Early in each new year, the Governor of Michigan sets forth a policy agenda for the Legislature and the state as a whole.This year, Governor Gretchen Whitmer delivers her State of the State message on the evening of Wednesday, January 29.
Whitmer will inevitably tackle roads, jobs, infrastructure, education, and Michigan’s economic prosperity, but the environment must be a key part of her speech.
Environmental, natural resources and public health policies are a critical part of Michigan’s policy needs. Governor Whitmer has an important opportunity to move the state forward by outlining bold steps for the state to take to assure safe and affordable drinking water for all; assure our water remains public and is not captured by private commercial interests for profit; protect rivers, lakes and habitat; and promote solutions to the climate crisis.
(Whitmer will appear on an even bigger stage on Tuesday, February 4, when she delivers a Democratic response to the State of the Union address.)
Here are issues for Michigan citizens to listen for that FLOW urges the Governor to cover in her State of the State message:
• Direct that Enbridge obtain authorization under the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act (GLSLA) and public trust law for the new 2018 tunnel easement and long-term private control of the Straits of Mackinac for the tunnel and existing Line 5.
• Nullify, revoke, and/or terminate the 1953 easement to use the lakebed at the Straits under which Enbridge operates Line 5 for violation of public trust law, and the rule of law under the GLSLA.
• Support legislation and policy that declares and protects the paramount public interest in the State’s water and the individual’s right and access to safe, clean, affordable water and prevents water shutoffs.
• Call for the Legislature to enact a statewide sanitary code to protect the paramount public interest in groundwater and surface waters, setting environmentally protective standards for inspection and maintenance of on-site sewage (septic) systems.
• As Chair of the Great Lakes Compact Council, call for revision of Compact procedures to prevent unlawful diversions and exports, and establish a framework to address impacts on waters of the Basin from the effects of climate change.
Invest in the Protection of State’s Water and Water Infrastructure:
• Support a funding mechanism or mechanisms, including conservation, efficiency, and innovative user fees, to close the huge gap between water infrastructure needs and available funds, and coordinate the funding mechanism with the right to water, health, and affordability.
Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Director Daniel Eichinger today set a 30-day deadline for Enbridge to submit key information regarding its ongoing violations of the state-granted easement conditionally allowing the Canadian company’s 66-year-old Line 5 oil pipelines to occupy the Straits of Mackinac.
Eichinger’s letter to Enbridge, which includes 20 questions to be answered by Feb. 12, is an appropriate step to conclude the DNR’s review ordered by Governor Whitmer last June, according to FLOW, the Great Lakes law and policy center based in Traverse City.
“It’s a welcome sign that Director Eichinger and his staff appear to be wrapping up their Line 5 investigation by asking for all other information and documentation that Enbridge has in its possession or control,” said Kelly Thayer, Deputy Director of FLOW (For Love of Water). “At the conclusion of this process, these serious and continuing violations of the easement by Enbridge should trigger the state to shut down the dangerous dual Line 5 oil pipelines in the Great Lakes before it’s too late.”
FLOW commended the DNR for taking this step to restore the rule of law on Line 5, the oil pipelines running through the open waters of the Straits of Mackinac, which researchers have called the worst possible place for a Great Lakes oil spill due to the powerful underwater currents, strong waves, seasonal ice cover, and extreme difficulty in responding to an oil pipeline failure.
“It’s clear that Line 5’s original design in the Straits is failing, as the powerful currents scour the public bottomlands and undermine the pipelines placed there in 1953,” said Jim Olson, FLOW’s President and legal advisor. “Enbridge’s continuing addition of more than 200 pipeline supports constitutes a risky redesign that never has been evaluated or authorized under the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act and public trust law.”
The State of Michigan already has documented evidence on Line 5 of anchor strikes, exposed metal surfaces, and deep scouring of bottomlands that undermine the pipelines and even bend some of the newly installed supports. There also has been evidence of bending of Line 5 beyond curvature limits, Enbridge has failed to provide proof of liability insurance and other financial assurances, and missing protective pipeline coating and delamination.
FLOW filed formal comments in mid-November 2019 to assist the State of Michigan’s Line 5 review, citing new and ongoing legal violations by Enbridge and rising risk to the Great Lakes, jobs, and drinking water. In those Nov. 13 comments, FLOW called on the state to increase and strictly enforce the requirement for comprehensive oil spill insurance and terminate the 1953 easement that conditionally allows Line 5 to occupy the Straits of Mackinac, triggering the orderly shutdown of the dual oil pipelines as soon as practicable after securing alternative sources for residential propane in the Upper Peninsula (which a state task force is studying).
FLOW’s request followed recent revelations that Enbridge and its subsidiaries lack adequate liability insurance for a potentially catastrophic oil spill from the Canadian company’s decaying dual pipelines snaking across the public bottomlands, where Lake Michigan meets Lake Huron. The new evidence further supports FLOW’s long-standing contention that Enbridge is operating Line 5 illegally while the risk rises to the Great Lakes, jobs, and the drinking water supply for half of Michiganders.
Until Enbridge has applied for and obtains authorization under the rule of law or Line 5 is shut down, FLOW urges the state to impose immediate emergency measures that reduce the flow of oil in Line 5 to its original limit of 300,000 barrels per day (1 barrel = 42 U.S. gallons of oil). Enbridge currently pumps 540,000 barrels a day through Line 5 in the Straits, which is 80% more than the original design approved by the State of Michigan.
Pending such authorization or shutdown, state officials also should implement more stringent requirements for a mandatory emergency shutdown, including when there is a wave height of 3.3 feet or more in the Straits or winds in excess of 18 miles per hour, conditions that render oil spill response equipment ineffective. Based on the level of risk from Line 5 to public waters, the state also should require Enbridge and its subsidiaries to secure adequate insurance, bond, surety and/or secured assets in the total amount of at least $5 billion, based on a study commissioned by FLOW that found that a Line 5 oil spill could deliver a multibillion-dollar blow to natural resource and Michigan’s economy.
Court accepts amicus briefs supporting enforcement of State of Michigan public trust duties in Enbridge’s lawsuit
Jim Olson, President and Founder
By Jim Olson
The Michigan Court of Claims has issued orders accepting FLOW’s and the City of Mackinac Island’s amicus briefs advancing key legal arguments in Enbridge’s Line 5 oil tunnel lawsuit against the State, rejecting opposing arguments by the Canadian oil pipeline company.
The ruling in Lansing by Judge Michael Kelly in late September means that vital issues raised by FLOW’s brief and the city’s brief will be considered by the Michigan Court of Claims, including the public trust rights of citizens to draw drinking water from and otherwise use the Great Lakes, and the soils and bottomlands beneath them, unimpaired by private interests.
FLOW’s Amicus Curiae Brief was prepared and submitted by Great Lakes environmental and public trust law experts Jeff Hyman, senior staff attorney at the Conservation Law Center in Bloomington, Indiana,and FLOW’s president and legal advisor Jim Olson. The brief traces the history of the public trust doctrine in Michigan and demonstrates the failure of Enbridge and the State to make the determinations required for authorization of the occupancy and use of waters and soils beneath the Great Lake by a private corporation under public trust law and the Michigan’s Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act (GLSLA).
“This is an important step in restoring the rule of law on Line 5,” said FLOW executive director Liz Kirkwood. “The Great Lakes belong to all of us and cannot simply be handed over to a private corporation through a hurried backroom deal by a lame-duck legislature. If Enbridge really wants a tunnel, it will have to apply under state law and demonstrate no potential risk of adverse impacts and no other alternative pipelines to transport crude oil that avoid the Great Lakes.”
Background on Amicus Briefs
On Sept. 10, FLOW filed a motion to submit an amicus brief before the Court of Claims in Enbridge v. Michigan on important questions involving violations of the public trust doctrine. FLOW noted that the future of the public trust rights of citizens and communities in the Great Lakes were violated by the 2018 “lame duck” agreements that would have contracted away the legally required review of impacts of a tunnel pipeline to the Great Lakes, fishing, drinking water, health, and the economy imposed by the constitution and law of Michigan.
In Michigan, people, organizations, and communities have a right as beneficiaries of the public trust in the Great Lakes to demand that government apply the rule of law. Where this interest would be seriously affected by the questions presented in a pending lawsuit, citizens and local governments may motion the court to file an amicus curiae brief—“friend of the court” written arguments submitted to aid the court regarding the questions and how the law should be applied.
The City of Mackinac Island, meanwhile, filed a motion and amicus brief submitted by Traverse City environmental attorneys Scott Howard and Rebecca Millican. The arguments in the city’s brief pinpointed for the Court the grave consequences to the city’s drinking water source, emergency and health services, ferry services, and tourist economy, in addition to the wellbeing of guests and residents from the continued operation of the decaying Line 5 oil pipelines in the Straits. The city’s amicus brief focuses on the invalidity of the 2018 agreements between the State and Enbridge, which purported to grant Enbridge the right to continue using and occupying the waters and soils of the Great Lakes without any authorization under the public trust or GLSLA requirements.
FLOW’s position remains that the attempt by the Snyder administration to allow Enbridge to continue operating the existing perilous Line 5 in the Straits while Enbridge spends 5 to 10 years or more designing, obtaining required authorizations under public trust law and constructing a tunnel is not a solution. An oil pipeline tunnel 10 years or more down the road does not address Line 5’s immediate threat of massive harm to the Great Lakes nor address the risk posed by the pipeline’s more than 400 stream and river crossings in the Upper and Lower Peninsulas. In addition, Enbridge’s proposal to allow electrical lines and other infrastructure to occupy the proposed oil pipeline tunnel poses an explosion risk. Oral arguments in the case have not been scheduled, so stay tuned to FLOW’s website and Facebook for periodic updates. At stake are the integrity of the State of Michigan constitution, state law, public trust doctrine, and protection of the Great Lakes, public health, and the rights of its citizen to use their public waters.
Lame-Duck Disaster and Side Deals
In December 2018, at the 11th hour of his term, then-Governor Rick Snyder and his department heads of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ)—now Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE)—signed tunnel agreements by-passing the public trust doctrine and Great Lakes submerged lands law that expressly control agreements for private occupancy and use of the waters and bottomlands of the Great Lakes.
To expedite the tunnel deal before the end of the year, the Governor and Enbridge solicited the help of the lame duck legislature to push through Act 359. That tunnel law amended the Mackinac Bridge Authority’s enabling legislation and created a new authority called the Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority to cede the state’s public trust bottomlands and waters to Canada’s Enbridge.
In late December, the state DNR and DEQ, along with the Corridor Authority signed a series of agreements, including an easement, that illegally assigned the use of the public trust soils under the Great Lakes to Enbridge to locate, build, and operate a new oil tunnel for Line 5 under the Straits.
Separately, but related, Governor Snyder, DNR, and DEQ entered into a “third agreement” that sought to assure Enbridge the right to continue indefinitely the use of the bottomlands of the Straits for the existing 66-year-old Line 5 oil pipelines. Polls and public testimony show that much of public agrees the cracked and sagging pipelines must be removed as soon as possible. With its failing design, Line 5 poses an unacceptable risk of catastrophic harm to fishing, navigation, drinking water, swimming, boating, health and emergency services, Tribal rights, the ecosystem, property values, municipal infrastructure, tourism, and even the steel industry. The attempt to assure Enbridge continued use of the existing Line 5 was unlawful and grossly serious breach of the State’s duty to protect the Great Lakes.
New Leaders Apply the Rule of Law to Line 5
In early January 2019, newly elected Governor Gretchen Whitmer exercised her executive authority under the state constitution, and requested Attorney General Dana Nessel to issue a formal legal opinion on the constitutionality of Act 359 and the validity of the series of the 2018 agreements purporting to turn over the Straits of Mackinac to Enbridge for its tunnel and to continue using the dangerous Line 5. On March 27, Attorney General Nessel ruled that Act 359 and these agreements were unconstitutional, invalid, and unenforceable.
In June, Enbridge filed suit in the Court of Claims in Lansing against the State of Michigan and its departments to resuscitate the oil tunnel deal by seeking a Court order that Act 359 and all of these agreements are constitutional and otherwise valid and enforceable. A.G. Nessel and her staff responded with a motion to dismiss Enbridge’s claim because the law and related agreements are unconstitutional and violate the public trust in the waters of the Great Lakes and the soils beneath them. Enbridge responded that the law was within the powers of the legislature, and that the agreements complied with the public trust doctrine.
Underlying Legal Framework
Under the public trust doctrine, the state owns the bottomlands and waters of the Great Lakes in a trust for the protection of these waters, bottomlands, fish, habitat, and for fishing, navigation, drinking water and sanitation, boating, swimming, and other recreational pursuits. The doctrine prohibits the disposition or agreement for occupancy and use of public trust bottomlands by a private person or corporation without an express determination that the disposition falls within one of two narrow exceptions:
The purpose will improve a public trust interest or use—the water, habitat, fish, or one of the protected public uses (such as a public harbor for boating, or public drinking water works, or swimming beach); or
There is no unacceptable risk of impairment to the waters, ecosystem, or these protected public trust uses.
In 1955, Michigan passed the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act (GLSLA) to protect the public waters and lands beneath the Great Lakes. Under the GLSLA, no one can use, alter, occupy or control the soils and waters of the Great Lakes, unless authorized by the DEQ (now EGLE) after due findings that the public trust interests (e.g. navigation, fishing, drinking water) would be improved or would not be impaired.
When Governor Snyder and his department heads cut the tunnel deal with Enbridge, they contracted away these legal requirements, basically suspending the rule of law in Michigan.
You might say our leaders suspended the law and granted Enbridge an “open season” license to do what it wanted with the public’s paramount trust interests in the Straits of Mackinac. The Governor, DNR, and then-DEQ failed to require Enbridge to apply for legal authorization to continue using the existing Line or the proposed Tunnel under public trust law or the GLSLA.
As of this writing, there has been no such authorization from the State of Michigan allowing Enbridge to own, control, use, or occupy the public soils and waters of the Straits. And FLOW, the city of Mackinac Island, tribes, and citizens of Michigan aim to keep it that way.
Photo: FLOW Deputy Director Kelly Thayer speaks to the Grand Traverse County Board in opposition to a pro-oil tunnel resolution.
By Kelly Thayer
Confronted at 8 a.m. on a Wednesday by a full audience passionately and unanimously against a proposed Line 5 oil tunnel in the Straits of Mackinac, the Grand Traverse County Board of Commissioners voted today to temporarily table a misguided and error-filled resolution supporting the oil tunnel. (Click here to view a video of the meeting, once posted by the county).
Some commissioners also could be heard chatting among themselves before the meeting about the voluminous amount of emailed comments against the oil tunnel that they also received in the hours leading up to the session, as local citizen groups spread the word of the pending vote.
While the outcome was received as a temporary victory in the moment by many in attendance, vigilance still is required.The resolution, which had been expected to gain quick approval, will likely come back for reconsideration — perhaps at a tentatively scheduled 8 a.m., August 14, study session — and then a possible vote at the Grand Traverse County Board’s next regular meeting at 8 a.m. on Wednesday, August 21, at the Governmental Center at 400 Boardman Ave. in Traverse City.
“I was elected to work for the public interest and the people of Grand Traverse County, not the bottom line of a foreign oil company with a troubling safety record and equally troubling transparency practices,” said Commissioner Betsy Coffia after the meeting, who was prepared to oppose the symbolic resolution. “Enbridge pays a lot of lobbyists and lawyers to carry water for them. I don’t think it’s the job of the Grand Traverse County Commission to do that work for them.”
Only one county in Michigan—Dickinson in the Upper Peninsula—to date has approved the model resolution that bears close resemblance to talking points that Line 5-owner Enbridge has circulated for many months. The resolution tabled by Grand Traverse County Commissioners proposes to send “this resolution to all counties of Michigan as an invitation to join in expressing support” for the oil tunnel owned by Canadian-based Enbridge.
Dozens of people representing themselves, families, Indian tribes, businesses, environmental groups, and others attended and many spoke up against the oil tunnel and for protection of the Great Lakes, drinking water, public trust and tribal rights, and the Pure Michigan tourist economy.
FLOW and its team of lawyers, scientists, engineers, and an international risk expert since 2013 have studied the increasing threat from Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac and, more recently, the proposed Line 5 oil tunnel.
FLOW Deputy Director Kelly Thayer read a statement calling on the county board to reject the oil tunnel resolution, which in its first sentence, incorrectly states the age of the decaying pipeline and claims an admirable safety record that is at odds with the reality that Line 5 has leaked at least 33 times, spilling a total of 1.1 million gallons of oil in Michigan and Wisconsin.
“It is critical for the Grand Traverse Board of County Commissioners to understand that—with the proposed resolution in your packet—the Board is being asked to interfere in ongoing litigation between the State of Michigan and Enbridge,” Thayer said. “In addition, there are at least four other active lawsuits against Enbridge and Line 5. Therefore, this type of resolution is misguided and not in Grand Traverse County’s, nor the public, interest.”
In March, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel found that the tunnel bill that became law was unconstitutional.In early June, Enbridge sued the State of Michigan to resuscitate the tunnel legislation. And in late June, the State of Michigan sued Enbridge to revoke the 1953 easement that conditionally authorized Enbridge to pump oil through the twin pipelines.
Attorney General Nessel’s lawsuit alleges that Enbridge’s continued operation of Line 5 in the Straits violates the Public Trust Doctrine, is a common law public nuisance, and violates the Michigan Environmental Protection Act based on potential pollution, impairment, and destruction of water and other natural resources.
“Why would the current Grand Traverse County Board, which—to our knowledge—has never studied nor discussed the threat from Line 5, take a leap of faith in supporting a Canadian oil pipeline company’s alternative that diverts attention from the real problem—the bent, cracked, and encrusted oil pipelines in the Straits?,” Thayer asked.
Enbridge wants the right to bore a tunnel in the next 5-10 years for Line 5 through State of Michigan public trust bottomlands under the Straits, where Lake Michigan meets Lake Huron.
Enbridge also wants to keep pumping up to 23 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids a day through the decaying, 66-year-old Line 5 pipelines in the Straits during tunnel feasibility studies and construction. An oil tunnel also would fail to address the risk posed by Line 5’s more than 400 stream and river crossings in the Upper and Lower Peninsulas and would conflict with Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s plans to combat climate change.
The City of Mackinac Island, Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, and the Straits of Mackinac Alliance citizen group also have filed a contested case challenging Enbridge’s claim that installing hundreds of anchor supports to shore up the decaying Line 5 is mere maintenance, rather than a major redesign requiring an application and alternatives analysis under the 1955 Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act (GLSLA) and public trust law that apply to the soils and waters of the Great Lakes. Line 5-related lawsuits against the U.S. Coast Guard and against Enbridge in Wisconsin also continue.
FLOW and other Great Lakes advocates have long called for shutting down Line 5, which primarily serves Canada’s, not Michigan’s, needs and threatens the Great Lakes. FLOW research shows that viable alternatives exist to deliver propane to Michigan and oil to regional refineries, and Gov. Whitmer has formed an Upper Peninsula Energy Task Force to identify energy supply options. The system can adjust with smart planning.
Today represents a historic turning point for all Michiganders. Attorney General (AG) Dana Nessel took decisive legal action on Pipeline 5 in the Straits of Mackinac when she filed suit in Ingham County Circuit Court to revoke the 1953 Easement that conditionally authorized Enbridge to pump oil through twin pipelines.
Nessel’s lawsuit alleges that Enbridge’s continued operation of the Straits Pipelines violates the Public Trust Doctrine, is a common law public nuisance, and violates the Michigan Environmental Protection Act because it is likely to cause pollution, impairment, and destruction of water and other natural resources. Simultaneously, Governor Whitmer and the natural resources and environmental protection agencies have taken action through the AG to dismiss Enbridge’s June 6 lawsuit to defend the public’s rights and waters of the Great Lakes.
“I have consistently stated that Enbridge’s pipelines in the Straits need to be shut down as soon as possible because they present an unacceptable risk to the Great Lakes,” said the Attorney General. “Governor Whitmer tried her best to reach an agreement that would remove the pipelines from the Straits on an expedited basis, but Enbridge walked away from negotiations and instead filed a lawsuit against the state. Once that occurred, there was no need for further delay.”
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer also ordered the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to review violations of the Line 5 easement. As the state’s top leader and public trustee, Whitmer has the express legal authority to revoke the easement to start decommissioning the pipeline.
“The governor’s primary goal has always been and remains to get the Line 5 dual pipelines out of the Straits of Mackinac as soon as possible,” said Whitmer’s press secretary Tiffany Brown today in a statement. “The risk of a catastrophic oil spill in the Great Lakes, and the harm that would follow to Michigan’s economy, tourism, and our way of life, is far too great to allow the pipelines to continue to operate indefinitely. As a recent National Transportation Safety Board report documented, any doubt as to the risk posed by Line 5 was erased in April 2018 when a barge dragging a 12,000-pound anchor nearly caused disaster.”
FLOW (For Love of Water) commends Attorney General Nessel’s and Governor Whitmer’s legal actions against Enbridge. It’s about time Michigan’s government is standing up for our public waters — waters located in arguably the worst possible place in the Great Lakes for an oil spill to happen.
“Today, Attorney General Nessel returns Michigan and the protection of its citizens, taxpayers, and the Great Lakes to the rule of law,” said Jim Olson, president and founder of FLOW. “Governor Whitmer’s action on behalf of the state to nullify the lame-duck tunnel agreements also returns Michigan to the rule of law. They should be thanked. No, they should be applauded.”
Nessel’s move comes three weeks after Enbridge sued the State of Michigan on June 6 to claim its right to continue operating Line 5 and to build and operate a tunnel under the Great Lakes for the next 99 years. It comes just over six months after former Governor Snyder, former Attorney General Schuette and lawmakers gifted Enbridge a one-sided law and set of agreements during their last days in office that handed control of Great Lakes waters and soils beneath the Straits of Mackinac to a private Canadian company for its private gain.
Act 359 and the agreements during the 2018 lame-duck session were designed to allow Enbridge to continue the dangerous and unacceptably grave risks of a failing Line 5 design until the company builds a tunnel to lease for the next 99 years, with massive potential liabilities for the State and citizen taxpayers.
“The deal was approved by a lame-duck session law that was based on dubious constitutional and legal grounds, and sought to suspend the rule of law in Michigan, binding citizens and the state to the control of part of the Great Lakes for the next century,” said Olson. “The Snyder administration helped Enbridge run around our state constitution and evade the rule of law that protects the public’s ownership and rights in the Great Lakes.”
New year, new administration
After taking office on Jan. 1, Governor Whitmer’s first move was to direct Attorney General Nessel to examine the legality of the lame-duck tunnel deal. AG Nessel ruled in March that Act 359 violated Michigan law and openly violated the state constitution. Whitmer quickly ordered the executive branch to adhere to Nessel’s opinion, preventing the implementation by state agencies of the unlawful deal.
On June 6, Enbridge reacted by filing a lawsuit against the State in an attempt to resuscitate the lame-duck law and agreements, claiming easements and the right to continue using the existing Line 5 in the Straits indefinitely—or until it gets a 99-year tunnel and new pipeline to transport crude oil from Alberta and through Michigan into Ontario.
The Attorney General telegraphed her decision to stand with the Great Lakes. At the Mackinac Policy Conference in late May she told WWMT-TV in West Michigan, “I’m tired of it and we can’t have a private company be more important than the natural resources and residents of our state. They don’t own us, they don’t own the natural resources in this state and I think it’s time that we had elected leaders in office that recognize that.”
On the campaign trail in 2018, Nessel ran on a message to shut down Line 5.
“No state can cede the Great Lakes or soils under them to a person or private corporation,” said Olson. “These lakes and the soils under them are held in public trust for fishing, boating, drinking water, recreation, bathing, swimming for all citizens. This trust cannot be suspended by private agreements. The use of these trust waters and soils can only be authorized under law with transparent findings that there is no private deal or gain and no risk of impairment of current and future generations.”
Our freshwater seas are of paramount importance to Michiganders, and citizens throughout the Great Lakes basin. They uphold our economy and represent our very way of life. According to the Great Lakes Commission, Michigan has more than 3,000 miles of freshwater coastline and 11,000 inland lakes that provide residents, businesses, and visitors with access to nearly 20 percent of the world’s surface freshwater. More than 800,000 Michigan jobs and $62 billion in resulting annual wages are directly linked to the Great Lakes.
An oil spill in the turbulent Straits of Mackinac between Lakes Michigan and Huron, where the currents create a washing machine effect, could jeopardize all that we are as Michiganders.
“This is a watershed moment in the battle to decommission Line 5, prevent a catastrophic oil spill, and protect the Great Lakes, an economic engine for our state and the source of drinking water for millions,” said FLOW executive director Liz Kirkwood. “Attorney General Nessel and Governor Whitmer made strong campaign promises to shut down Line 5, and now our elected leaders are making good on their commitment to protect the Great Lakes.”
Reactions from local leaders — both in city hall and in the private sector — were strong.
“Shutting down Line 5 is a priority to those in northern Michigan who rely on the economic benefits of the natural resources we have in our Great Lakes,” said Traverse City Mayor Jim Carruthers. “Our Attorney General is right for supporting the immediate shut down of this aging Enbridge Pipeline under our Straits, to ward off the devastating effects of a breach that will destroy all that is important to life ‘up north’. As the mayor of Traverse City, I wholeheartedly support these actions to protect the waters around my city for all to enjoy and benefit from.”
Business owners like Brian Schwartz of eightyfive MILES, a lifestyle apparel and accessory brand company, reflected on the economic value and significance of the Great Lakes.
“I am the owner of a Great Lakes’ inspired start-up and former hedge manager, and I don’t see Enbridge’s enthusiasm or desire to fund a $500 million tunnel project,” he said. “We believe it’s a faulty plan and the time is now to shut down Line 5. We support Attorney General Dana Nessel in the State’s battle to shut down this aging pipeline. Our company contributes a share of revenues to support Great Lakes’ conservation and it would be an ecological disaster and economic catastrophe to Michigan if the pipe were to burst. There’s no need to put the State’s livelihood and environment at risk.”
“Despite the posturing and rhetoric of Enbridge’s media scheme, there are alternatives to the existing Line 5 that do not require a tunnel,” said Olson. “These include delivering propane for those pockets of customers in the Upper Peninsula, and the use of excess capacity in other Enbridge lines that run across southern Michigan and northern Indiana to Canada and Detroit. We don’t need a 99-year tunnel and pipeline in light of plummeting demand for crude oil as the world economy rapidly shifts to renewable energy.”
“The Enbridge lawsuit is a diversion from the reality that the 540,000 barrels of oil are pulsating through a 66-year old pipeline, which is peppered with design flaws, gouges, corrosion, and unavoidably threatened with another anchor strike at any time.”
Enbridge has failed to prove itself as a trustworthy and transparent partner. Time and time again, Enbridge has withheld information, attempting to hide Line 5’s design flaws, pipeline coating, cracks, gouges, corrosion, and the April 1, 2018 anchor strike that nearly caused a calamitous spill, anchor strikes, and more. Enbridge’s operational track record is dismal. Its Line 6B Kalamazoo River disaster in 2010, one of the largest inland oil spills in U.S. history, cost $1.3 billion in damages. Line 5 has suffered 33 known spills, leaking approximately 1.1 million gallons of oil into Michigan’s environment.
An increasingly desperate Enbridge is enlisting allies to engage in what can only be deemed a deceitful Chicken Little campaign. The Canadian company wildly alleges 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.” The campaign is designed to scare officials into giving the company what it wants — a 99-year lease to use the people’s waters and lakebed to transport refined dirty tar sands oil from western Canada primarily to Sarnia, Ontario.
Enbridge makes the absurd claim that the PBF refinery in Toledo, Ohio, would lose a thousand jobs if Line 5 is shut down. But that directly contradicts statements PBF says in its own investor filings, as well as reports from market analysts, emphasizing the refinery has several sources of supply and can adjust them depending on market conditions. PBF also claims that 40% of the jet fuel used at Detroit Metropolitan 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. Alternative pipeline sources can more than make that up. Impacts of a Line 5 shutdown on Metro Airport jet fuel have never before been raised as an issue in the Line 5 debate or when Line 6B ruptured and closed in 2010. Its introduction at the 11th hour after more than five years of controversy over the fate of Line 5 is a transparent effort to alarm the public.
Enbridge has alternatives within its pipeline system to meet all of its and Michigan’s needs without using the Mackinac Straits and the Great Lakes. There are several good solutions to assure continued delivery of propane to rural areas in the Upper Peninsula. It may even save Enbridge and its shareholders from shouldering a future stranded asset, as the need for Alberta crude oil, including through Line 5, will plummet in the next decade with the rise of the new renewable energy economy backed by public demand.
Enbridge has a track record of misleading the public and governments about its performance, and its recent efforts are consistent with the company’s apparent philosophy of saying anything to keep Line 5 petroleum — and profits — flowing.
FLOW applauds Michigan’s top leaders — Gov. Whitmer and AG Nessel — for their leadership in defending the people’s rights and public waters of the Great Lakes.
Recently, John Sellek, Attorney General Bill Schuette’s campaign spokesperson, pushed back on the charge that the Attorney General could have taken legal action to shut down the Enbridge Line 5 petroleum pipelines at the Straits of Mackinac, stating “If this claim about the easement [filing a lawsuit] was so simple, then I am sure you would agree that Attorney General Jennifer Granholm and Attorney General Frank Kelley would have done it long ago.”
The problem with Sellek’s statement is the threat posed by Line 5 didn’t hit the public’s radar until 2010, when concerns were triggered by the expansion of other pipelines and after Enbridge’s Kalamazoo River spill became the largest inland pipeline spill, measured by area affected, in U.S. history.
But Sellek’s comment obscures the more important issue: Bill Schuette has always had ample legal authority to seek termination of the easement for Line 5. What is more, there is legal precedent for such action.
In 1986, Frank Kelley, then Attorney General for the State of Michigan, filed legal actions against Consumers Power Company and The Detroit Edison Company for fish mortality associated with the operation of the Ludington Pumped Storage Facility (LPSF) which was, at the time, the largest pumped-storage facility in North America. The LPSF, which continues to operate today, stores 27 billion gallons of Lake Michigan waters in a reservoir 5.5 miles in circumference to produce electricity during times of peak demand.
The problem was that the pumping cycles of the LPSF killed millions of sports fish as well as the forage fish they depended on.
Kelley filed two lawsuits; one for $300 million in monetary damages for the economic impact on Michigan’s sports fishery, and another seeking termination of the state lease for Lake Michigan bottomlands that are an integral part of the LPSF.
The lawsuits alleged violations of the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act, the Michigan Environmental Protection Act, the common law of nuisance, and violation of the Public Trust Doctrine. These same laws remain operative today and provide a clear legal basis for Bill Schuette to file suit to revoke the easement for Line 5 on Lake Michigan bottomlands.
In particular, the Public Trust Doctrine is a powerful legal framework to address the catastrophic threat posed by Line 5. The doctrine holds that the waters and bottomlands of the Great Lakes are held in a public trust for the benefit of the people. And further, the State of Michigan, through its attorneys general, has what the Michigan Supreme Court has stated is a “high, solemn and perpetual duty” to protect public trust resources from impairment or destruction.
Line 5 is showing a number of red flags. Facts compiled by For Love of Water demonstrating impacts to and degradation of Line 5 would support the attorney general’s legal claims:
Continuing scouring of bottomland support beneath the pipelines contrary to and in violation of 1953 Easement and original “as built” design.
Abrasion and loss of coating from the movement of the supports that are fastened to the pipelines.
Documentation that corrosion has occurred on the pipelines in nine locations and evidence of deformities or bending in the pipelines.
Observations that there are 55 “circumferential” cracks and loss of wall thickness in the pipelines.
As a result of the failure of the original design due to scouring and strong currents, the continual addition from 2001 to 2018 of 150 saddles and support, which have completely altered the original design and suspend almost 2 miles of pipelines above bottomlands of the Straits without legal authorization.
Anchor strikes that have dented the pipeline in three locations.
These facts support a finding that Line 5 poses an imminent risk. Under the law, the concept of “imminent risk” has two components – the likelihood of a failure and the potential magnitude of the harm. A study by the University of Michigan Water Center and modelling work done by the National Wildlife Federation have amply demonstrated the magnitude of potential harm by showing how a Line 5 failure would disperse oil and natural gas liquids throughout northern Lakes Michigan and Huron. And a recent Michigan State University study commissioned by FLOW shows potential economic damages that could exceed $6.3 billion.
Line 5, if it continues to operate, will fail eventually. It is unscientific and reckless to suggest that it can function indefinitely. While it is true a legal action to compel a shutdown could take considerable time, failure to take legal action is a breach of the attorney general’s legal obligation to the citizens of Michigan under the Public Trust Doctrine.
So, what was the result of Attorney General Kelley’s action in 1986?
The Michigan Court of Appeals held that “because the fish resources destroyed by the plant are held in trust by the state for the people, the state is empowered to bring a civil action to protect those resources” but denied the state’s request to void the lease for state bottomlands. Both parties appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court, but the case was settled before the Court rendered a decision.
Skip Pruss, FLOW Chair
The result: A settlement valued at $177 million (1995 dollars), establishment of the Great Lakes Fisheries Trust, conveyance of over 24,000 acres of pristine lands to the State of Michigan (including 70 miles of undeveloped river frontage), 12 new public fishing sites on the Great Lakes, and prophylactic measures implemented to reduce fish mortality at the LPSF.
As Attorney General, Frank Kelley obtained a major victory for the public interest in a situation involving an unacceptable use of publicly-owned Great Lakes bottomlands. It is time for Schuette to act on Line 5, not make excuses.
TRAVERSE CITY – A draft report for the State by Dynamic Risk Inc. of alternatives to Enbridge’s risky twin oil pipelines crossing the lakebed at the Straits of Mackinac is so deeply flawed, according to FLOW, a Traverse City-based Great Lakes water law and policy center, that the State cannot credibly rely on its findings to decide Line 5’s future.
“The report is unreliable and should not be used,” said Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director of FLOW. “Instead, the State should protect the Great Lakes from the potential of a catastrophic oil spill and exercise its legal authority to revoke Enbridge’s permission to use the waters and lakebed that belong to the people of Michigan.”
Prepared by Dynamic Risk Assessment Systems of Calgary – a firm with business ties to Enbridge – the study is rife with biased assumptions and technical errors that skew its findings, said FLOW representatives at a public meeting on the campus of Northwestern Michigan College.
“The process of developing these now-discredited reports has cost Michigan well over a year that should have been spent crafting a thoughtful decommissioning process that protects the Great Lakes, prioritizes citizens, businesses, and tribes, and ultimately addresses Michigan’s energy needs,” said Kirkwood, “Enbridge has been granted an extension through distraction.”
Among the draft report’s flaws:
• It completely ignores the most suitable alternative to Line 5, which is existing infrastructure. The state asked consultant Dynamic Risk to analyze it. Failure to do so taints the analysis.
• The draft report assumes that the state must guarantee that Enbridge deliver 23 million gallons of oil that is now being transported daily through Line 5, rather than protecting the energy needs of its citizens. This bias results in the tunnel option appearing as a favored report alternative.
• The draft report assumes the best-case scenario for a spill, not the worst. The consultant uses assumptions of risk that are woefully inadequate and are not credible. It estimates that an average 20 miles of shoreline would be impacted by a spill. This is just 3% of the 720-mile area the University of Michigan found vulnerable to a spill in its 2016 study.
• It significantly understates the likelihood of pipeline failure at an already-alarming 1 in 60 chance by ignoring 50 years of neglect, unsupported spans, powerful currents, and gravity. Applying DOT engineering standards and adding up the failure probability on a yearly basis gives the 2017 failure probability at 46.4% and the 2053 failure probability at 72.5%, or odds of about 3-1. These figures are far different from the Alternatives Analysis estimate of 1.6% by 2053.
• It relies on flawed economic impact modeling that unreasonably concludes that a spill in the open waters of the Great Lakes would only cost $100-200 million in damages.
• It estimates an impact to propane supply much greater than what FLOW’s independent experts have determined would be necessary to provide the Upper Peninsula’s Rapid River facility with an alternative supply. The flawed alternatives report finds that up to 35 railcars per week or 15 truckloads per day would be necessary to replace the Line 5 supply of natural gas liquids, while FLOW’s expert studies have found it would take only one railcar or 3-4 truckloads per day. Line 5 supplies only 35-50 percent of the Upper Peninsula’s propane.
“The fact is, Line 5 is not essential,” said Rick Kane, a Michigan-based hazardous materials risk management specialist advising FLOW. “The regional pipeline system can supply crude oil to Michigan and surrounding refineries while eliminating the risk that Line 5 poses to the Great Lakes,” Kane said. “Feasible and prudent alternatives exist to support domestic needs, as well as exports. However, pipeline company owners will not move to implement any alternatives as long as Line 5 operates and the public continues to carry the risk.” Last month, the state cancelled a contract for an analysis of the financial risks associated with the Mackinac pipeline when it was disclosed an employee of contractor Det Norske Veritas worked on another project for Enbridge, creating a conflict of interest.
“The risk is far too high for State leaders to use this flawed report as an excuse for more delay, especially when there are obvious alternatives for Enbridge, Michigan, and Canada without Line 5 in the Straits,” said Jim Olson, FLOW’s founder and president and a renowned water rights attorney. “Good leadership calls for interim measures now, based on the clear authority and duties imposed on the State to protect the Straits and Great Lakes. This means prohibiting the transport of crude through Line 5, pending further proceedings and final decisions.”
After the revelation last month that Enbridge for years routinely violated a legal agreement to properly anchor its dual pipelines against the swift currents in the Mackinac Straits, FLOW argued the state of Michigan now must apply the law, stop Line 5’s oil flow, and hold public hearings as it considers the Canadian company’s application to squeeze more life out of its decaying steel infrastructure built in 1953.
State of Michigan Takes a “Holiday” from Preventing Line 5 Oil Spill Disaster in Great Lakes
Snyder Administration Watches and Waits as the 64-year-old Dual Pipelines Missing Their Anti-Rust Coating and Structural Supports Continue to Use Mackinac Straits as a High-Risk Shortcut to Private Profits
TRAVERSE CITY, MI – The Snyder administration, in two letters (here and here) released Wednesday, indicated it will seek more information, but take no enforcement action, while continuing to accept Enbridge’s assurances that all is well with dual oil pipelines in the Mackinac Straits that the Canadian company itself has indicated are missing portions of an external, anti-rust coating and lacking 18 anchor supports to prevent the pipes from grinding and bending along the bottom and bursting.
The letters – signed by Attorney General Bill Schuette, Michigan Department of Natural Resources Director Keith Creagh, and Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Director Heidi Grether – describe “inviting” Enbridge to explain the company’s September 2016 report that identifies 19 areas along the submerged steel pipes where the anti-corrosion coating is missing. Enbridge’s report euphemistically calls the missing portions “holidays,” industry jargon for areas where the coating has worn or fallen off. The report outlines a plan for assessing Line 5’s integrity where the coating is gone and acidic waste excreted by invasive mussels that blanket the pipes could be causing corrosion.
Enbridge claims that the report is merely “hypothetical,” even though the report flatly states that the external coating is missing and the words “hypothetical” and “theoretical” are not found in the document.
“The State of Michigan is moving in slow motion to question Enbridge’s claims that its own report doesn’t mean what is plainly says,” said Liz Kirkwood, an environmental attorney and executive director of FLOW, a Traverse City-based water law and policy center dedicated to upholding the public’s rights to use and benefit from the Great Lakes. “When the pipelines finally fail, will the state invite Enbridge to explain what the thick, black substance is pouring out of the 64-year-old pipes and into the drinking water source for nearby Mackinac Island, St. Ignace, and roughly 5 million Michiganders?”
The state issued its March 8 letter in response to February 17 correspondence from the Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign, which FLOW co-leads with several other leading organizations, that raised grave and detailed concerns about the condition of Line 5 and called for its immediate shutdown.
An Enbridge representative is expected to explain its report at the March 13 quarterly meeting in Lansing of the governor-appointed Michigan Pipeline Safety Advisory Board, whose members include Attorney General Schuette. The advisory board is overseeing the completion of two nominally independent studies funded by Enbridge: one on the financial risk to communities and the Pure Michigan economy of a Line 5 oil spill in the Mackinac Straits and the other on alternatives to the aging pipeline that could avoid such a disaster. These two studies are expected by June 2017.
Enbridge is infamous for leaking more than one million gallons of heavy tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River watershed near Marshall, Michigan, in 2010, fouling nearly 40 miles of the river and shore, sickening numerous people, harming wildlife, and forcing more than 100 families to permanently abandon their homes and property.
The failure to adequately maintain the Line 5 pipelines, including a lack of supports to prevent bending of the pipeline – is a breach of Enbridge’s 1953 legal easement agreement with the State of Michigan that allows the company to occupy public waters and state bottomlands. The failures documented in the Enbridge report add to the mounting evidence of the unacceptable risk that this infrastructure poses to the Great Lakes.
A three-minute video of Line 5 pipelines in the Straits, researched and edited by FLOW’s engineering expert Dr. Ed Timm, reveals the physical deterioration of Line 5, with missing and dislodged coating, broken bands, detached wooden structural slats, unsupported segments, and possible rust and pitting.
In addition, a just-released technical note prepared by Dr. Timm regarding Line 5 reinforces the urgent need for the state to immediately shut down Line 5 while it evaluates the integrity of the aging infrastructure that pumps nearly 23 million gallons of oil a day through the Mackinac Straits before eventually reaching refineries in Sarnia, Ontario. Specifically, this technical note concludes the following:
Line 5 is not immune to corrosion and stress cracking despite its thick walls, contrary to Enbridge’s claims;
The asphalt enamel based coating system is compromised or missing on many areas of the pipe;
The extent of the coverage by invasive mussels on the pipelines makes it “impossible” to evaluate how much of the coating system is compromised;
The easement-required wooden slats that were designed to protect from point loads and abrasion are missing entirely on portions of the pipelines; and
The peak currents in the Mackinac Straits are nearly twice the maximum velocity considered when the pipeline was designed, adding significant stress;
A full study of the integrity of the coating system that includes a careful examination of the impact of the biofouling on the pipelines is critical to making a proper fitness-for-service evaluation.
“The evidence demands that the State of Michigan respond and fulfill its affirmative fiduciary duty,” wrote Jim Olson, an environmental attorney and FLOW’s president, in a March 9 follow-up letter to the State of Michigan. “It is not enough to stand by the sidelines and merely request additional information from Enbridge given the high risk of a catastrophic oil spill in the Great Lakes that would devastate our public drinking waters and our water-dependent economy. ‘Pure Michigan’ should not just be an advertising slogan.”
The article linked below provides a good synopsis of the new federal bill H.R. 458 that would provide an orderly mechanism to shut down Line 5 if a 12-month study determines the risk is simply too significant to allow crude oil to flow through the heart of the Great Lakes. The bill’s sponsors Congressmen Dave Trott (R) and Debbie Dingell (D) have launched a just approach to removing Line 5 because of its magnitude of harm and high risk.
It is important to remember that risk is not just inspections and probability. Risk (R) equals the magnitude of harm (H) multiplied by probability (P). When the magnitude of harm is high, like the devastation to the Straits, drinking water, communities, fishing, tribal interests, riparian landowners, resorts, including Mackinac Island, and all of the tourist related business, probability is less important. Under high risk management systems, the immediate action is to remove the high risk by implementing an alternative that reasonably accomplishes the overall purpose – in this case, transport of crude oil to refineries. Refineries exist in the South, Midwest, West, and East. The pipeline system in the U.S. and Canada is a mesh of pipelines to carry oil. Capacity exists within the system. In fact, they must because pipelines are shut down, and there must always be a backup plan. Given the age of the pipeline, 63 years, and the massive currents, and the high magnitude of harm, Enbridge needs to look for another way to move oil in cooperation with the overall system it manages. It doubled capacity when it replaced Line 6b, as part of the deal for devastating harm to Kalamazoo River fishery, ecosystem, and property owners. With this new line 6b with double the capacity, Enbridge does not need Line 5, it is time to shut it down. The bill, if passed, which it should be if Congress has any sense at all regarding the value of the Great Lakes and water resources in this country, should lead to the removal of Line 5, and finally the removal of the last crude oil line in Great Lakes waters. Let’s make sure no new crude oil pipelines or ships carry crude oil, including dilbit from Tar Sands, in, over, or on the Great Lakes. When there are existing routes, lots of companies, and the crude oil network runs on land where it is easier to inspect, twenty percent of the world’s fresh surface water should not be at risk.
The Great Lakes are no safer from an oil pipeline spill today despite yesterday’s release of the State of Michigan Pipeline Task Force’s 80-page report and recommendations.
The Task Force report included four recommendations directed at Enbridge’s twin 62-year-old petroleum pipelines located on the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac: (1) Ban transportation of heavy crude oil through the Straits pipelines; (2) Require an independent risk analysis and full insurance coverage for the pipelines; (3) Require an independent analysis of alternatives to the existing pipelines; (4) Obtain more inspection data from Enbridge relating to the pipelines.
Yet, oil still flows through Line 5. The Task Force rejected shutting down Line 5 while gathering additional information on the basis that they had “inadequate information at this time to fully evaluate the risks presented by the Straits Pipelines.” (P. 57)
Impose Emergency Measures Immediately
At a minimum, however, the Task Force should impose immediate emergency measures on the pipeline given (1) potential violations of the 1953 Easement related to Enbridge’s inability to demonstrate that it has adequate liability coverage to cover all damages from an oil spill; (2) the Coast Guard’s admission that it is inadequately prepared to clean up an open water spill in freshwater let alone under frozen winter conditions; (3) Enbridge’s failure to disclose inspection, maintenance, and repair records to document internal and external corrosion rates under the Straits and inherent limitations related to inline inspection tools.
The question remains: how much more information do we need to unveil before our trustee – the State – takes swift protective action that prioritizes the paramount interests of citizens over private corporations?
The Task Force and the public have rejected the idea that the Straits Pipelines can last indefinitely. In fact, the Attorney General Bill Schuette has declared that “the days of letting two controversial oil pipelines operate under the Straits of Mackinac are numbered.” This is hopeful news, but every day counts, and until we have specific measures in place that prevent a catastrophic spill, the State of Michigan is placing the Great Lakes at risk.