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Environment and tribal groups call for new hazardous weather standards for Enbridge's Line 5

Mackinac Bridge
Mark Brush
Michigan Radio

Fourteen civic, environmental and tribal groups have urged Governor Gretchen Whitmer to take immediate new steps to protect the Great Lakes in case of a possible wintertime rupture of Enbridge's Line 5, the pipeline that runs under the Straits of Mackinac.

In an October 25 letter, the groups asked Whitmer to tighten standards that would trigger a shutdown of Line 5 during rough seas and ice.

They want Whitmer to get Enbridge's promise to stop transporting oil through Line 5 if waves exceed 3.3 feet and winds are more than 18 mph.

"These are the conditions cited by the Coast Guard which render oil spill response particularly dangerous and ineffective," said Sean McBrearty, campaign coordinator for Oil and Water Don't Mix.

"This fall we have already seen waves in the Great Lakes reach 14 feet and more on several occasions," said McBrearty. "The U.S. Coastguard's top official has told Congress the agency is not ready for a major oil spill incident in the Great Lakes and officials have said the Coast Guard won't even venture out to address an oil spill when waves are above three feet. Once ice conditions take over in the Straits, oil spill response becomes even more hazardous and unpredictable."

The groups' letter further calls on Whitmer to use her emergency public safety powers  to order a shut down of Line 5 if Enbridge fails to comply with the new, tightened hazardous weather standards the groups are advocating. 

Mike Shriberg, Great Lakes Regional Director of the National Wildlife Federation, served on the Michigan Pipeline Safety Advisory Board.

"The Pipeline Safety Advisory Board, a majority of those voting, voted in favor actually of putting these standards into place," Shriberg said. "Governor Snyder ignored that."

Shriberg said Whitmer now has "an opportunity to turn that around."

A spokesperson for Whitmer said the Governor's office is reviewing the letter. 

Enbridge replied to a request for comment about the letter:

There has never been an incident in the Straits of Mackinac and Enbridge’s focus is first and foremost on prevention. In the unlikely event of a winter incident Enbridge has the training, the people and resources to respond quickly. We have equipment positioned near the Straits that is designed for response in winter conditions. And we have practiced our winter response plans with the U.S. Coast Guard. Enbridge remains very focused on the Great Lakes Tunnel Project which reduces the chances of any release into the Straits to near zero and reflects our steadfast commitment to protecting the Great Lakes, the environment, and the community, while safely meeting Michigan’s energy needs.

Editor's note: Enbridge Energy is one of Michigan Radio's corporate sponsors.

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