2017-05-20 / News

Ballot Proposal Seeks To Ban Crude Oil in Line 5 Under the Straits

By Kevin R. Hess

A voter-led petition drive began May 1 on the steps of the Michigan State Capitol to ban crude oil from flowing through Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline, which runs under the Straits of Mackinac. The petition is being pushed by Keep Our Lakes Great of Lansing and was approved by the State Board of Canvassers April 26. The proposal focuses only on crude oil. Natural gas and propane would still be allowed to flow. The pipeline carries up to 23 million gallons of light crude oil and liquid natural gas a day through the Upper Peninsula, under the Straits, and through lower Michigan to Sarnia,

Ontario. Line 5 is 645 miles long and crosses 23 counties and 360 Michigan waterways.

The group must collect at least 252,523 signatures from Michigan voters in a 180-day period that began May 1. If the signatures are approved, the measure will go before the Michigan legislature for consideration. Lawmakers can either approve of the measure, and it would automatically become law, or reject the petition, which would put the proposal on the November 2018 ballot for voters to decide. They could also offer an alternative measure that could go on the ballot.

Phil Belfy of Sault Ste. Marie is the chairman of Keep Our Lakes Great and participated in the kickoff at the Capitol. He believes the group will not have any trouble getting the signatures they need.

“There are seven million people who voted in the last gubernatorial race,” he said. “We have six months to accomplish this. We plan to identify people in different communities and within environmental groups who have a statewide reach.”

He also hopes to reach out to the Native American tribes to communicate with their membership.

In support of this ballot proposal,

Mr. Belfy references a 2015 agreement between the State of Michigan and Enbridge Energy regarding the transportation of heavy crude oil through the Straits of Mackinac pipelines. The agreement renewed a 1953 easement that authorized Lakehead Pipeline Company to construct, operate, and maintain the Straits of Mackinac pipelines. Enbridge Energy is the successor to Lakehead. According to the agreement, Enbridge cannot and will not transport heavy crude oil through Line 5 because it was designed and constructed for the purposes of transporting light crude oil and natural gas.

In July 2015, a Michigan Petroleum Pipeline Task Force Report reviewed a number of issues and concerns involving liquid petroleum in the Straits. The task force focused on the Straits because its location in the Great Lakes presents unique risks of ecological and economic harm in the event of an oil spill. One issue addressed by the task force was the possibility that heavy crude oil may be transported through Line 5 in the future, after being informed that there was potential demand for increased heavy crude oil for use by refineries served by Enbridge’s pipeline system. The task force concluded that the heavy oil is more likely to sink if released into open water, and noted that the U.S. Coast Guard publicly acknowledged that it lacks the capacity to effectively respond to spills of heavy crude oil in the Great Lakes.

Enbridge disputes the task force’s conclusions regarding heavy crude oil and notes that the issue is being studied by the National Academy of Sciences. Enbridge does not believe that transporting heavy oil raises any unique safety or environmental concerns. Although the two sides do not agree on the issue of heavy crude oil, the state determined that Enbridge should formally re-affirm the easement and its previous statements that it does not transport, and has no plans to transport, heavy crude oil through Line 5. Any changes Enbridge wants to make must be presented to and approved by the state.

Mr. Belfy and members of Keep Our Lakes Great believe that light oil should also be banned from Line 5.

“If heavy oil cannot be shipped, then light crude oil should not be allowed to be shipped, either,” he said. “There are too many safety concerns. The easement gives the government authority over Enbridge and the shipping of crude oil.”

The agreement states that “at all times (Enbridge) shall exercise the due care of a reasonably prudent person for the safety and welfare of all persons and of all public and private property…”

Mr. Belfy said he does not believe Enbridge is doing this.

Members of Keep Our Lakes Great aren’t the only ones targeting Enbridge. Legislators on both sides are introducing legislation that would affect the pipeline. Senator Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge) reintroduced a bill from last session that would require all existing submerged pipelines to undergo a third-party review and be shut down if the risk is too great. House Democrats are preparing a package of bills that would tighten pipeline regulation and give the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality regulatory oversight of pipelines crossing the state.

Soon, Enbridge plans to do a hydrotest, testing Line 5 at its original 1953 pressure, install more anchor supports, and take a closer look at the coating. Enbridge will be staging its hydrostatic testing operation at Boulevard Drive in Moran Township.

On April 26, Enbridge crews tested their oil response equipment while conducting an emergency response exercise on the Saginaw River in Bay City. This exercise was in preparation of a larger test in May involving the U.S. Coast Guard. Enbridge is initiating several more, and larger safety projects this summer in the Straits.

Line 5—1.1 million gallons spilled in state, researchers say

National Wildlife Federation (NWF) pipeline safety specialist and researcher Beth Wallace found records of 29 oil spills along the pipeline since 1968. NWF released the results of Mrs. Wallace’s research in late April, estimating that Line 5 has spilled at least 1.13 million gallons of oil in 29 separate incidents. The data comes from inspection records obtained by the NWF through the Freedom of Information Act and others put online by the Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which Congress has required to make more information accessible to the public. NWF considers its estimate conservative, because in earlier days spills were required to be reported only to the state and not the federal government. Many spills were related to construction mishaps, while others were caused by manufacturing defects in the pipe, such as stress cracks along seams.

According to Mrs. Wallace’s research, she could find only one spill that was discovered by leak detection systems. Many of the spills incident records do not say how the leak was initially detected. The public or Enbridge staff on the ground found the remainder of the spills. An oil spill into the Kalamazoo River in 2010 was not discovered until an outside caller alerted Enbridge 17 hours after it first ruptured.

The most recent spill was a small one. It happened in March 2015, near Marenisco in the western U.P. Eight gallons spilled after an equipment failure that Enbridge workers discovered while conducting a station review. The data indicates that the largest Line 5 spills happened early in its history, apart from a 1999 spill in Crystal Falls, in which more than 220,000 gallons of oil and natural gas spilled.

The NWF research was released ahead of two state-ordered studies on Line 5 commissioned by the pipeline safety board that are expected out in June.

Enbridge spokesman Ryan Duffy told The St. Ignace News, “Enbridge shares Michigan’s values of protecting the Great Lakes, protecting water and the environment. We understand how important the Straits of Mackinac and the Great Lakes are to Michigan and we manage Line 5 with that in mind.”

In response to the NWF research, Mr. Duffy says there has never been a leak under the Straits and that Enbridge is taking extra care to protect the waterways in Michigan.

“There have only been three incidents on the Line 5 pipeline, all on-shore, over the past 15 years, which reflects a steady and significant decline in incidents over time,” said Mr. Duffy. “In these incidents, a total of 21 barrels were released, and all of the product released was recovered. Enbridge strives for zero incidents and has a safe-delivery rate of 99.99994% on an average of 2.8 million barrels per day. We are committed to preserving and protecting the communities in which we live and work, as well as Michigan’s natural resources through the safe operation of Line 5.”

On average, Line 5 delivers 540,000 barrels (22.68 million gallons) of light crude oil and natural gas liquids to refineries in the Upper Peninsula, Detroit, Toledo, and Sarnia, Ontario. According to Enbridge, this accounts for 80% of Michigan-produced crude oil, and enough natural gas liquids to meet 65% of the Upper Peninsula’s, and 55% of Michigan’s overall propane demand, heating more than 300,000 homes per year.

“Line 5 is critical to the state of Michigan and the region, providing the bulk of the state’s propane needs for winter home heating in northern Michigan, supporting jobs by transporting local Michigan oil production and contributing to lower gasoline prices by supplying competitively priced crude oil,” said Mr. Duffy. “Enbridge is focused on demonstrating and improving the reliability and safety of pipelines at the Straits of Mackinac. It’s important to allow the process to work and to wait for the findings of the two independent studies of Line 5 now underway.”

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