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Pipeline safety report includes the right ideas, now needs strong action

Jul 14, 2015
Pipeline safety recommendations issued today by state officials will go a long way toward safeguarding the Great Lakes and Michigan's inland waters from oil spills, but only if they are implemented with a sense of urgency and accountability, water-protection advocates said.

The recommendations, released today by the Michigan Petroleum Pipeline Task Force after nearly a year of closed-door deliberations, include statewide actions but focus on the segment of Enbridge Energy's Line 5 pipeline that runs along the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac. University of Michigan researchers have called the straits "the worst possible place" for a Great Lakes oil spill.

The Line 5-specific recommendations are: Prevent the transportation of heavy crude through the straits; require an independent risk analysis of a worst-case-scenario failure of the straits pipelines and that Enbridge maintain adequate financial assurance to cover its liability for all damages or losses to public or private property; require an independent analysis of alternatives to the existing straits pipelines; and obtain additional information from Enbridge, including information about the products being transported through the straits and regular, comprehensive reports on the condition of the company's Michigan pipelines.

"We are happy to see that task force members recognize the significant and immediate threat Line 5 poses to our Great Lakes, and the ideas they've put forth to address that threat are good ones," said Chris Kolb, president of the Michigan Environmental Council. "That said, we need immediate action focused on eliminating this threat, because no amount of preparation would be adequate to prevent utter disaster if Line 5 fails. Twenty-three million gallons of oil pass through the Straits of Mackinac in these aging pipelines every day, so we need to see a strong sense of urgency from state leaders to put these good ideas into action."

Kolb said that, in implementing these recommendations, it's important that state leaders set a clear and aggressive timeline, establish strong enforcement mechanisms to ensure Enbridge follows through with the required actions, and include the public in a transparent process.

The state could achieve all three of those goals by requiring Enbridge to seek a permit for the pipelines under the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act, said Gail Gruenwald, executive director of Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council. Enacted after the straits pipelines were installed, that state law requires a permit for any private use of Great Lakes bottomlands, and would involve open public hearings to look at the risks the pipelines pose to the Great Lakes and alternatives that would eliminate the risk.

"An open proceeding under the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act remains the best way to achieve a strong plan to eliminate this threat in the Straits of Mackinac, and we'll continue urging Governor Snyder and Attorney General Schuette to exercise their authority as trustees of our Great Lakes by opening those public hearings," Gruenwald said.

The nine task force recommendations not specific to Line 5 will give the public greater access to pipeline information, improve oversight of Michigan pipelines and strengthen spill-response plans, Gruenwald said. For instance, they call for policies to guide the siting of pipelines, better coordination with federal pipeline regulators and a potential Executive Order from Gov. Snyder to create a pipeline safety advisory committee.

"Taken together, these recommendations move Michigan toward the comprehensive approach to pipeline policy we need to protect our Great Lakes, inland waters and public health," Gruenwald said. "I urge Governor Snyder to demonstrate that he's serious about pipeline safety by taking immediate steps to implement these recommendations."

The organizations noted that Gov. Snyder and state leaders should take the following steps immediately to improve pipeline safety:
  • Issue the proposed Executive Order creating a pipeline safety advisory body.
  • Require Enbridge to establish and maintain interim insurance or bonding of not less than $500 million pending the analysis of risk and adequate financial assurance.
  • Require local, on-the-ground, immediately available emergency response resources for the straits pipelines.
  • Require more frequent monitoring of the Straits of Mackinac pipelines both internally and externally.
  • Require disclosure of Line 5 inspection reports.

Andy McGlashen: (517) 420-1908
RELATED TOPICS: Great Lakes, water protection
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