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State’s agreement with Enbridge “mostly goes in the wrong direction,” says pipeline safety advisor

Mark Brush
Michigan Radio
Enbridge Energy's Line 5 pipelines run under Lake Michigan at the Straits of Mackinac.

What does the newly-announced binding agreementbetween the state of Michigan and Enbridge mean for the future of Line 5, especially the stretch that runs under the Straits of Mackinac?

Mike Shriberg, a member of the state Pipeline Safety Advisory Board, joined Stateside today to explain. He’s also director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes Regional Center.

Listen to the full conversation above, or read highlights below.

Shriberg’s initial reaction to agreement

“Well there are a few positives, but I think this mostly goes in the wrong direction…. Let me start with the positive: It actually sets a date certain by which the governor and the attorney general will decide on the fate of Line 5, and that’s this August. It’s been hanging out there a long time, so actually to have a deadline – we all work better under deadlines – that is a positive.”

“But, the problem is this agreement favors a particular option, and that is building a tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac. That’s what it actually says there needs to be more analysis of. It tasks Enbridge itself with doing that – this is the fox guarding the hen house – and sets us on a path that may lead to a tunnel, which I believe is the wrong outcome.”

Why he believes a tunnel is the wrong outcome

“Well, we have to think about it this way: Line 5 actually runs mostly Canadian oil to mostly Canadian outcomes … so the Great Lakes are a shortcut. So we’re assuming all of the risks and we get very little of the benefits. What we see put forward by the governor is trying to minimize the risks, so actually doing some things that make the line slightly more safe – I’m not actually sure if the tunnel even serves that objective – but we’d still be assuming the full risks while getting very few of the benefits.”

“The fact is we don’t need Line 5. It’s not critical energy infrastructure for the state. And the few benefits it does provide for the state can be made up for in other ways. That’s where the governor should be focused.”

What Michigan gets from the pipeline now

“Well, mostly we get a risk to our way of life in the Great Lakes. I mean, let’s be honest about what we get. There is a small amount of propane that’s produced from this line that goes to the Upper Peninsula. There’s actually a small amount of oil that’s produced in Michigan that goes to market via this line. And there’s a small amount of oil that goes to the Marathon refinery in Detroit. Those are the benefits. It’s actually a very minor use of the line. It’s mostly used to transport energy through the state of Michigan, not to the state. The good news is all three of those uses are easily substitutable with other ways that don’t put the Great Lakes and our way of life at risk. That’s the good news.”

“We have to think about the ways that these products could still be provided in the absence of Line 5. If we just take the issue of propane in the Upper Peninsula, Line 5 provides – it’s unclear exactly – but maybe 40% to 60% of the propane in the Upper Peninsula. What we do know is that you can actually provide the same service via truck, via rail that you get from the pipeline right now. In fact, the propane in the Upper Peninsula is trucked directly to residents. So all that Line 5 does is shortcut a little bit of that trucking route. Is it worth putting the Great Lakes at risk for that?”

Shriberg’s reaction to the agreement’s requirement for Enbridge to shut down Line 5 during “adverse weather conditions”

“The U.S. Coast Guard just said in congressional testimony that they are not comfortable about their ability to recover oil in the straits, period. What this agreement says is if there are sustained waves of over eight feet for a continuous 60-minute period, Line 5 is temporarily shut down. Now, the concept that in adverse weather conditions, Line 5 shouldn’t be transporting oil, that makes sense.”

“The problem is ‘adverse weather conditions’ probably includes the entire winter on the straits where we know under ice cover it’s difficult, if not impossible, to recover oil. We know under wave conditions as high as two to four feet, the Coast Guard is uncomfortable sending boats out.”

“So they set a standard saying, ‘In adverse weather conditions, we’ll shut down,’ but then they made that standard almost impossible to meet. Eight-foot sustained waves for 60 minutes is something that is extraordinarily rare and it’s not the right standard for adverse weather.”

On how much the Pipeline Safety Advisory Board was involved in crafting this plan

“Well, I can say from my own experience as a member of that board – I was appointed by the governor to represent the conservation community on this – I was not consulted at all. Now, obviously Enbridge was consulted on this, and some of the state officials. Enbridge serves on this board as well. But I think it’s disingenuous for the governor to set up an advisory board for him on this issue and then to come to a deal with Enbridge without actually consulting this board itself. I think that’s a breach of process and a breach of trust.”

For the full interview, listen above. Read statements from the governor's office and from Enbridge below.

A statement from Governor Rick Snyder's office

The agreement announced Monday between the state and Enbridge Energy Partners puts a priority on safeguarding the Great Lakes and other important waterways in Michigan. While the Pipeline Safety Advisory Board’s advice and guidance is valuable on all pipeline topics, the Board is a recommending body and can’t enter into legal agreements on behalf of the state. This agreement, which is not a final resolution of the Line 5 issue, will be discussed at the Pipeline Safety Advisory Board meeting Dec. 11 at the Causeway Bay Lansing Hotel and Convention Center and the State looks forward to hearing Board members’ views. One thing the Board has been vocal about is announcing a timeline for taking action on Line 5, and Monday’s agreement meets that request.

The Pipeline Safety Advisory Board website – www.mipetroleumpipelines.com – is a repository for information related to pipelines and Line 5. Posting pertinent information there about yesterday’s agreement, or other Line 5 developments, makes it easy for the public to find key documents. It also eases the public comment process, such as the 30-day window that is open for public feedback on the final version of the independent alternatives analysis report.

A statement from Enbridge Energy

Today, Enbridge entered into an agreement with the State of Michigan laying out a path forward for addressing the future of Line 5. The agreement increases collaboration and coordination between the State and Enbridge and contains seven key actions that move toward a long term solution.

From an engineering and operational perspective, ongoing inspections and studies show that Line 5 at the Straits of Mackinac remains in good shape and is fit for service. We realize our internal technical studies and understanding haven’t translated well into reassuring the public or Michigan leaders about the ongoing safe operation of Line 5. We apologize if our actions sometimes have created confusion.   

Many Michiganders have joined Governor Snyder in expressing, with increasing frequency, concerns regarding the safety of Line 5 in the Straits. Enbridge not only is hearing those concerns, we are listening. Most important, we are taking actions to address these concerns.

We hope the agreement is a step in a positive direction to demonstrate our commitment to doing the right thing to serve Michigan and protect the waters of the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes are a treasure that must be preserved now and for future generations.  

Trust is earned, and while we have a long way to go, we remain committed to doing what it takes to rebuild trust and uphold our pledge to protect the environment while safely meeting Michigan’s energy needs. 

We appreciate the emphasis that Governor Snyder, other state leaders and the public place on the stewardship responsibilities that come with being part of the Great Lakes community. We also will do our part with increased responsiveness by taking meaningful, concrete actions.

Details of Agreement Summary

All of the actions being taken today are designed to drive down risk and to further protect the waters of the Great Lakes while making sure the State and the public are informed every step of the way.

There are seven ways this agreement protects Michigan’s water:

  • By June 2018, we will have evaluated three options for the eventual replacement of the dual pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac. The options that we will evaluate with the State include: placing a new pipeline in a tunnel under the Straits; installing a new pipeline below the lakebed of the Straits using horizontal directional drilling (HDD); and, creating a trench on the bottom of the Great Lakes and placing a new pipeline in a secondary containment structure or system.
  • Temporarily shut down the operation of Line 5 when adverse weather conditions create   sustained waves higher than eight feet in the Straits
  • Put into place additional safety measures to further mitigate a potential anchor strike from boats in the Straits
  • By June 2018, evaluate additional state-of-the-art tools and underwater technologies that could help further inspect and maintain Line 5 in the Straits and assess the condition of the coating on the twin pipelines
  • Work with the State on plans to enhance safety and reduce the potential impacts at other Line 5 water crossings
  • Replace the Line 5 St. Clair River crossing as soon as we receive the necessary federal and state approvals. The new pipe will be installed underneath the river bed using HDD; and,
  • Increase coordination with the State regarding the operations, maintenance and future of Line 5 and promote transparency between Enbridge and the State of Michigan. State representatives will have access to our data, studies, and will collaborate with us every step of the way.

In full disclosure, Enbridge Energy is a financial supporter of Michigan Radio.


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