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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Scientific report on Enbridge pipeline under Mackinac Straits warns of risks; citizens call for pipeline shutdown

By Michele Bourdieu, with information from FLOW (For the Love of Water)
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.

Speakers line up and a crowd gathers near the "Oil and Water Don't Mix" display vehicle in Conkling Park, Mackinaw City, for the May 26, 2015, Great Lakes Call to Action.

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.*

At the May 27, 2015, press conference on Mackinac Island, FLOW (For the Love of Water) Executive Director Liz Kirkwood calls for the State of Michigan to hold a full review of Enbridge's Line 5 pipelines under the Straits of Mackinac because of the risks these pipelines pose to the public interest. (Videos by Allan Baker for Keweenaw Now

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:

Gary Street, former Director of Engineering, Dow Environmental–AWD Technologies and currently an engineering consultant for FLOW (For Love of Water), speaks about the risks of a catastrophic oil spill from the 62-year-old Enbridge pipelines under the Mackinac Straits -- including damage from invasive zebra mussels.

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:

Bruce Wallace, National Wildlife Federation director, speaks about the dangers posed by Enbridge's No. 5 pipelines under the Mackinac Straits.

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.

Aaron Payment, Tribal Chairman, Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, speaks on tribal opposition to the Enbridge Line 5 pipelines under the Mackinac Straits. He displays images that illustrate effects of an oil spill.

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:

At the May 27, 2015, press conference on Mackinac Island, Mich., visitors ask questions and express concerns about the Enbridge No. 5 pipelines under the Mackinac Straits and related environmental issues.

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:

During the question and answer period at the May 27, 2015, press conference on Mackinac Island, Mich., a local island resident asks about pipeline supports in a very deep part of the Mackinac Straits traversed by the Enbridge No. 5 pipeline. Gary Street, engineering consultant for FLOW, replies.

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.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Green film June 18, Community Forum June 20 to focus on Natural/Green Burial

HANCOCK -- As any follower of crime drama knows, it is far from easy to dispose of a body. With the earth’s human population now over seven billion (and counting), awareness is also growing about how large a toll the disposition of all those bodies will take on our planet.

Human remains might seem to be an exception to the ecological principles of "reduce, reuse, recycle." However, a growing number of people have decided that returning to traditional ways of "recycling" our bodies back into the earth is also the best option for the planet itself. One such local group, the Keweenaw Green Burial Association (KGBA), is encouraging community members to participate in two upcoming free events focused on green burial practices -- some entirely new and some as old as humanity itself.

"This is about the environmental impact of a choice that we will all face some day: what to do with our bodies once we are no longer using them," said the aptly named Jay Green, KGBA president. "The burial practices that have become conventional in the past 100 years -- preservation of the body with embalming fluids and burial in metal caskets and concrete vaults -- are not environmentally sound -- due to their use of toxic chemicals, fossil fuels, and non-renewable materials."

In the first event, at 7 p.m. on Thursday, June 18, in G002 Hesterberg Hall, Michigan Tech Forestry Building, the Green Film Series will screen A Will for the Woods, a documentary about Clark Wang, a musician and psychiatrist who was determined that his last performance would be a gift back to the planet. Viewers will witness Wang preparing for his own green burial and, in so doing, creating that option for others in his community.

Two days later, from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, June 20, at Portage Lake District Library, the KGBA will host a community forum facilitated by Michigan resident Merilynne Rush, a Natural Death Care educator and board member of the Green Burial Council International. Rush will take the audience through an examination of conventional funeral and burial practices, their environmental and social implications, and what green burial is and is not.

Also included in the Community Forum will be discussion about the KGBA’s ongoing efforts to better inform the community and foster green burial practices on the Keweenaw Peninsula.

"What we are finding is that once people have more information, a better understanding, and an opportunity to discuss more natural, green burial options, they begin to get more interested in 'going out green,'" said Green of the KGBA. "For example, cremation is often perceived as having the least environmental impact among conventional burial practices and some people choose it because they believe it is the greenest option. However, even cremation has a significant carbon footprint, contributes to air pollution, and essentially wastes nutrients that can be recycled back into the earth.

"Then, once you multiply a burial practice by seven billion, even for a less problematic practice like cremation, we’re looking at a real problem."

Likewise, at the June 20 Community Forum, Rush will focus on common misconceptions and myths about death and burial, differences between law and common practices, "how to" advice for natural death care and burial, personal stories, and Q and A discussion. Rush will also discuss a closely related trend whereby people are once again practicing home funerals: family and friends caring for their deceased themselves, preparing the body for burial, and receiving visitors all in their own home instead of at a funeral home.

Yet another new natural/green trend, said Keren Tischler, KGBA secretary and Keweenaw Land Trust president, is toward establishing "conservation" cemeteries. "It has often been said that cemeteries are a 'waste of land,'" she said, "but in fact conservation cemeteries are the exact opposite. They serve the dual purpose of restoring and/or preserving lands, in perpetuity, while also serving as a burial ground. Prairies, forests, and other ecologically important ecosystems can be permanently set aside in honor of those who lie buried beneath them.

"It’s considered to be the ultimate gift back to the planet: instead of permanently expending financial and material resources, you use your burial as an opportunity to help set aside yet another piece of land for the health of the earth and future generations."

What’s driving these changes? While it may seem like "green" and "natural" practices would be most appealing to the upcoming future generations who are still quite far from death, a lot of interest appears to be coming from the Baby Boomer generation.

"When you think about it, it makes sense," said Carolyn Peterson, another member of the KGBA Board. "The Boomers have been burying their parents. They are facing the fact that they are next in line -- and, in their usual fashion, they are questioning the practices of previous generations and they want more and different choices for themselves. This really is not much different than any other social change they have been the driving force behind."

Prior registration is not required for either event, and both are open to the public free of charge (donations always welcome). Support and funding for the June 20 Community Forum also comes from the Portage Lake District Library and the Keweenaw Co-op’s Bring-a-Bag donation program. For more information, please contact the KGBA at

Monday, June 15, 2015

Register now for Isle Royale Botany Workshop Sept. 8-13

Prickly rose (Rosa acicularis). These flowers begin blooming in June on Isle Royale and by September are displaying bright red fruits (rose hips). (Photo courtesy Janet Marr)
HOUGHTON -- Experience four days in Lake Superior's Isle Royale National Park September 8 -13, 2015, and learn to identify the diverse plants that live on this incredible island!

Another special Botany Workshop, sponsored by the Isle Royale and Keweenaw Parks Association (IRKPA), and taught by botanist Janet Marr, is open to anyone with beginning/intermediate knowledge of plant identification who is interested in learning to identify the native flora of this species-rich Lake Superior island.

Rose hips, fruit of the prickly rose -- one of many native plants you may observe on Isle Royale in September. (Photo courtesy Janet Marr)

Workshop participants will spend four days on Isle Royale learning native plant species, using such tools as a dichotomous key and hand lens to identify plants. Other topics will include discussion of island plant communities, rare species, ecology, and invasive species. 

Most workshop activities will take place outdoors. Optional evening sessions will also be offered to review plants learned earlier.

REQUIREMENTS: Workshop participants should be able to walk up to 7 miles in one day with a daypack on rocky, sometimes steep, trails and bedrock, sometimes slippery, shoreline.

INSTRUCTOR: Botanist Janet Marr, the workshop instructor, has had many years of experience studying plants across Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and Isle Royale. Janet taught the 2007-2014 Isle Royale botany workshops and the recent June 8-13 Isle Royale workshop as well as many botany, aquatic, and wetland plant workshops in Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula. 

She is co-author of the Isle Royale Natural History Association's Island Life, an Isle Royale Nature Guide.

ENROLLMENT IS LIMITED TO 12 PARTICIPANTS: Past botany workshops have filled up very quickly so sign up soon! Contact Kristine Bradof at 906-482-7860 or to obtain more information about workshop registration or to register. Contact Janet Marr at 906-337-5529 or for details about the workshop.

MICHIGAN K-12 TEACHERS:  State Continuing Education Clock Hours (SCECHs) may be available by participating in the workshop.

COST: The fee for the botany workshop -- $725 per person ($25 discount for IRKPA members) covers instruction, camping, meals on the island, notebook, Slavick/Janke’s Flora of Isle Royale, and transportation to and from  Grand Portage, Minnesota, on the Voyageur II. See for information on becoming a IRKPA member. A $200 deposit is required to reserve your place in the workshop and may be sent to the Isle Royale and Keweenaw Parks Association, Attn:  Kristine Bradof, 800 Lakeshore Dr., Houghton, MI  49931.

A cancellation fee of $75 will be charged for cancellations between July 15 and August 15. There will be no refund for cancellations made on or after August 16 (although partial refunds after August 16 will be issued if a replacement participant is available).

LODGING/CAMPING: (Windigo area): Two lodging options at no cost are a group campsite and Adirondack-type shelters (the latter will very likely be available). In addition there are two Windigo camper cabins that we already have reserved. One of these cabins is available to the first person/group that commits to renting it (that person/group would set the terms, either paying the whole cost themselves or offering to share with others). The cabin sleeps up to 6, and rates for the cabin in 2014 were $54.45/night (and likely similar in 2015) no matter how many people (up to 6) stay there. Info about this cabin is at If you would like additional information or would like to rent the cabin, please contact Janet at 906-337-5529 or 

Field trips in the September 8-13 workshop near the southwest end of the Island will include the Windigo nature trail and trails to Huginnin Cove and along Washington Harbor to the Grace Creek overlook. Workshop attendees will meet in Grand Portage, Minnesota, on Tuesday (September 8) afternoon or evening and travel from Grand Portage to Windigo (on Isle Royale) on the Voyageur II on Wednesday (September 9). Participants will return to Grand Portage on the Voyageur II on Sunday (September 13).

NOTE:  It is also possible to reach Windigo from either Houghton or Copper Harbor, Michigan. You can fly from Houghton airport to Windigo on a seaplane. For info visit You can also take the Ranger III out from Houghton or the Isle Royale Queen IV from Copper Harbor. Both go to Rock Harbor -- and then you can take the Voyageur II from Rock Harbor to Windigo. Website addresses for each of these boats are below:

Ranger III:

Isle Royale Queen IV:

Voyageur II:

If you decide to leave from either Houghton or Copper Harbor, you may contact Kristine at 906-482-7860 or  so that she can adjust the workshop registration fee to remove the Grand Portage to Windigo transportation cost.

For information about Isle Royale National Park, see their home page at or call 906-482-0984.