Officials: Energy firm withdraws St. Clair permit
A Houston-based energy firm subsidiary that sought permits to continue use of pipelines beneath the St. Clair River has withdrawn its request, two Michigan lawmakers said Wednesday.
U.S. Reps. Debbie Dingell and Candice Miller said they received notice that Plains LPG Services LP has pulled its request to the State Department for a federal permit to allow the transport of oil through pipelines beneath the river.
“We are thrilled to hear that Plains LPG has decided to withdraw its request to the State Department for a permit to transport oil through a pair of 98-year-old pipelines under the St. Clair River,” a statement from the lawmakers said.
“As we’ve said, given the strong currents in the St. Clair, any spill would quickly spread and have a devastating impact on the entire region, which is why we petitioned the State Department to extend the public comment period so that more stakeholders could weigh in.”
As a result, they said, the State Department received “almost 700 additional comments.” Those who weighed in were concerned “too little is known about the construction and current condition of the pipelines for anyone to be confident that they can safely transport oil,” the statement said.
“Fortunately,” the statement concludes, “by withdrawing their request, Plains LPG has put to rest the valid concerns over shipping crude oil through these pipes.”
Plains representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday night.
According to the State Department, Plains LPG is a subsidiary of Plains All American Pipeline L.P., a publicly traded master limited partnership.
“Plains LPG Services, L.P. requests a permit to operate and maintain facilities it has acquired pertaining to six pipelines at the U.S.- Canada border (St. Clair Pipeline border facilities) and one pipeline crossing the Detroit River ( Detroit River Pipeline),” a department website post read. “Plains LPG requests issuance of new permits reflecting sole ownership of the St. Clair Pipelines and Detroit River border facilities and allowing Plains LPG to operate and maintain those facilities for use in transporting liquefied hydrocarbons, consistent with the terms of currently applicable permits.”
In an opinion piece in The Detroit News this month, Miller and Dingell wrote that Plains LPG was required to seek re-authorization after its 2012 purchase of the lines. It was initially granted a presidential permit, required for pipelines which cross international borders, two years ago.
They also said that two of the St. Clair pipelines were constructed nearly a century ago.
The State Department said the presidential permits issued in 2014 “were intended to mirror previous authorizations from the 1970s, but the department’s records were incomplete, particularly with regard to the six pipelines under the St. Clair River in the vicinity of Marysville, Michigan.”
The permit authorized the transport of “light liquid hydrocarbons,” based on officials’ understanding of how the St. Clair pipelines were used in the 1970s and later. But once the new permits were issued, “Plains LPG provided new information that alters the department’s understanding of the historic authorization for two of the six St. Clair pipelines,” officials said.
The previous owner had planned to use those pipelines — constructed with an outer diameter of 8 inches and later fitted with 5-inch diameter liners — to also transport crude oil, which was authorized in a presidential permit from 1918, according to the department.
In light of that, the department revisited Plains LPG’s 2012 application and considered whether to issue a new permit for the two St. Clair pipelines that would authorize the transport of crude and other liquid hydrocarbons.
Earlier this year, U.S. Sens. Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow also urged the State Department to extend the public comment period for considering the permit that would allow Plains LPG to transport crude oil through the pipelines. In a statement Wednesday, Peters hailed the withdrawal of the permit request.
“An oil spill in Great Lakes waters, especially in an area with strong currents such as the St. Clair River, would have disastrous effects on the valuable freshwater resources that make up our way of life in Michigan,” he said. “The significant human and environmental health risks associated with this proposal outweigh its benefits, and I do not believe it serves our national interest. I am pleased that Plains LPG Services has withdrawn their proposal that could have potentially damaged our Great Lakes and the economies they support.”