Tag: Straits of Mackinac

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.

MPSC: Proposed ‘Line 5’ Oil Tunnel in the Straits of Mackinac Must Undergo Full and Vigorous Public Review

MPSC Chairman Sally A. Talberg

Photo above: MPSC Chairman Sally A. Talberg, presiding over the Commission hearing today on Enbridge’s proposed oil pipeline tunnel in the Straits of Mackinac.


FLOW E.D. Liz Kirkwood

The following statement can be attributed to Liz Kirkwood, environmental attorney and executive director of FLOW (For Love of Water), a Great Lakes law and policy center based in Traverse City:

“The Michigan Public Service Commission’s decision today is a big win for all Michigan residents that upholds their public trust rights in the Great Lakes. The MPSC flatly rejected the untenable claim by Enbridge that it had somehow already received approval in 1953, when Line 5 was built in the Straits of Mackinac, for an oil tunnel it is proposing 67 years later in 2020. The 3-0 vote by the MPSC means Enbridge will not be allowed to dodge a full review of their proposed oil pipeline tunnel, including an August 24 public hearing, which is desperately needed in light of the potential impact on the Great Lakes and its regional economy.

“We applaud the MPSC for rejecting Enbridge’s declaratory ruling request, and instead, requiring that Enbridge’s application be reviewed as a contested case with a public hearing under Michigan’s Act 16. Enbridge now has the burden to show a public need for this proposed oil pipeline under the Great Lakes, ensure no harm or pollution to our public trust waters and lands, and fully consider feasible and prudent alternatives to this project. With society’s urgent need to tackle climate change head on and ensure freshwater security, Enbridge cannot show that its proposed fossil fuel infrastructure is a credible solution for Michigan’s 21st century just and equitable future.”


See FLOW’s additional coverage of the MPSC review of the Enbridge oil pipeline tunnel here:

Decision Time Coming on Line 5 Oil Tunnel

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

Thousands urge MPSC to bring Enbridge under rule of law to protect Great Lakes

By Emma Moulton, FLOW Milliken Intern for Communications

By Emma Moulton, FLOW Milliken Intern for Communications

During a three-week comment period that ended in mid-May, the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) received a flood of more than 3,100 public comments, with a strong majority firmly opposed, on Enbridge’s request to bypass the legal review process and plow forward with other permitting required to replace and relocate the decaying Line 5 oil pipelines crossing the Straits of Mackinac with a proposed 18- to 21-foot diameter tunnel housing a new pipeline.

MPSC spokesman Matt Helms called the volume of comments “definitely a high amount” even for an agency whose utility rate-setting cases sometimes draw intense public scrutiny. The submissions poured in from individuals, families, tribes, environmental groups, elected officials, business owners, political groups, and many others opposed to the Canadian company’s attempted legal maneuver.

Many comments, including from FLOW, highlighted deep concerns over due process, the rule of law, and tribal treaty rights in response to Enbridge’s request for a declaratory ruling that no approval from the MPSC is even necessary. The Canadian pipeline company justifies its request by claiming that a new, roughly 4-mile long tunnel through the bedrock and loose soil of the public trust bottomlands should be considered mere “maintenance” on the old Line 5 pipelines in the open waters that the MPSC approved 67 years ago.

It’s 2020, Not 1953, and A Momentous Decision Awaits

An overarching theme of the comments was that this is no longer 1953, when Dwight Eisenhower was president and color TV was new to America. Now climate change, water scarcity, privatization, and oil spills must be taken into account when considering this massive, new fossil-fuel infrastructure. The public comments demand that MPSC’s decision be based on actual necessity in light of societal clean-energy goals and public interest in a sustainable future. Line 5 only grows more dangerous with age, and it is decision time for Michigan’s leaders.

“There’s no free pass here,” said Jim Olson, FLOW founder and legal advisor. “The MPSC is charged with the responsibility of assuring this project is necessary and in the public interest of the people of Michigan in 2020, not 1953. The world has changed and with the current COVID-19 pandemic and global climate crisis, the MPSC’s decision will be momentous.”

Groups Point to Risks, Legal Tactics, Lack of Public Necessity

In their comments, many environmental groups spoke to the unacceptable risk a tunnel would pose to natural resources in Michigan. Several submissions cited the major catastrophe that would be unleashed by an oil spill under and gushing into the Great Lakes, including the damage to drinking water supplies, public health, jobs and the economy, public and private property, aquatic life and habitat, current and future generations, and a way of life in the Great Lakes State.

And the groups directly addressed the criteria the MPSC considers in weighing Enbridge’s request for a declaratory ruling. The Sierra Club, for instance, insisted that the MPSC deny Enbridge’s request, as it, “asks the Commission to ignore that its proposal is in fact to replace the dual Line 5 pipelines by building a new single pipeline, of a different size, in a new location”—noting that Sierra Club members from Michigan rely on the Great Lakes for their clean water and their livelihoods.

The citizen-led Straits of Mackinac Alliance questioned the necessity of the tunnel given the economic downturn here and beyond, writing, “Any projection of tunnel use beyond the next decade is highly speculative” due to Michigan’s change in oil demand. “Michigan’s need for oil products in 2020 is totally different than it was in 1953… Current demands for oil have dropped dramatically and industry projections for shale oil sources do not look promising. The shale oil producers may not be in business when the tunnel project is completed.”

On behalf of multiple groups and tribes, including the Michigan Environmental Council, the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, Tip Of The Mitt Watershed Council, and National Wildlife Federation, attorney Christopher Bzdok highlighted Enbridge’s thin reasoning in support of its request for a declaratory ruling and noted that the MPSC “reserved jurisdiction and authority over Line 5, and the right to issue subsequent orders as the Commission deemed necessary. That reservation gives the Commission ample authority to require a new approval for the project and a new contested case.”

Tribes Voice Concerns over Treaty Rights and Survival

Throughout the comments, there is a powerful presence of tribal organizations voicing their critical position on the request, most often citing the 1836 Treaty of Washington, which preceded Michigan’s statehood in 1837 reserved the tribes’ rights to hunt, fish, and gather throughout the territory, and asserted the need for an environment in which fish can thrive.

In addressing tribal rights, attorney Bzdok highlights the lack of tribal collaboration in the MPSC’s original 1953 decision on Line 5: “The Tribes – at least two of which will be intervening in this case – were the original occupants of the property that will be occupied by the project. They retain certain reserved rights to natural resources in the project area under the Treaty of Washington.”

On behalf of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, Tribal Chairperson Regina Gasco-Bentley states that the reserved treaty rights “remain central to our culture, economy, and physical and spiritual well-being. The Straits of Mackinac are the life blood of our Tribe. An oil spill or geologic mishap from tunneling under the Straits would devastate our Tribe beyond any economic valuation.”

Next Steps from the MPSC on a Line 5 Oil Tunnel

The MPSC through May 27 accepted any replies on the public comment that was submitted by the May 13 deadline. The public body expects to decide on Enbridge’s request for a declaratory ruling at a June or July meeting, or shortly after, according to spokesman Helms.

If the MPSC rightly rejects the request, then, according to FLOW’s Jim Olson, the MPSC in its review of Enbridge’s April 17 tunnel application should “fully consider and determine the effect on, and potential impairment to, the substantial risks, alternatives, costs, and damages, and the future of the State of Michigan under the public trust in the Great Lakes, environment, fishing, fishery habitat, and the communities, including tribal interests under long-standing treaties” of Enbridge’s tunnel pipeline proposal under the Straits of Mackinac to replace its existing four-mile Line 5 pipeline on the lakebed.

FLOW to U.P. Energy Task Force: Act Fast to Protect Residents, End Reliance on Risky ‘Line 5’ Oil Pipeline

Photo by Kathryn DePauw for FLOW.


To alleviate the rising threat to the safety and economic security of Upper Peninsula residents, a state energy task force at its April 13 online public meeting should act with urgency to adopt, prioritize, and schedule the implementation of the 14 recommendations in its draft propane supply report.  Swift action is needed in order to end reliance on the risky Line 5 pipeline, dismantle the Canadian energy monopoly over the Upper Peninsula, and secure more diverse and renewable energy choices, said FLOW (For Love of Water) in formal public comments sent Monday to state officials.

FLOW’s letter to the U.P. Energy Task Force, which Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer created last June, comes at the deadline for the public to review the March 20 draft report on propane supply options. FLOW is urging the task force to act immediately on both short-term and long-term recommendations for the State of Michigan to resolve the clear and present danger to public health and the Great Lakes posed by Line 5.

FLOW finds that the most reliable, secure, lowest-cost, and lowest-risk alternative for propane supplies in the short term is a combination of the recommendations on rail and truck, plus an increase in propane inventory in the Upper Peninsula. Highest priority should be given to recommendations with a full range of diverse alternatives that are not dependent on the decaying Enbridge Line 5 pipeline, which crosses the Upper Peninsula and the open waters of the Straits of Mackinac.

FLOW also urges the task force to evaluate all of the environmental and health impacts and risks that each alternative poses to air, water, and land resources. The Great Lakes and other natural resources remain at grave risk with the continued daily operation of Line 5, and impacts to these public trust resources must be fully considered in the final propane report.

FLOW also calls on the task force to expedite its work and complete its renewable energy plan in 2020, well ahead of its March 2021 deadline for reporting to the governor. Michigan and the Great Lakes cannot wait another year for more studies as Line 5 continues to age.

“The U.P. Energy Task Force draft propane report concludes that both short-term and longer-term feasible and prudent alternatives exist to decommission Line 5 and to secure reliable, safe, and affordable energy to U.P. residents based on adjustments within the energy system,” said Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director of FLOW, the Great Lakes law and policy center based in Traverse City.  “Given the current propane monopoly and lack of backup alternatives to Line 5, U.P. residents are exposed to substantial financial and safety risks. Moreover, Line 5 also poses unprecedented and devastating economic, environmental, and public health risks to the Great Lakes.”

With the help of the task force to prioritize recommendations and advance much needed energy planning, the State of Michigan can work as expeditiously as possible to decommission the aging Line 5 pipeline and transition to safe and affordable energy alternatives for U.P. residents.

Background

The U.P. Energy Task Force, formed by Gov. Whitmer’s Executive Order 2019-14, is charged with “considering all available information and make recommendations that ensure the U.P.’s energy needs are met in a manner that is reliable, affordable, and environmentally sound.” The Order also directs the Task Force to examine “alternative means to supply the energy sources currently used by U.P. residents, and alternatives to those energy sources.”

The precipitating force behind this urgent energy analysis is Enbridge’s increasingly risky 67-year-old Line 5 pipeline, which has ruptured or otherwise leaked at least 33 times since 1968, and the failure to date to prioritize and assure a backup alternative for delivering propane in the Upper Peninsula. Line 5 is operating far past its life expectancy and continues to threaten the Great Lakes, public health, and drinking water supplies for thousands of Michiganders. With no backup plan for delivering alternative propane supplies to the U.P. in the event of a catastrophic Line 5 pipeline rupture, including in the dead of winter, the outdated pipeline also endangers the safety, security, and energy independence of Upper Peninsula residents who rely on propane to heat their homes.

FLOW Urges Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority to Halt Action on Unauthorized ‘Line 5’ Oil Tunnel

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:                                                                                                   March 5, 2020

Jim Olson, Founder and President                                                             Email: Jim@FLOWforWater.org
FLOW (For Love of Water), Traverse City, MI                                                     Web: ForLoveofWater.org
Cell: (231) 499-8831                                                                                             FLOW Office: (231) 944-1568


FLOW Urges Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority to Halt Action on Unauthorized ‘Line 5’ Oil Tunnel

Proposed project Fails to Comply with Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act and Public Trust Law


FLOW, an independent Great Lakes law and policy center based in Traverse City, Michigan, filed formal comments today with the Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority, calling on the body to halt any further implementation of Enbridge Energy’s proposed Line 5 oil pipeline tunnel until the authorizations and approvals required by public trust common law and statute have been applied for and obtained.

The Corridor Authority, which is housed in the Michigan Department of Transportation, will meet Friday, March 6, at 10 a.m. in St. Ignace to discuss past and ongoing planning for the location and construction of the oil tunnel and new pipeline in the state public trust soils beneath the waters of the Great Lakes—the Straits of Mackinac.

The Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority and Enbridge have not applied for, nor received, the required legal authorization from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy to proceed with the oil pipeline tunnel. Canadian-based Enbridge hatched the tunnel scheme with the former Snyder administration to replace the 67-year-old decaying Line 5 pipelines in the open waters of the Straits of Mackinac, where Lake Michigan meets Lake Huron.

“The oil tunnel negotiators and parties’ attempt to bypass the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act (GLSLA) and the public trust law constitute one of the most egregious attacks on citizens’ rights and sovereign public trust interests in the Great Lakes in the history of the State of Michigan,” said FLOW Founder and President Jim Olson.

“The Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority must understand that it is subject to the public trust doctrine and law that applies to the Great Lakes and the soils under them,” said Olson, a water law and environmental attorney. “When Michigan joined the United States in 1837, it took title as sovereign for its citizens under the ‘equal footing’ doctrine to all of the navigable waters in its territory, including the Great Lakes, and ‘all of the soils under them’ below the natural ordinary high-water mark. These waters and the soils beneath them are held in, and protected by, a public trust.”

The public trust doctrine means that the state holds these waters and soils beneath them in trust for the public for the protection of preferred or dedicated public trust uses of navigation, fishing, boating, swimming, bathing, drinking water, and other recreation. There can be no disposition, transfer, conveyance, occupancy or use of any kind of these public trust waters and the soils beneath them, unless there is a statute or law that expressly authorizes that action.

The State and Enbridge must first obtain authorization under the GLSLA for the public-private partnership to establish a long-term agreement for the 99-year lease and occupancy agreement for a tunnel or pipeline in or through the soils and bottomlands of the Straits of Mackinac.

FLOW, as well as a coalition of state-wide public interest organization making up the Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign, contends that boring an oil tunnel in and through the soils for an oil tunnel is not only subject to these public trust laws, but that crude oil pipelines in the or under the Great Lakes are not a solution given the risks and threats to the Great Lakes, its people, businesses, and communities. FLOW, OWDM, and other communities and organizations have also called for the shutdown of the 67-year old existing line 5 because of the immediate threat to the Straits and the risks 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. There is adequate capacity in the thousands of miles of the Enbridge crude oil pipeline system to meet its needs for Michigan and Canada without the perilous existing Line 5 or crude oil tunnel for another 67 years.

For more information, see FLOW’s:


Michigan DNR Takes Steps to Hold Enbridge Accountable

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.

Chronicling FLOW’s Accomplishments in 2019

Powered by our supporters, FLOW had quite a year in 2019.

Our legal advocacy work to restore the rule of law made a big impact at the state level. Michigan’s new Attorney General Dana Nessel filed a public trust lawsuit on June 27 to revoke the 1953 easement that conditionally authorizes Enbridge to operate its 66-year-old Line 5 oil pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac.

“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 about Nessel’s bold legal action.

On December 3, the Michigan Court of Appeals nullified a lower court order that would have allowed the bottled water giant Nestlé to build an industrial booster pump facility to remove millions of gallons of groundwater per year from Osceola Township. The court affirmed that bottled water is neither an “essential public service” nor a “public water supply”.

“Bottled water diversion and export operations can no longer be paraded as public,” said FLOW founder and president Jim Olson. “The purpose of the bottled water industry has only one purpose—maximum profit off the sale of packaged public water.”

Meanwhile, a bill has been introduced in Lansing by Rep. Yousef Rabhi that extends public trust protection to groundwater and mandates that the state protect that water.

Our work has had a national impact as well. In February, the United States Supreme Court reaffirmed that we have a public trust right to walk the Great Lakes shorelines below the natural high water mark of private property, when it declined to hear an Indiana case filed by riparian land owners. Jim Olson was involved in the original case.

 

Education and protective policy

FLOW launched several education campaigns in 2019 including a Groundwater Awareness Week, what it is and why it matters; the Michigan Septic Summit on Nov. 6 that convened parties from public health officials to realtors to watershed nonprofits to generate new partnerships and build political will to pass a statewide septic code; an environmental economics project and four policy briefs by former FLOW board chair Skip Pruss about the benefits of government regulation to protect the environment and public health; and a Public Trust month in July that included a “Great Lakes Passport” and a month-long series of videos that featured the public answering the question: “Who owns the Great Lakes?”.

We advocated for several protective policies in 2019, including a two-pronged proposal to the International Joint Commission (IJC) for an emergency pilot study and urgent action to address the effects of climate change on the Great Lakes, the inclusion of funding for clean water in Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s budget, and the need for statewide requirements for septic system inspection, particularly given that Michigan is the only state in the nation without any statewide septic code.

The International Joint Commission, which held a public hearing in Traverse City on July 24, also appointed FLOW executive director Liz Kirkwood to its Great Lakes Water Quality Board.

“I am delighted to have the opportunity to work with people from all across the Great Lakes Basin to help improve protection of these public trust waters,” Kirkwood said. “Our challenge in this new century, then, is to break the constant cycle of ruin and recovery, and replace it with sustained protection and prosperity. This is critical in the context of the climate crisis where we are testing the capacity of our ecosystems to rebound.”

FLOW senior policy advisor Dave Dempsey was also invited to present at the Great Lakes Funders Conference in Cleveland in late October.

 

Celebrating water

FLOW held several events in 2019 to recognize the importance of inspiring citizens viscerally and emotionally (as well as cerebrally) to protect the Great Lakes. We launched our “Art Meets Water” webpage to highlight examples of the heartfelt creativity that inspires us to fight for our public waters. “We all know that water is the source of the future,” says Leelanau County writer Anne-Marie Oomen. “But it’s also a part of our souls and our spirits.”

On June 28, cellist Crispin Campbell and “Mad Angler” poet Mike Delp performed at our “In Praise of Water” benefit for FLOW at the Cathedral Barn at Historic Barns Park in Traverse City. “The Mad Angler finds himself upset about the state of affairs that Michigan rivers find themselves in,” said Delp. “When you hear that deep sound coming out of the cello, that’s the heart of where this comes from… I’m right down inside that cello.”

On July 24, Oomen and the Beach Bards storytellers’ troupe presented, “Love Letters to the Lakes” (which she had solicited from writers across Michigan) in a live reading to the International Joint Commission, in hopes that deeply personal prose would impact public policy to protect the Great Lakes. And on October 11, Higher Art Gallery in Traverse City held “Artists for FLOW,” inviting local artists to share water-inspired works for a show that benefits our fight to protect that water.

After all, protecting the Great Lakes is “A Matter of the Heart” writes FLOW supporter Jerry Beasley:

“What I have learned, and what I believe in the most elemental way, is that our first and most basic relationship with water is anchored in love. In the absence of love, there is the great risk of indifference and failure to protect this resource that, under the Public Trust Doctrine, belongs to us all and is essential to life. If the heart is not engaged, the waters will not be saved. So, while we marshal facts and organize and encourage activism, let us remember to acknowledge the power of our affections and make them a guiding principle in all that we do.”

FLOW Cites New Evidence of Enbridge Operating Illegally, Calls for Orderly Shutdown of ‘Line 5’ Oil Pipelines in Straits of Mackinac

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

Formal comments filed today to assist State of Michigan’s Line 5 review, citing new and ongoing legal violations by Enbridge, rising risk to the Great Lakes, jobs, and drinking water

FLOW today called on the State of Michigan 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 shut down of the dual oil pipelines as soon as practicable after securing alternative sources for residential propane.

FLOW’s request came in formal comments to the state following 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. 

FLOW’s comments are directed to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (“DNR”) and Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (“EGLE”), and intended specifically to aid in the DNR’s “comprehensive review of Enbridge’s compliance with the 1953 easement and other factors affecting its validity,” as ordered by Governor Gretchen Whitmer on June 27.

“It’s time for the State of Michigan to restore the rule of law on Line 5. We call on the Whitmer administration to commence the shutdown of the dual oil pipelines and direct Enbridge, if it wishes to continue operating its 66-year-old pipelines in the Straits, to apply for permission under public trust law and the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act,” said FLOW executive director Liz Kirkwood. “Enbridge must prove that its use and operation, including the substantial change in design with hundreds of elevated spans and significant other matters, complies with and is entitled to authorization.”

Until the shutdown is complete, FLOW urges the state to impose immediate emergency measures that reduce the flow of oil in Line 5 to its original limit, a reduction of 40% from current flow. State officials also should implement more stringent requirements for a mandatory emergency shutdown, including 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 $5 billion.

FLOW’s comprehensive review of eight violations of the state-granted easement — related to design, operation, and maintenance — demonstrates convincingly that Enbridge has committed, and continues to commit through its conduct, omissions, and breaches of the 1953 easement that are beyond correction. It is also clear that there are major “other factors affecting the validity” of the 1953 easement and Enbridge’s continued use and operation of the cracked-and-dented Line 5 dual oil pipelines in the open waters and on the bottomlands of the Great Lakes in the Straits of Mackinac, including the failure of Enbridge to obtain from previous directors of the DNR (and its predecessor Department of Conservation) the authorizations required by the common law of public trust and/or the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act (“GLSLA”).  

Enbridge’s ongoing violations related to anchors and pipeline design threaten the very safety and health of the Great Lakes, and thus trigger the state’s duty to enforce its conditional occupancy agreement with Enbridge. The State continues to have substantial legal and factual cause to terminate the agreement with Enbridge to stop the oil flow.

In support of these comments, FLOW also submitted the multiple reports and comments that FLOW and others have previously submitted to the DNR, DEQ (now “EGLE”), the Attorney General’s office, and Governor’s office over the past six years. It is clear that the Director of the DNR and executive team, as trustees of the Great Lakes and soils beneath them, have the authority and duty to invalidate, direct compliance with, terminate, and/or revoke the 1953 Easement.

The 200-plus anchor supports (constituting 3 miles of elevated pipelines in the water column) represent a substantial change in design from the dual pipelines designed and built pursuant to the specifications of the 1953 easement. Although DEQ (now “EGLE”) approved anchor supports of the elevated lines over the past 18 years, the anchors have been issued only as permits to “place other materials on bottomlands,” and not as a conveyance or agreement for occupancy or use of the bottomlands and waters for the substantial change in the dual pipelines themselves. The Affidavit of Dr. Edwin Timm filed in the consolidated contested cases against the State of Michigan demonstrates seriously increased risks, a total lack of review of applicable risk standards for elevated multiple-span pipelines, and new or substantially changed pipeline that has not been assessed by the state.

“The only real solution now is to apply the law and shut down the 66-year-old Line 5 pipelines permanently to protect the Straits, and nearly 400 other water crossings in Michigan, from the next Enbridge oil spill,” said Kirkwood. “The Canadian oil, which Enbridge does not own, can be sent through other pipelines operated by Enbridge and its competitors. Michigan has no obligation to guarantee Enbridge a shortcut to Ontario oil refineries and the overseas export market.”

Line 5 Poses On-land Explosion Risk for Michigan Residents

On August 1, a natural gas pipeline operated by an Enbridge subsidiary exploded in Kentucky. The blast killed one person, injured six others, and blew 30 feet of pipeline out of the ground, resulting in a crater that is 50 feet long, 35 feet wide and 13 feet deep. About 66 million cubic feet of natural gas was released by the explosion, with the resulting fire destroying multiple structures and burning vegetation over approximately 30 acres of land.

Although public attention has rightly focused on the risk of a catastrophic oil spill from Enbridge’s Line 5 pipelines at the Straits of Mackinac, FLOW board member Rick Kane points out that the risk of a similar explosion is also possible because of the natural gas liquids (NGLs) running the length of Line 5’s 645-mile transit through Wisconsin and Michigan. Here is Kane’s analysis.

 

Enbridge’s Line 5, a legacy hazardous liquids pipeline, poses a major explosion and fire safety risk to citizens and property along its entire length while it transports natural gas liquids (NGLs). This risk is particularly high for the Line 5 segments north and south of the Straits of Mackinac. Why is this issue not being investigated as part of the proposed tunnel project so that citizens and first responders living along the Line 5 hazard zone know the current risk and likelihood that permitting and replacing the pipeline will pose in the future?

The severe consequences of a Line 5 failure and crude oil release into the Straits have been widely publicized. Construction of a tunnel with a new pipeline is now being pursued as a risk reduction approach against a major crude oil spill disaster. However, a tunnel does not reduce the risks posed by Line 5 across the Upper Peninsula and Lower Peninsula where a rupture could release crude oil into hundreds of lakes, rivers and streams, some even leading to the Great Lakes. Nearly absent from the studies and debate are the threats and catastrophic consequences to human safety and property posed by Line 5 while it transports NGLs.

FLOW highlighted the NGL risks in 2018. The risk was on display on August 1 when a large legacy natural gas pipeline in Kentucky exploded, causing one death and sending five residents to the hospital. Unfortunately, the Kentucky incident is only one of many in recent history.

Pipelines are the safest transportation mode for crude oil, NGLs and especially natural gas. However, there are a wide range of pipeline design specifications, materials transported, pipeline ages, physical conditions and operating environments. Line 5 is a legacy pipeline, well past its designed retirement age, operating in an extremely sensitive environment and transiting through several populated areas. Unlike wine, a vintage pipeline does not get better with age; government and industry statistics show that failure rates increase dramatically for legacy-class pipelines. Several major incidents in recent years call into question the reliability of pipeline industry failure prevention programs to justify the continued operation of these pipelines.

A Line 5 failure during the transport of NGLs could have consequences beyond the Kentucky failure and other too-typical natural gas pipeline failures:

  • Natural gas (methane) is transported as a compressed gas. The NGLs in Line 5 are mostly propane with some ethane and butane that are gases compressed to a liquid state when transported by pipeline.
  • When a natural gas pipeline failure occurs, a rapidly, vertically expanding gas cloud ignites, creating a huge flaming torch. Many people reported that the fire from the Kentucky explosion reached 300 feet high.
  • When an NGLs pipeline fails, liquid is expelled quickly, forming a large vapor cloud that moves with the wind until it finds an ignition source. Then the vapor cloud ignites, and an explosion and fireball occur with a shock wave, flame front and radiative heat wave moving out from the explosion area.
  • The potential energy (explosion and heat) from an NGLs explosion can be much greater than from a natural gas break as NGLs have a higher caloric value and the quantity of energy released can be much higher.
  • The risk study developed by Dynamic Risk Systems, Inc. for the State of Michigan in 2017 contained an NGLs deep water release scenario in the Straits that would result in a flame front of almost one mile. Contrast this with a ground level release upstream or downstream of the Straits where the release quantity could be much higher as the distance between pumping stations and shutoff valves is greater at ground level and near populated areas and valuable property. Computer modeling of potential release scenarios near populated areas would provide estimates of fatalities, property damage and important evacuation zones for law enforcement and first responders.

The Kentucky pipeline explosion is still being investigated but preliminary information indicates that the pipeline is similar in size, age and construction to Line 5. Corrosion is believed to be the cause of the failure, and as in other similar incidents, Enbridge is trumpeting the touted pipeline loss prevention program and the reliability of inspections with “smart pigs” to justify continued operation of legacy pipelines.

 

Issues and Questions   

  • The entirety of Line 5 will need to be replaced at some point if the tunnel project proceeds. Does the State of Michigan understand the risks for transporting NGLs in legacy hazardous liquid pipelines, and have assessments been conducted and verified by third-party experts? Are citizens living in the potential impact zone aware of the risk they face?
  • Do property owners and citizens know that a flurry of permit requests for Line 5 “maintenance replacement” will be issued if the tunnel project is given the green light, as was done with Line 6B/78 after the Kalamazoo River disaster in 2010? A similar piecemeal, preventative maintenance and capacity expansion approach is currently being used on Line 3 in Minnesota—a pipeline with an increasing number of failures that Enbridge says needs to be replaced and is 10 years younger than Line 5.
  • Importantly, emergency response organizations along the Line 5 route should complete pre-modeling of NGLs release scenarios to understand potential explosion overpressure and flame envelops and have evacuation scenarios ready to use. The modeling required is more complex than typically done by first responders for hazardous materials spills; they could underestimate the size of an evacuation zone.
  • The State of Michigan regulates gas pipelines but not hazardous liquid pipelines such as Line 5. Why not? Cost is not the answer: other states have taken on the task after disasters occurred; the cost is covered by inspection and audit fees charged to the pipeline companies. State inspections can supplement and provide local control rather than depending on the overwhelmed federal regulators from Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).
  • What about a “National Emphasis Program” focused on pipeline safety starting with the largest operator, Enbridge? After a spate of major refinery and chemical facility accidents several years ago, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) implemented a National Emphasis Program (NEP) that focused on certain segments of the industry based on risk and accident history. Comprehensive inspections and audits addressed not only regulatory requirements but a company’s adherence to industry standards and requirements applicable through the General Duty Clause.

Accidents will continue as long as the pipeline industry uses its own standards for acceptable levels of pipeline failures and relies on current loss prevention and inspection programs for legacy pipelines. The industry is currently deciding the risk tolerance for citizens. A large NGLs pipeline rupture near a local city or village could happen again, just as Line 6B/78 dumped crude oil into the Kalamazoo River nine years ago.

Rick Kane, FLOW Board Member

Rick is the former Director of Security, Environment, Transportation Safety and Emergency Services for Rhodia, North America.  He is certified in environmental, hazardous materials, and security management, and is a graduate of the University of Michigan and University of Dallas.

No ‘Line 5’ Oil Tunnel in the Great Lakes!

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.

You can learn more by visiting FLOW’s Line 5 program page and by downloading a copy of FLOW’s latest:

And you can contact the Grand Traverse County Board of Commissioners here:

  • Rob Hentschel, chair, rhentschel@grandtraverse.org or 231-946-4277
  • Ron Clous, vice chair, rclous@grandtraverse.org or 231-590-3316
  • Brad Jewett (introduced the pro-tunnel resolution) bjewett@grandtraverse.org or 231-633-9421
  • Betsy Coffia, bcoffia@grandtraverse.org or 231-714-9598
  • Bryce Hundley, bhundley@grandtraverse.org or 231-753-8602
  • Gordie LaPointe, glapointe@grandtraverse.org or 231-409-2607
  • Sonny Wheelock, swheelock@grandtraverse.org or 231-947-3277