Michigan Regulators To Scrutinize Anchor Permit Request Following Enbridge Violations
Citizens groups welcomed a decision announced today by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) to put on hold a permit request from Enbridge Energy Partners for 18 Line 5 pipeline anchors in the Straits of Mackinac. More than 4,000 citizens along with several environmental groups argued the state needed to investigate at least seven violations by Enbridge of its easement with the state for operating the controversial pipelines.
“The request was loud and clear that there should be no blank check for Enbridge and those voices were heard,” said Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director of FLOW. “Now the state should investigate Enbridge’s violations and do a comprehensive review of impacts and alternatives Line 5 under rule of law and conduct a public hearing so all of the facts are out in the open.”
The agency’s choice to defer a decision about the permits follows thousands of comments from citizens who objected to the request absent an investigation into Enbridge’s violations of a 1953 easement agreement with the state. The MDEQ cited the extensive public comment and issues raised by the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians in its decision to defer a permitting decision on 18 pipeline supports. Installation of four other supports that Enbridge failed to maintain in violation of its easement were approved by the MDEQ.
“We can’t allow the flaunting of easement violations by Enbridge to be used as an excuse to lay the groundwork for more oil flowing through their pipelines in the Great Lakes.” - David Holtz, Michigan Chapter Chair of Sierra Club.
Enbridge claimed the permit request for the 18 anchors was for “preventative maintenance.” The additional anchors, however, are likely to support an eventual expansion of Line 5 oil transport beyond what has already taken place. Pressure from inside Line 5 has increased by 10 percent along its 645-mile length from the western Upper Peninsula to the St. Clair River near Port Huron.
“We can’t allow the flaunting of easement violations by Enbridge to be used as an excuse to lay the groundwork for more oil flowing through their pipelines in the Great Lakes,” said David Holtz, Michigan Chapter Chair of Sierra Club.
Enbridge was cited recently for failing to meet the minimum pipe support requirements in its 1953 easement. From 1980 until 1987, there were 17 areas of Line 5 without proper pipeline anchors and three areas in the Straits with unsupported spans exceeding 140 feet—nearly twice the length allowed in the easement agreement.
Calculations, when the pipeline was constructed, determined that unsupported spans of over 140 feet in the Straits risked structural damage to Line 5. Therefore, for seven years the pipeline—which still operates in what has been called the “worst possible place” for an oil spill in the Great Lakes—was stressed beyond its stated engineered capabilities
In addition to the thousands of citizens who signed comments to the MDEQ, organizations also submitted comments including: Article 32.org, Clean Water Action, Concerned Citizens of Emmet and Cheboygan County, Food & Water Watch, Groundwork Center, Michigan Resource Stewards, Michigan Unitarian Universalist Social Justice Network, Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council, Sierra Club and Surfrider Foundation.
Since April 2016 the MDEQ has 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 percent 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.