Obama signs pipeline safety bill affecting Great Lakes

Keith Laing

Washington — President Barack Obama signed a bipartisan bill Wednesday that boosts federal pipeline safety oversight, including in the Great Lakes.

The measure, known as the Protecting Our Infrastructure of Pipelines and Enhancing Safety (PIPES) Act, subjects the Great Lakes to higher standards of operating safety. It also authorizes funding for the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration until 2019 and increases the agency’s funding 2 percent annually during that period.

The legislation includes provisions that would require federal reviews of pipeline age and integrity once a year, such as for Enbridge’s Line 5 that runs twin 63-year-old oil pipelines under the Straits of Mackinac between lakes Michigan and Huron.

It also would direct pipeline operators and federal regulators to update response plans for spills affecting waters or shorelines covered by ice, another concern in the Great Lakes region.

Supporters touted the measure as a rare example of bipartisanship in the middle of a heated presidential election.

“We came together, Republicans and Democrats, to improve and strengthen the safety of our pipelines — and we got the job done,” U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, said in a statement. Upton is chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

“Our bipartisan legislation, signed into law today by President Obama is a win for Southwest Michigan, our Great Lakes, and the entire country.”

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, has also touted the new law as boon for the Great Lakes.

“We must ensure that the proper safety and oversight is in place to keep our people safe and our natural resources protected,” Peters, a member of the Great Lakes Task Force, said in a statement when the measure was sent to Obama by the Senate last week.

Peters introduced the Senate’s version of the pipeline safety bill last fall with Sens. Deb Fischer, R-Nebraska, Cory Booker, D-New Jersey and Steve Daines, R-Montana. The House legislation was approved by the House Energy and Commerce Committee chaired by Upton. It is an extension of a 2011 law originally championed by Upton and then-Rep. John Dingell.

Oil and gas pipelines have drawn greater scrutiny since the rupture six years ago of an Enbridge pipeline near Marshall resulted in the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history.

Canadian-owned Enbridge conducts an external inspection of Line 5 every two years and is required to inspect the internal integrity of the pipelines at least every five years, though the company said the tests of the thickness of the pipe walls are done more frequently.

The legislation identifies the Great Lakes as an “Unusually Sensitive Area,” and Enbridge would be required to inspect the internal and external inspection safety of the two pipelines at least once a year. The annual inspection requirement applies to pipelines that rest more than 150 feet under water, and Line 5 runs to depths of up to 290 feet under water — a measure trumpeted by U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township.


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