Michigan Regulators Told To Put More Scrutiny Into Enbridge’s Request; Permit Proposal Follows Violation of State Agreement on Pipeline Anchors.
LANSING—Fourteen citizens groups joined by 4,709 Michigan residents are objecting to Enbridge’s request for the no-strings approval of a new environmental permit after the Canadian transport giant violated its easement agreement with the State of Michigan for operating controversial oil pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac.
After being cited by the state for failing to maintain the required pipeline anchors for Line 5 in the Straits, Enbridge now wants permission from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) to install them without being subjected to further scrutiny by environmental regulators. But the citizens groups say at least seven other easement violations by Enbridge should be investigated as part of the permit requirement and that the state should do a thorough review of the pipelines under state law. A public hearing on the issue was also requested.
“Enbridge wants the State of Michigan to simply trust them, and that’s not good enough when it comes to the company’s terrible track record and the state’s responsibility for protecting the Great Lakes,” said Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director of FLOW. “For the state to give Enbridge a free pass right after notifying them that they violated their easement agreement just doesn’t make sense, especially when there are other serious violations going on.”
An advisory board appointed by Gov. Snyder is studying the pipelines but has no authority to go beyond simply making recommendations. Moreover, Enbridge and oil industry representatives were appointed to the advisory panel, with Enbridge providing $3.6 million in funding for the state’s studies of Line 5. Snyder and Attorney General Schuette have authority for enforcing a 1953 easement agreement allowing Enbridge to operate in the Straits.
“A pipeline board with no authority operating outside existing environmental laws whose work is financially supported by Enbridge is just not credible,” said Nic Clark, Michigan Director of Clean Water Action. "This permit request from Enbridge should trigger a meaningful legal process for a comprehensive review of impacts and alternatives.”
“Our message to environmental regulators, Gov. Snyder and Attorney General Schuette is to do the right thing for the Great Lakes instead of protecting the oil industry’s profits.” - June Thaden, Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council
Enbridge is asking for permits to install additional anchors beyond those required in the easement as part of a “preventative maintenance” operation for Line 5 in the Straits. The additional anchors, however, are likely to support an eventual expansion by Enbridge of Line 5 oil transport. In recent years, Enbridge has increased the flow of oil and the pressure inside Line 5 by 10 percent along its 645-mile length from the western Upper Peninsula to the St. Clair River near Port Huron.
“What we are seeing is a repeat of what happened after Enbridge’s negligence caused one million gallons of oil to spill in the Kalamazoo River just over five years ago,” said Lynna Kaucheck, Senior Organizer with Food & Water Watch. “After the spill Enbridge put in new pipelines with greater capacity and is now pumping more oil. That's not the outcome we need for the Great Lakes.”
In addition to the nearly 5,000 citizens who signed comments to the MDEQ through petitions submitted by Oil & Water Don't Mix campaign and other groups, the following organizations submitted comments: Article32.org, Clean Water Action, Concerned Citizens of Cheboygan and Emmet County, Food & Water Watch, Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities, Michigan Citizens Against Tar Sands, Michigan Environmental Council, Michigan League of Conservation Voters, Michigan Resource Stewards, Michigan Unitarian Universalist Social Justice Network, Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council, Sierra Club, Straits Area Concerned Citizens for Peace & Justice, Surfrider Foundation.
The public was given just 20 days to comment on Enbridge's permit request. The deadline for comments was Sunday.
“The MDEQ’s business-as-usual approach didn’t work in Flint and it isn’t working for the people of northern Michigan who love and depend on the Great Lakes,” said June Thaden of the Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council. “Our message to environmental regulators, Gov. Snyder and Attorney General Schuette is to do the right thing for the Great Lakes instead of protecting the oil industry’s profits.”
Since April 2016 the MDEQ and Attorney General’s office have been made aware of at least seven additional violations of the easement agreement by Enbridge, including:
- Concealing information about cracks, dents, and rust with continued, sweeping assertions and misrepresentations that the Straits pipelines are in “excellent condition, almost as new as when they were built and installed” and have “no observed corrosion.” Of the nine rust spots on the eastern Straits pipeline, corrosion has eaten away 26 percent of the pipeline’s wall thickness in a 7-inch-long area, according to newly released company data.
- Failing to meet the pipeline wall thickness requirement due to manufacturing defects. Newly released Enbridge data reveals that manufacturing defects in the 1950s resulted in pipeline wall thickness of less than half an inch in perhaps hundreds of sections and up to 41 less thick than mandated on the west Straits pipeline. Enbridge continues to boast about its “nearly one-inch-thick walls of Line 5’s steel pipe travelling under the Straits.”
- Failing to meet the “reasonably prudent person” provision by claiming that its steel pipelines lying underwater just west of the Mackinac Bridge since 1953 can last forever and do not require a plan for eventual decommissioning. The 63-year-old pipelines were built to last 50 years.
- Failing to demonstrate adequate liability insurance, maintain required coating and wood-slat covering to prevent rust and abrasion, adequately support the pipeline resulting in stressed and deformed segments, and adhere to federal emergency spill response and state environmental protection laws, including Act 10 of P.A. 1953, the GLSLA, the MEPA, and public trust law.
“Enbridge is deploying an army of Line 5 lobbyists and public relations agents in Michigan along with millions of dollars for consultants to protect its profits. They even think offering free barbecue will win the hearts and minds of Michigan residents,” said David Holtz, Chair of the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter Executive Committee. “But Michigan is still the Great Lakes State and the Great Lakes are no place for oil pipelines. It’s past time for Gov. Snyder and Attorney General Schuette to begin shutting off the flow of oil through the Straits of Mackinac before it's too late."