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Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Michigan AG Nessel: Safety Board Report on Line 5 Anchor Strike means operating Line 5 "incredibly dangerous"

This chart from the National Transportation Safety Board’s newly released investigative report into the 2018 Line 5 anchor strike shows the site of the accident that leaked about 800 gallons of dielectric mineral oil into the Straits of Mackinac. Click on image for larger version.

LANSING -- Attorney General Dana Nessel made the following comment today regarding the recent release of the National Transportation Safety Board’s report on the Line 5 anchor strike:

"The National Transportation Safety Board’s newly released investigative report into the Line 5 anchor strike last year reinforces what we already know: It is incredibly dangerous for Line 5 to continue operating in the Straits. And even though Governor Whitmer has taken action to prevent anchor drops in the Straits, the 2018 incident was an accident that even the boat’s captain was unaware of. All of the enforcement mechanisms in the world won’t prevent a tragedy from an unintended, accidental anchor strike. We are prepared to take legal action to decommission Line 5 as quickly as possible to protect the fresh water resources that are absolutely critical to our state."

According to the National Transportation Safety Board’s report, "At 1732 local time on April 1, 2018, the articulated tug and barge (ATB) Clyde S VanEnkevort/Erie Trader was westbound with a crew of 14 in the Straits of Mackinac, Michigan,when the barge’s starboard anchor, which had unknowingly released and was dragging on the bottom, struck and damaged three underwater electrical transmission cables and two oil pipelines. About 800 gallons of dielectric mineral oil leaked into the water from the cables; the oil pipelines sustained only superficial damage. Repair and replacement of the cables was estimated at more than $100 million. No injuries were reported."

From Oil and Water Don't Mix

The May 31, 2019, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report, carried Tuesday in the trade publication Maritime Executive, blames a series of crew errors and defective equipment aboard the Erie Trader for causing the damaging anchor strikes as the tug and barge navigated up to 8-foot seas and 30-knot winds through the icy Straits. It wasn’t until more than a day after the April 1, 2018, anchor strike -- when the Erie Trader approached its Indiana destination after sailing from the Straits through Lake Michigan that the ship’s captain noticed they had been dragging anchor.

"This report shows there is no regulation or law short of eliminating the pipeline that Michigan can pass to protect the Great Lakes from a catastrophic Line 5 pipeline rupture," said David Holtz, Oil and Water Don’t Mix spokesperson. "Michigan must act on this new evidence. Only shutting Line 5 down can prevent an oil pipeline rupture and it is urgent that the governor and attorney general immediately use their authority to protect Michigan and the Great Lakes."

Under an agreement with the State of Michigan, Enbridge is required to shut down Line 5 oil transport during certain dangerous conditions, but didn’t do so until several days after the anchor strike was first discovered.  In the aftermath of the anchor strike, Michigan also banned anchor deployment in the Straits, but as the NTSB report indicated there were already anchor restrictions in place when the Erie Trader sailed through the turbulent Straits, unknowingly dragging 540 feet of heavy chain and one of its two anchors behind it.

"Passing anchor bans and signing swiss cheese agreements with Enbridge are simply rearranging deck chairs on this Titanic disaster in the waiting," said Holtz. "You cannot read the NTSB report and conclude anything other than an immediate and permanent shut down of Line 5 is the appropriate and necessary action to take. Every day that pipeline sits in the Straits is a day closer to disaster."

The day of the anchor incident, most of the ship’s crew was off in observance of Easter Sunday while the captain was unaware that his ship was dragging a six-ton anchor across the lakebed, rupturing electrical pipelines and damaging Enbridge’s 66-year-old oil pipelines, according to NTSB investigators.

Gov. Whitmer is currently negotiating a potential oil tunnel in the Straits but is concerned that construction will take many years leaving the oil pipelines there a continuing risk. The State of Michigan has approved permits for installation on 201 anchor screw supports on the twin pipelines in the Straits which are screwed into the lakebed and hold the pipeline 2 to 4 feet off the bottom, raising concerns that an anchor fluke could easily snag the now elevated pipeline.

Inset photo: Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel.

Click here to sign a petition urging Gov. Whitmer to decommission Line 5.

Monday, June 03, 2019

Isle Royale Winter Study: 13 New Wolves, 20 Radio-collared Moose

One of the newly introduced gray wolves picks its way through deep snow on Isle Royale. (Photo ©  Rolf Peterson and courtesy Michigan Tech News)

By Kelley Christensen, Michigan Tech Science and Technology Publications Writer
Posted April 30, 2019, on Michigan Tech News
Reprinted here in part with permission

Michigan Technological University’s 2019 Isle Royale Winter Study focuses on the implications of newly introduced wolves and the movements of newly collared moose.

Fifteen wolves. 2,060 moose. Extensive ice and deep, powdery snow. Michigan Tech researchers have released the annual Winter Study report. In its 61st year, the study is the longest running examination of a predator-prey relationship in the world.

The report chronicles the four-week research expedition to the island, where researchers track -- by ski and plane -- wolves and moose, collar moose, and catalog the cascading effects of an ecosystem that has lacked a healthy population of apex predators for a number of years.

New Tracks in the Snow

Prior to this fall and winter’s wolf reintroductions, the wolf population on the remote island had remained at just two -- a strongly bonded, but also highly inbred male-female pair -- for three years. The moose population, lacking predation, expanded by an average of 19 percent each year during the past eight years since 2011, when the wolf population first dwindled to fewer than 10. Consequently, primary plant species in moose diets -- balsam fir and watershield -- dropped precipitously.

The National Park Service (NPS), after an extensive review process, decided to introduce new wolves to the island. In September and October 2018, NPS introduced four Minnesota-born wolves (one male and three females) to the island. In late October, the male wolf died and on January 31, 2019, one of the female wolves left the island by crossing the ice bridge that had formed on Lake Superior, which reached nearly 95 percent ice cover.... Click here to read the rest of this article on Michigan Tech News.

Inset photo: Lake Superior reached approximately 95 percent ice cover during the 2018-19 winter. One of the introduced female wolves from Minnesota, used an ice bridge to leave Isle Royale in late January. (Photo © Sarah Hoy and courtesy Michigan Tech News)