Opposition grows to Straits of Mackinac oil lines

Jim Lynch and Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News

Lansing — The pair of controversial oil pipelines that run beneath the Straits of Mackinac are under political attack on two fronts.

Groups opposed to the oil pipeline known as Line 5 sent a letter Wednesday to top Michigan officials, including Gov. Rick Snyder, calling for the end of the 60-year-old easement that allows Enbridge Energy to operate its underwater lines. More than 500,000 barrels of oil and liquid petroleum products flow daily through the lines.

The letter follows a Monday announcement by State Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, that he will introduce legislation aimed at shutting down the lines.

Critics argue that a rupture in the line could be devastating to the Great Lakes. Last month, a University of Michigan researcher estimated a major spill could wind up affecting 700 miles of shorelines in the region.

Officials with the group Oil & Water Don’t Mix described the continued operation of the lines as “an imminent, high-risk infrastructure emergency for the State of Michigan.” In addition, they cite several areas where they believe Alberta, Canada-based Enbridge is in violation of its easement agreement.

Those include alleged violations relating to:

■ An adequate indemnity policy.

■ Not maintaining adequate pipeline wall thickness in all areas.

■ Pipeline curvature requirements.

■ Lack of a proper oil spill response plan.

The group, which includes representatives from regional conservation and environmental organizations, wrote: “We urge the State of Michigan to immediately notify Enbridge in writing that the State is terminating the 1953 Easement ... on the basis of these multiple breaches of the terms and conditions of the easement and consistent with your legal trustee responsibilities to the citizens of Michigan.”

On Wednesday, an Enbridge spokesman countered the charges raised by Oil & Water Don’t Mix, calling them “scare tactics and fear-mongering.”

“Enbridge takes very seriously its commitment to safety and environmental protection,” said Ryan Duffy, Enbridge’s supervisor of regional communications and media relations, in an email response. “We have a responsibility to operate our facilities safely, while continuing to provide a vital service to the residents and economy of Michigan.

“To be clear, we are in full compliance with all state and federal regulations, and with the easement requirements for the Straits of Mackinac Crossing. ... Line 5 has safely delivered critical energy supplies needed by the people of Michigan for more than 60 years, and we applaud the State for following a detailed and informed process to assess the issues that have been raised.”

Enbridge’s operations, including Line 5, have come under increased scrutiny in recent years following a rupture in the company’s oil line near Kalamazoo in 2010. That spill sent an estimated 840,000 gallons of heavy crude into the Kalamazoo River.

Meanwhile, Jones’ bill seeks to stop future pipelines from running under the Great Lakes and require third-party risk analysis of existing lines. If the risks are high, the pipeline would be shut down.

“40 million people now drink Great Lakes water, and they can’t drink Canadian oil,” Jones said Tuesday in a Senate floor speech, calling the 1953 decision to permit the pipeline “a big mistake.”

The proposal is opposed by Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, who said pipeline safety is a “concern” but called it “glaringly inappropriate” to try to shut down Line 5 without proposing an alternative way to deliver propane to the Upper Peninsula.

Casperson told colleagues it is his understanding that Line 5 provides roughly 80 percent of the propane supply in his district that residents use to heat their homes. He noted to a 2013 propane shortage in the U.P. that prompted an “energy emergency” order from Gov. Rick Snyder.

“We had elderly people that were burning furniture because they couldn’t afford the propane to heat and stay alive in the winter. It was that serious.”

Sen. Steve Bieda, D-Warren, joined Jones in calling for “an aggressive timetable” to shut down Line 5. He said the decades-old agreement with Enbridge would have never been allowed under current state environmental laws.

“In the event of a spill, liability and surety bonds are woefully outdated and ineffective. There are no midstream shutoff valves, and emergency response plans are virtually nonexistent,” he said.

In response the proposed legislation, Enbridge’s Duffy wrote: “Line 5 supplies critical energy to Michigan residents every day, including propane for home heating and fuel for vehicles... we inspect Line 5 more frequently than required by regulation, monitor the pipeline 24/7 with dedicated teams and work diligently to maintain the pipeline to the highest safety standards.

“Meanwhile, we believe the steps the state is taking to make sure that Michigan’s pipelines are operated safely and reliably is very important. We are working with the state and continue to provide information as requested on Line 5, our operations, our ability to respond effectively should an incident occur, and our commitment to prevention through a robust integrity and maintenance program.”


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