2017-08-05 / News

FLOW Provides Update to Mackinac Island on Line 5 Debate

By Jacob A. Ball

“A spill will have long-term implications on our welfare; it’s going to impact our economy, the historic sites here on the Island, and our natural resources,” said Mackinac Island City Councilwoman Anneke Myers during a recent information session at Community Hall.

The topic under discussion was the 4.5-mile section of Canadian Energy giant Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline that carries light crude oil, synthetic oil, and natural gas liquids beneath the Straits of Mackinac as part of a system that originates in Superior, Wisconsin, and terminates in Sarnia, Ontario.

Constructed in 1953, the 30- inch-diameter pipe crosses the Straits of Mackinac as two 20- inch lines resting atop the lakebed. The lines, 1,000 feet apart, carry about 540,000 barrels, or 23 million gallons, of raw product for use by the oil and gas industry.

The pipeline has been embroiled in controversy since a 2010 Enbridge oil spill in southwest Michigan leaked more than one million gallons of heavy crude oil into the Kalamazoo River near Marshall.

Several organizations have campaigned to rescind the state easement allowing Enbridge to use the Straits bottomlands. One of these organizations, FLOW (For Love of Water), was invited by the Mackinac Island Community Foundation to update the Island community.

Enbridge says the pipeline still is in good condition, a vital supplier of energy products, and the source of 55 percent of the propane used in Michigan, 65 percent of that used in the Upper Peninsula. The line under the Straits is in good condition because it has been well maintained and has undergone extensive safety testing, the company says.

In February 2016, the Mackinac

Island City Council passed a resolution demanding the closure of Line 5 after a discussion about the implications of an oil spill: contaminated drinking water and the indefinite interruption of ferry service. The council reaffirmed its stance July 19 as part of the public commentary the State of Michigan is soliciting as it considers alternative conveyance that could eliminate the section of Line 5 under the Straits of Mackinac.

Lake Huron and the Straits are the sole water supply for the Island, so an oil spill could be disastrous. The water filtration plant would have to be shut down, said Alan Burt, its director. Without drinking water or ferry service, the Island would lose its chief source of income: tourism.

Councilwoman Myers said Mackinac Island ferry lines say they couldn’t run during an oil spill owing to the potential for costly damage to their equipment. That would leave airplanes as the sole means of transportation to the Island, prohibitively expensive for some people and types of goods.

She said she fears there are too many Michiganians who still aren’t adequately informed about the pipeline and encouraged attendees to talk with off- Island friends and relatives about it. She and her husband, Matt, purchased several antipipeline yard signs and gave them away at no charge to attendees.

“I would like to see them proliferate around the Island,” she said.

FLOW is focused on coordinating with citizens, communities, groups, local governments, and Indian tribes in opposition to continued use of the pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac. Executive Director Liz Kirkwood said the organization wants to help folks understand the issues without playing on their emotions.

“This is ground zero for a catastrophic oil spill in the Great Lakes,” she said.

Ms. Kirkwood said public awareness has grown since Enbridge’s oil spill in the Kalamazoo River, the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history.

FLOW board member and certified hazardous materials manager Rick Kane said he believes the state-authorized draft alternatives report underestimates the consequences of a spill. The potential devastation from a worst-case spill argues against continuing to use the line, no matter how slight the chances that would happen, he argued.

According to 2016 University of Michigan research, a worst-case oil spill, based on the release of one million gallons, could foul 720 miles of shoreline in the Great Lakes Basin. Mr. Kane says his own calculations suggest there would be spill of more nearly two million gallons under the worst-case scenario.

The twin pipeline transports about a million gallons per hour. Enbridge previously had stated that, if all of its control systems failed, it could take up to two hours for employees to shut off the pipeline in St. Ignace.

Mr. Kane charged that Enbridge’s emergency response capabilities and liability insurance are meaningless because there is little the company could do about a wintertime rupture with ice quickly forming in the Straits. He said it took the Exxon company a week to get to the rupture that caused a recent wintertime oil spill in the Yellowstone River. Workers had to use chainsaws to cut through the ice and look for the rupture, he said.

FLOW also disagrees with one alternative listed in the state’s draft report: encasing the pipeline in a tunnel might reduce the likelihood of a spill, the organization argues, but doesn’t alter the devastating consequences of a worst-case spill. The organization notes that the state didn’t get a full risk-analysis report from a contractor it terminated, owing to a conflict of interests.

Without this report, it says, there is not an agreed-upon worst-case scenario. Enbridge says a worst-case spill would be limited to 4,500 barrels of crude oil, while FLOW claims it would more nearly be 60,000 barrels.

Mr. Kane said company spill detection protocols aren’t always successful. Examples of that are spills in Maryland and California that first were discovered by private individuals who stumbled upon a puddle of oil or its pungent odor. He said a slow, unidentified leak might, in fact, be the worst-case scenario for Line 5 and the Straits.

Jim Olson, FLOW president and founder, argued that public trust laws require the state to value navigation, commerce, swimming, fishing, drinking water, recreation, and the ecological bio-system that supports these activities above the interests of a private company in the use of public resources. He maintained that the state could terminate Enbridge’s right to use the pipeline because, he said, the company has violated its easement.

Mr. Olson said he wants the state to enforce regulations that, under what he says is a reasonable interpretation of the law, require an environmental impact study before it allows Enbridge to perform maintenance on the pipeline to keep it in service under the terms of its easement.

“In fairness to Enbridge, they have a right to comply with this [law], but the state has a duty to see that they do comply,” he said. “If they don’t comply, the state should take action,”

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