oil tunnel, see these resources on FLOW’s website:

Tribes and Environmental Groups Will Help Decide Fate of Proposed Line 5 Oil Tunnel in the Great Lakes

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MPSC seeks public comments online and at August 24 public hearing

Jim Olson is FLOW’s Founder, President, and Legal Advisor

By Jim Olson

Good news arrived recently for citizens concerned about Enbridge’s dangerous Line 5 pipelines that convey millions of gallons of petroleum each day, and the proposed massive new tunnel pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac — the very heart of the Great Lakes.

Administrative Law Judge Dennis W. Mack, who is handling the contested case for the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) on Enbridge’s application for the Line 5 tunnel and tunnel pipeline, issued a ruling August 13 granting intervention to participate in the case to several federally recognized Indian tribes in Michigan and key environmental groups, including FLOW, that petitioned to bring special knowledge and expertise to the case.

The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) granted intervention to a total of 13 entities, including four tribes — Bay Mills Indian Community, Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, and the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi, providing the first three tribes listed with an opportunity to formally assert their treaty rights this way for the first time. The Nottawaseppi Huron Band, based in Calhoun County, will bring their knowledge and experience gained by living near the site of Enbridge’s disastrous Line 6B pipeline spill in 2010 into the Kalamazoo River watershed. 

The ALJ also granted intervention to five environmental organizations — the Environmental Law & Policy Center with the Michigan Climate Action Network, For Love of Water (FLOW), Michigan Environmental Council, National Wildlife Federation, and the Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council — with reach across the state of Michigan, Great Lakes region, and nation. The Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority, Michigan Attorney General, Michigan Laborers’ District Council, and Michigan Propane Gas Association & National Propane Gas Association also were allowed to intervene in the case.

Enbridge filed a 17-page objection to the intervention by the organizations’ and tribes’ participation as parties in the case, taking the extreme position that since the MPSC granted approval in 1953 for the existing Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac, Enbridge doesn’t need approval now for the proposed half-billion-dollar tunnel and tunnel pipeline.

FLOW and other organizations filed replies to Enbridge’s objection to their intervening in the case, pointing out that the MPSC in June had already rejected the company’s attempt to cut off further review and obtain immediate approval of the project without a comprehensive review of necessity, public interest at stake, impacts, and alternatives to the massive project. Over Enbridge’s objections, Judge Mack recognized the significant interests and rights and the unique perspective and expertise these organizations and sovereign tribes will bring to the case.

The comprehensive review and proceeding before the MPSC will continue in stages addressed by a scheduling memorandum entered August 13 by Administrative Law Judge Mack. Legal questions involving the nature and scope of the review required by the MPSC governing laws and regulations, the Michigan Environmental Protection Act (MEPA), and public trust principles that govern the Straits of Mackinac will be argued and decided between now and late October. After that, the case will proceed with discovery and exchange of information, direct testimony, rebuttal testimony, and cross examination of the testimony and evidence from late November until next summer, with a decision by the MPSC expected in early fall of 2021.

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Comment Now or at MPSC’s Aug. 24 Virtual Public Hearing

The Michigan Public Service Commission has invited public comments on Enbridge’s tunnel proposal through written submissions, as well as by telephone during an online public hearing scheduled for August 24, 2020. Oil & Water Don’t Mix, which FLOW co-leads with allied tribal and environmental groups, has created this easy tool for you to submit your comment to the MPSC opposing an Enbridge oil tunnel through the public bottomlands in the Straits of Mackinac. You also can sign up here or here to comment at the MPSC public hearing.

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See FLOW’s recent coverage of the Michigan Public Service Commission review of the Enbridge oil pipeline tunnel here:

Turning the Spotlight on Line 5 in the Great Lakes

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Jim Olson is FLOW’s Founder, President, and Legal Advisor

By Jim Olson

FLOW Founder and Legal Advisor

Last week the Michigan Attorney General’s Office chose not to appeal a lower court ruling upholding the constitutionality of a law that facilitates the framework for an oil tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac—forgoing any further challenge, but, in reality, yielding no strategic legal ground.

Don’t get me wrong. The constitutionality of the Act 359 “tunnel law” under the so-called “Title-Object” clause of article 4, section 24 of Michigan’s Constitution always has been an important question. This clause requires the purpose of a bill be stated in its title. Clearly, the legislature had no business stating the tunnel project was a public project like the Mackinac Bridge, then passing a law that allows a company to build, operate, and control its own private tunnel pipeline. 

But the tunnel law only sets up a framework for a tunnel and new pipeline in the Straits. By forgoing any further appeal of the “Title-Object” question, the spotlight turns on the more central question at hand:  

Can Canada’s Enbridge obtain the required authorizations under the rule of law, for its private gain and control, for a massive tunnel and tunnel pipeline beneath the public trust bottomlands of the Great Lakes?

The lame-duck legislature’s tunnel law and agreements signed by the Snyder Administration in its last days in 2018 sought to tie the hands of the newly elected Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel, who took their oaths of office on January 1, 2019. But the 11th-hour maneuvers failed to bind the new leaders. Why? Because Act 359—the tunnel law—and the related tunnel agreements compel Enbridge to obtain the required approvals and permits for the location and construction of the tunnel and tunnel pipeline under all applicable federal and state laws. In other words, constitutional or not, the law simply begs the question.

The tunnel is not a done deal. Under the law, Enbridge is required to obtain a long list of governmental approvals and permits. Notably, it needs authorization under Michigan’s Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act (GLSLA) for easements and leases for location of the tunnel, a construction permit, and authorization to locate the pipeline in the tunnel as a “public utility” under the public trust bottomlands of the Great Lakes. 

Moreover, Enbridge can’t even apply for location of the tunnel pipeline until it obtains certification of the new line as a “public utility” from the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC). Thus, in addition to the required authorizations under the GLSLA, Enbridge also must prove and the MPSC must make findings that the tunnel is “necessary” and “in the public trust interest” in the uncertain and tumultuous world of 2020—declining crude oil markets, climate change, and rapid transition to a renewable economy that just may make life livable for our children and grandchildren in this century.

Not only are these findings required, but the MPSC also must find that there are no “likely environmental impacts” and that there are “no feasible and prudent alternatives” to the new tunnel—when there are thousands of miles of crude oil pipelines owned by Enbridge and its competitors crisscrossing North America in every direction. Enbridge’s  super-sized replacement of the ruptured Line 6B pipeline that despoiled the Kalamazoo River in 2010 has enough unused design capacity to nearly equal the average amount of crude oil pumped through Line 5 every day. The proposed oil tunnel is not necessary, clearly not in the public interest at this time in history, and there are alternatives that are both feasible and prudent.

After the tunnel law passed, Enbridge received an assignment of an easement and a 99-year lease-back from the Michigan Department Natural Resources (DNR) to locate, use, and operate the proposed tunnel and tunnel pipeline under the bottomlands of the Great Lakes. But Governor Snyder, the DNR, and Enbridge have not applied for authorization of this conveyance and lease under public trust law and the GLSLA. And, the tunnel and tunnel pipeline have not been certified by the MPSC. Nor has the project been authorized by the United States Army Corps of Engineers.

So, it is not surprising the constitutionality of the tunnel law aside, the central effort at this point must seek a prompt shutdown of the imminently dangerous conditions surrounding the existing dual pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac. And, as for the tunnel, the spotlight must determine whether the massive tunnel project should or can ever be approved under the rule of law of Michigan—the laws that protect the constitutional and public trust interests of our quality of life.

It’s time to navigate what we face in the 21st century, rather than remain stuck in the irons of the 20th century, when the 67-year-old Line 5 was installed in the open waters of the Great Lakes.

 

Line 5 Must Be Closed Before Disaster Strikes

The 67-year-old  dual Line 5 pipelines continue to operate in the Straits of Mackinac, threatening the Great Lakes with a massive oil spill from a leak or rupture in the worst possible place in the country. Hazards include strong currents, underestimated for the “as built” pipes, anchor strikes, and, now, we learn, anchor lines that dragged along the pipes, and tore out a saddle support, installed because the strong currents were scouring and undermining the original as built dual pipelines.

Attorney General Dana Nessel filed suit (Nessel v Enbridge) against Enbridge in Ingham County Circuit Court to decommission Line 5 in an orderly fashion to prevent well over $6 billion in damages and irreparable long-term harm should a spill occur. The existing Line 5 dual lines and this lawsuit must proceed. It is not, and should not be, tied to the proposed tunnel; these dual lines need to be closed down before an inevitable accident or rupture happens. Circuit Judge James Jamo has stopped use of the east leg of Line 5, and is considering the revocation of a 1953 easement that was given conditionally to Enbridge, but without any understanding of the conditions that exist in 2020.

An Enbridge Oil Spill on My Grandparents’ Farm

Photo: The clean up on the Zinn family farm in Marshall, Michigan, after Enbridge’s Line 6B failed a decade ago on July 25, 2010, eventually contaminating nearly 40 miles of the Kalamazoo River and its watershed with a million gallons of tar sands oil, sickening more than 300 people, permanently driving more than 150 people from their homes and properties, and destroying wildlife and habitat.

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By Frank D. Zinn

Ten years ago, my uncle answered an early morning phone call. He lives in Ann Arbor, about 60 miles east of Marshall, the location of the Zinn family farm. The call was from a Marshall neighbor who reported that something was happening on the Zinn property — there was a gas or oil leak, and things looked and smelled really bad.

The Zinn farm in 2008 before the Enbridge Line 6B oil spill.

My aunt and cousin drove to the farm the next day to check things out. Things did indeed look and smell bad — there was a thick layer of oil sludge on the surface of Talmadge Creek, a tributary of the Kalamazoo River, which runs across the north end of the property. At that point it was clear that a pipeline had ruptured — but the extent of the spill and damage was not yet known.

Several days later, I joined my uncle and father to visit the property again. We met with a lawyer who represented Enbridge, the owner-operator of the Line 6B pipeline. We learned that the rupture occurred a few yards from our property line and that Enbridge was starting the process of cleaning it up and would therefore require access to our property. The lawyer told us that things were not as bad as they looked, and that Enbridge had everything under control. He said “a year from now, you won’t even know this happened” and reassured us that Enbridge would restore the land to be better than it was before the spill.

The 6-foot gash on Enbridge Line 6B that gushed more than 1 million gallons of heavy tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River watershed when it failed on July 25, 2010.

The scene was a difficult one for my family. The farm had been in the family since about 1930 when my great-grandfather bought part of the property. My grandparents moved their young family there in 1947, so it was where my father and his siblings spent much of their childhoods. After my grandfather died in 1996, my aunt and uncle restored the 440-acre property to indigenous prairie to honor the legacy of his environmentally minded parents. During the two years before the spill, my family collaborated with a Chicago-based developer to design an eco-friendly project for the farm — one that combined a vineyard and winery with housing. We had planned to launch the project in the fall.

At the start of the clean-up process, my family gave Enbridge the benefit of the doubt and remained hopeful that we could proceed with our plans. However, after a few weeks it became clear that the extent of the damage was such that the eco-development project would no longer be feasible. We learned, for example, that Enbridge was immediately notified by its pressure sensors that there was a problem, but did not shut the line down for 17 hours, allowing approximately one million gallons of oil to escape (ignoring the company’s much-touted “policy” that a pipeline would be shut down within 10 minutes if the cause of an alarm could not be determined).

Cleanup of the Enbridge Line 6B oil spill on the Zinn farm, 2010

Moreover, the cleanup was not well designed or implemented, and, as a consequence, nine months into the process, Enbridge was ordered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to go back and do it again. Enbridge had failed to account for the fact that the heavy, tar sands crude oil broke down to be heavier than water, and therefore could not be simply skimmed off the surface of the water. At the end of the cleanup, the EPA and Enbridge admitted that at least 5% (about 50,000 gallons) would never be recovered.

After many months of getting little or no response from Enbridge to our questions about the extent of contamination and their plans to restore the property, my family felt it had no other option but to file a lawsuit. After a difficult and painful legal process, we finally settled with Enbridge. Enbridge bought the farm. The project we designed to honor my grandparents would not be built.

Cleanup of the Enbridge Line 6B oil spill on the Zinn farm, 2010

When Lakehead Pipeline Co. (Enbridge’s Line 6B predecessor) came to my grandfather in 1969 and offered to purchase an easement under the farm, he refused, citing his concerns about the environmental impact a spill would have. Lakehead took my grandfather to court in order to obtain the easement, and a Lakehead engineer testified under oath to a judge that a significant spill could never occur because three separate monitoring devices would immediately shut down the pumping station in the event of a rupture. Lakehead was awarded the easement on the basis of that testimony.

Enbridge acknowledges that its pipelines had 610 spills that released more than 5.5 million gallons of crude oil into the environment between 1999 and 2008. Enbridge’s inspections of Line 6B identified 140 instances of cracks/corrosion in 2007, and an additional 250 instances in 2009 — only 61 of these were repaired.

On July 15, 2010, just 10 days before Enbridge Line 6B ruptured, Enbridge’s vice president of U.S. operations for Enbridge Liquid Pipelines, Richard Adams, testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials. The focus of the hearing was on Enbridge’s Pipeline Integrity Management. In his testimony, Adams lauded the Enbridge Integrity Management Program and, under questioning, testified that the detection of large leaks in Enbridge pipelines were “almost instantaneous” by Enbridge control center personnel and that, if there was any uncertainty, they would shut down the pipeline.

So, the promises made to my family by the Enbridge lawyer a few days after the spill were not kept. The impacts of the spill on the farm are still evident, and the land is not better than it was before the spill. The statement made by the Lakehead engineer in 1969 was not true. Nor was the testimony made to the U.S. House of Representatives by an Enbridge vice president a few days before the spill.

Furthermore, it is clear that the pipeline regulation is not adequate. While the largest fine in history was levied against the company after a blistering accident report was issued by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in 2012, Enbridge looks to be back to business as usual (here’s a link to the NTSB report).  Many of the claims made by Enbridge about its Line 5 pipeline that runs through the Straits of Mackinac sound eerily similar to the claims it made about Line 6B before the spill a decade ago.