Protect the Great Lakes, Shut Down Line Five: Update #1
by David Holtz
This is the first of occasional updates on the campaign to stop the flow of oil through the Straits of Mackinac.
If you are interested in a primer on Enbridge Line 5 through the Straits the Oil & Water Don’t Mix website is a good place to begin. For those who aren’t familiar with the campaign to shut down Line 5, it’s something I’ve been working on as a Sierra Club volunteer leader for nearly two years. This update, however, is mine and doesn’t necessarily represent Sierra Club’s views.
The week is ending with some major news affecting the Great Lakes and Line 5.
☀️☔️ A little sunshine but some dark clouds as Gov. Snyder created a new Pipeline Safety Advisory Board for Michigan as part of a two-prong announcement in which he also unveiled a deal with Enbridge to block heavy crude oil from Line 5. A good part of this deal involves the state going on record as opposing the future transport of heavy crude through the Straits because it is so difficult to recover in the event of a spill. But there’s less here than meets the eye. First, there’s no heavy crude coming through Line 5 and no plans by Enbridge to transport it so it doesn’t address the current threat of crude oil in the Straits. Second, it only addresses heavy crude through the Straits and not the rest of Line 5 which travels the length of the state. Plus, there’s an offramp for Enbridge to come back to the state to get permission to transport heavy crude through the Straits if they upgrade their pipelines. Moreover, what most observers have failed to note is that the agreement itself suggests state officials are in no hurry to stop the flow of oil through Line 5 in the Straits. Shut down Line 5 through the Straits and there’s no need for a deal with Enbridge to ban heavy crude. You pretty much have to view this agreement as part of a marketing campaign to assure the public that Enbridge’s pipelines are safe. It’s part and parcel of Enbridge hiring a new PR person for Line 5 and buying promo sponsorships on public radio. It’s the selling of Line 5 safety.
☔️ Which brings us to the other cloudy news from Gov. Snyder this week: creation of a 15-member Pipeline Safety Advisory Board to implement recommendations of a pipeline task force co-chaired by the Snyder administration and Attorney General Bill Schuette. In a press statement posted on Sierra Club’s Facebook page I criticized the move as lacking the urgency needed toward de-commissioning Line 5 through the Straits. Snyder and Schuette passing the buck to a committee of 15 doesn’t strike me as constituting bold action toward solving the problem. However, the news was, unsurprisingly, greeted more warmly by Lansing insiders like the Michigan Environmental Council, which prides itself on its close relations with regulated industries like oil firms. And it’s great news that the National Wildlife Federation’s Mike Shriberg is one of the 15 board members. But many of Snyder’s picks for the board are government agencies, industry representatives or hopelessly conflicted, including a university that gets funding from Enbridge. It’s difficult to see NWF’s Shriberg able to muster a majority vote on this board for anything that Enbridge strongly opposes i.e. shutting down it’s risky Line 5 through the Straits. One of the questions unanswered about Snyder’s pipeline board is whether Schuette will continue a leadership role on Line 5 that he carved out as co-chair of the pipeline task force or blend in with the crowd of other board members. Another question: Is Enbridge picking up the tab for the advisory board?
☀️Recent news coverage of Line 5 that’s worth your time includes this excellent reporting from Michigan Radio’s Mark Brush, who raises questions about Enbridge’s refusal to release pipeline safety data. Ted Roeolfs did two outstanding pieces for Bridge Magazine. The first is a good overview of where the Line 5 issues are at in Michigan and his sidebar raises questions about Enbridge’s “trust us” spin on pipeline safety.
☀️ I spent a day last week with a gaggle of Enbridge, state and federal officials involved in a pipeline workshop in Petoskey. Some disturbing oil recovery and other info about Line 5 surfaced at the workshop and led to Sierra Club and other groups calling for the state to shut down Line 5 before winter when oil recovery in the icy Straits is nearly impossible. Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council, with funding from the federal Pipeline Hazardous Materials and Safety Administration, hosted the event and will eventually have all 7 hours of presentations on their website. Here are a few other take-homes from the workshop:
- According to Enbridge 20% of what’s transmitted through Line 5 is liquified natural gas which is offloaded in the Upper Peninsula before reaching the Straits and is used mostly as propane for homes. The oil travels through the Straits where all but 30% ends up in Sarnia, Ontario.
- Enbridge consistently refused to release its pipeline safety inspection data, which it says is too complicated for mere mortals. Besides pipeline inspection results that data would include crucial information about tests involving Enbridge’s automated shutoff valves which are in theory supposed to cut off the flow of oil to the Straits in the event of a rupture. Trent Wetmore, Enbridge’s operations director for the Superior region, said the valves are tested twice a year. Asked how they performed, Wetmore said, “Generally speaking they’re pretty effective.” An Enbridge PR guy then nudged Wetmore toward more reassuring language. “There hasn’t been any cause for concern,” added Wetmore.
- So if those shutoff valves work perfectly how much oil would contaminate the Great Lakes if there were pipeline ruptures in the Straits? The newest estimate from Enbridge is 4,800 barrels of oil would spill into the Straits if the valves closed within 5 minutes of a rupture. That’s about 201,000 gallons or twice the size of the recent oil spill in Santa Barbara. It took 17 hours before Enbridge shut down the oil flow when its Line 6B ruptured and contaminated the Kalamazoo River five years ago.
- While much attention is deservedly focused on Enbridge’s 20-inch pipelines through the Straits, the Coast Guard is also concerned about Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline along US2 in the Upper Peninsula. There are 12 pipeline crossings along that route where a rupture would directly contaminate Lake Michigan.
- When the Petroleum Pipeline Task Force issued its report in July, task force co-chair, Attorney General Bill Schuette, predicted Line 5 through the Straits would be shut down. “It’s days are numbered,” said Schuette. But Schuette’s top aide on the pipeline issue, Peter Manning, seemed to back away from his boss’s statement and at the pipeline workshop, downplaying the urgency of preventing a catastrophic oil spill. Asked how many days Schuette was referring to in his statement, Manning borrowed from Enbridge’s talking points and replied, “I don’t know. They have been operating for 63 years without incident.” Manning admitted Enbridge violated its agreement with the state by failing to adequately maintain pipeline infrastructure through the Straits, but said he didn’t think the state could convince a judge to order Enbridge to shut down Line 5.
- Finally, Enbridge went out of its way at the workshop to market the idea that despite the pipeline’s near-Medicare level age and the company’s lack of transparency with pipeline inspection data that Line 5 through the Straits is safe. They poo-pooed concerns about corrosion caused by invasive mussel secretions, claimed there’s no impact from the weight of thousands of invasive species that cover the pipe and that even though those mussels impede visual inspections outside the pipelines, the tools they use inside “are better than eyesight.” Not everyone attending the workshop was convinced, however. Warned one participant: “Turning that blue Pure Michigan into a black oil slick isn’t a good idea.”
Upcoming activities (courtesy of Oil & Water Don’t Mix coalition)
Sept. 6, 2015 (Sunday) – Pipe Out Paddle Protest Flotilla.
Tentative schedule: 9am-5pm.
- Jannan Cornstalk and others in O&WDM campaign staging a kayak “flotilla” protest on the SUNDAY BEFORE Labor Day near the Mackinac Bridge. Enter N. Huron Ave & Nicolet Street, Old Mackinac Lighthouse Park, Mackinaw City, MI.
- Register: http://pipeout2015.weebly.com/register.html
Sept. 7, 2015 (Monday) – 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. – Labor Day Mackinac Bridge Walk:
Pipe Out Paddle Protest Walking Groups: 8 am/9:30 am/11:00 am
- Register: http://pipeout2015.weebly.com/register.html