Photos and Video by Allan Baker
Members of the Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council (NMEAC) of Traverse City and other groups from "Oil and Water Don’t Mix" -- a coalition of businesses, municipalities, Native American tribes and environmental and conservation groups -- gather at Conkling Park, Mackinaw City, on May 26, 2015, for a Great Lakes Call to Action -- to shut down Enbridge's Line 5 aging pipelines under the Mackinac Straits. Their event coincided with the arrival of dignitaries and decision makers for the Mackinac Policy Conference held on Mackinac Island May 27-29. (Photos by Allan Baker for Keweenaw Now)
MACKINAW CITY, MACKINAC ISLAND -- Two events scheduled to coincide with the Mackinac Policy Conference held on Mackinac Island May 27-29 called attention to the imminent danger of an oil spill from the aging Enbridge oil pipeline (known as Line 5) that runs through the Mackinac Straits. Concerned citizens and environmental groups held a Great Lakes Call to Action on May 26, 2015, at Conkling Park in Mackinaw City, displaying signs calling for a shutdown of Line 5. The following day FLOW (For the Love of Water) and its team of scientists and engineers, with assistance from the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter, held a press conference to release the FLOW team's recent report on Line 5 and its dangers.
Concerned citizens display signs in Mackinaw City on May 26 -- a Great Lakes Call to Action to call attention to the dangers posed by Enbridge's Line 5 under the Mackinac Straits.
According to the FLOW report, the 62-year-old Enbridge oil pipelines running through the Mackinac Straits should be shut down pending a full public review because of structural concerns, including the worry that waste excreted by zebra mussels may have corroded and dangerously weakened the steel pipes.
The expert team -- two accomplished engineers and a hazardous materials risk-management specialist -- were convened by FLOW, a Traverse City-based Great Lakes law and policy center, to consider risks to the Enbridge oil pipelines. Enbridge, which is infamous for its Line 6b that corroded and spilled one million gallons of heavy oil in 2010 into the Kalamazoo River watershed near Marshall, Michigan, has withheld key data and reports from public scrutiny, the experts found.
"We convened these experts in order to bring key scientific facts and concerns to light," said FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood, an attorney and leader in a statewide campaign of groups, citizens, businesses, tribes, and local governments calling for the governor to conduct a full public assessment under state law -- the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act -- of the potential harm posed by Line 5 in the Straits and to identify alternatives to avoid that harm.
Kirkwood’s organization released the report of experts’ findings at a press conference held on May 27, 2015, at the Trinity Episcopal Church on Mackinac Island. Also attending the news conference were Bruce Wallace, national board chair of the National Wildlife Federation; Aaron Payment, Tribal Chairman, Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians; David Holtz, Michigan chair of Sierra Club; and Gary Street, former Director of Engineering, Dow Environmental–AWD Technologies and currently an engineering consultant for FLOW.
Kirkwood opened the press conference with some comments on FLOW's April 30, 2015, report, which is addressed to Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette and Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Director Dan Wyant for submission to the Michigan Petroleum Pipeline Task Force.*
According to the expert team, the twin oil pipelines rely on 1950s technology, including an outdated protective coal tar coating and welds connecting the 40-foot segments that make up the pipelines. These segments lack the required number of supports to secure the pipes in the powerful currents of the Straits, just west of the Mackinac Bridge. In addition, since the 1980s, invasive zebra mussels have attached themselves to the pipelines, creating additional risks.
"Studies have concluded that excrement from zebra mussels has a corrosive impact on exposed steel," said Gary Street, former Director of Engineering, Dow Environmental-AWD Technologies, who spoke at the press conference on behalf of the expert team. "And there’s a real concern that bare steel indeed may have become exposed due to friction where the pipelines lie on the shifting sand-and-gravel bottom, and due to possible failure of the pipeline coating generally after more than six decades of use."
Street speaks here at the May 27 press conference:
The Enbridge "Line 5" oil pipelines were installed in 1953 and not designed to withstand impacts from zebra mussels, an invasive species carried to the Great Lakes in the ballast water of ocean-going ships decades after the St. Lawrence Seaway was opened to navigation in 1959, the expert team concluded. Moreover, unless removed, a process itself that could compromise the pipelines, the encrusted layer of mussels makes external inspection virtually impossible, the experts determined.
Underwater video footage captured in 2013 by National Wildlife Federation divers shows the Straits of Mackinac pipelines covered in growth and debris, including zebra mussels.**
Bruce Wallace, National Wildlife Federation national board chair, also spoke at the press conference:
Also concerned about the ecological health of the lakes are Native American groups, many of whom depend on fishing and consider the water to be the life blood of Mother Earth.
At the press conference, Aaron Payment, Tribal Chairman of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, spoke for his own tribe and all other tribes in Michigan as well, expressing their opposition to the pipelines under the Mackinac Straits. He shared his own experience in the area of the Enbridge spill in the Kalamazoo River and warned what could happen to Mackinac Island if a spill were to happen in the Straits.
During his talk, Aaron Payment displayed this image from the University of Michigan showing how, should a Line 5 pipeline rupture, oil would spread through the Great Lakes and cover Mackinac Island, causing a major disaster.
Payment also called on the public and the press to ask the Governor about HB 4540, which, if passed, will prevent citizens from obtaining information about the Enbridge pipelines.***
Several visitors to the press conference asked questions and expressed concerns about the pipeline issue and the effects on ordinary citizens:
The team of experts also found that the "coal tar enamel" coating that protects the exterior of the Line 5 pipelines from corrosion is an "obsolete technology and may have failed locally, resulting in corrosion that has reduced the strength of the assembled pipeline." Protective coating similar to that on the Straits pipelines has failed elsewhere and resulted in oil spills, including the 2009 failure of Enbridge’s Line 2 near Odessa, Saskatchewan, which was constructed the same year as Line 5.
"This type of protective coating is not used on oil pipelines anymore because it is prone to failure and has been replaced by better technology," said Ed Timm, PhD., PE, a former senior scientist and consultant to Dow Chemical’s Environmental Operations Business. "Enbridge simply has not provided data to back up its claims about the safety of Line 5 in the Straits. There should be a full public review relying on independent expertise."
The experts also raised concerns about deficient welds connecting the 40-foot segments that make up the pipelines. In their report, they cited 16 Enbridge oil spills reported from 2002-2010 from pipelines with a coal tar enamel coating similar to that used on Line 5 in the Straits. The cause of five of those spills was listed as "weld failure" and two others resulted from "corrosion."
The expert team also found that Enbridge has failed to install as many as 65 supports required by the state to prevent the pipeline from grinding along the bottom, bending, and potentially failing or breaking at its weld points. In June 2014, Enbridge disclosed it was in violation of the state easement for an unspecified number of years by not installing the required supports every 75 feet along the Straits oil pipelines.
During the question and answer period at the May 27 press conference, a resident of Mackinac Island asks about support of the pipeline in a very deep area that it crosses in the Straits:
The aging Enbridge pipelines push nearly 23 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids a day through the Straits of Mackinac, which the company uses as a shortcut for its Line 5 route from Superior, Wis., to Sarnia, Ontario. A July 2014 study by the University of Michigan called the Straits "the worst possible place for an oil spill in the Great Lakes" and depicted the prospect of a plume from a million-gallon oil spill in the Straits stretching for 85 miles -- from Lake Michigan’s Beaver Island to Mackinac Island to Rogers City down the Lake Huron shore.
FLOW's Kirkwood says the scientific findings by these experts are evidence that Enbridge's Line 5 pipelines should be shut down pending an open, public process to determine how to avoid a catastrophic oil spill in the Great Lakes.
"The public has a right to know the risk and to expect leadership from the Governor and his task force led by Attorney General Bill Schuette and DEQ Director Dan Wyant," Kirkwood said.
While Kirkwood, to date, has not received a written response from Gov. Snyder, she told Keweenaw Now this week that on Friday, June 12, she and other FLOW staff members met with the principal authors of the Task Force report at the Attorney General's office. Staff from the Attorney General's office and a representative from the Department of Environmental Quality attended the meeting.
"The good news is that the State of Michigan is committed to crafting a road map for addressing this imminent threat to the Great Lakes," Kirkwood said. "I hope that our report has raised more unanswered questions as to the safety and integrity of the 62-year-old pipeline."
Kirkwood noted the Michigan officials indicated they had questions after learning about the Santa Barbara County (California) oil spill on May 19, 2015. Apparently corrosion and wear on the pipelines contributed to the spill.****
"Pipeline company operators' assurances to the government are not enough. Federal and state regulators must conduct independent alternative risk assessments," Kirkwood said. "I think there will be much more work to do to satisfy the public trust and the public."
On May 29, 2015, U.S. Senator Gary Peters (D-Michigan) applauded the White House’s announcement that Marie Therese Dominguez has been nominated to lead the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), which plays a vital role in protecting communities across Michigan from spills and accidents while (reportedly) ensuring the safe flow of energy products.
U.S. Senator Gary Peters (D-Michigan) is pictured here during an interview in Mackinac Island's Grand Hotel on May 27 during the Mackinac Policy Conference. (Photo by Allan Baker for Keweenaw Now)
"Given the environmental and economic damage caused in the Kalamazoo River by the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history, Michiganders understand why it’s so important that we do everything we can to prevent another pipeline spill or accident, particularly in the Great Lakes," Peters said.
Earlier this year, Senators Peters and Stabenow introduced an amendment that would have ensured PHMSA has the resources required to oversee petroleum pipelines, including aging pipelines around the Great Lakes such as those running through the Straits of Mackinac, where a pipeline break could have disastrous impacts on the health of the Great Lakes ecosystem. The amendment would have required PHMSA to certify that they have the resources necessary to conduct proper oversight of pipelines in the Great Lakes before approving construction of the Keystone XL pipeline and require PHMSA to develop recommendations for special conditions to apply to pipelines in the Great Lakes, similar to the 59 special conditions developed for Keystone.*****
Kirkwood said FLOW plans to participate in the upcoming "Remember Kalamazoo" -- a fifth anniversary event to be held July 25, 2015, in Battle Creek, Mich., to remember Enbridge’s one million-gallon Line 6b oil spill in Marshall, Mich., in 2010. Local organizers want to focus in part on preventing a spill at the Straits of Mackinac. Click here for more information on this event.
* Click here to read FLOW's April 30, 2015, report. For more information visit the FLOW Web site. Read about the Michigan Petroleum Pipeline Task Force here.
** See this National Wildlife 2013 article, which includes an underwater video showing some of the structural problems of Line 5. Click here to read about National Wildlife Federation's report, "Sunken Hazard: Aging oil pipelines beneath the Straits of Mackinac an ever-present threat to the Great Lakes."
*** Click here to read Michigan House Bill 4540, introduced on May 5, 2015.
**** Read about the recent Santa Barbara oil spill here.
***** Read about the Peters-Stabenow amendment here.