2017-12-14 / Front Page

Line 5: Pipeline Board Takes Stronger Stance

By Stephanie Fortino


At left: A geologic profile of the Straits of Mackinac under Line 5. A tunnel would be dug in the bedrock, depicted here in white. The profile was adapted from geologic surveys taken for the construction of the Mackinac Bridge. The red lines indicate places where geologic borings have been collected; no borings were taken at the deepest part of the Straits (center), so the depth of the bedrock there is unknown, but estimated to be 350 feet deep. The limestone bedrock of the Straits of Mackinac is covered with sediment and glacial deposits like sand, gravel, and clay. (Dynamic Risk Assessment Systems Inc.) At left: A geologic profile of the Straits of Mackinac under Line 5. A tunnel would be dug in the bedrock, depicted here in white. The profile was adapted from geologic surveys taken for the construction of the Mackinac Bridge. The red lines indicate places where geologic borings have been collected; no borings were taken at the deepest part of the Straits (center), so the depth of the bedrock there is unknown, but estimated to be 350 feet deep. The limestone bedrock of the Straits of Mackinac is covered with sediment and glacial deposits like sand, gravel, and clay. (Dynamic Risk Assessment Systems Inc.) Responding to an agreement earlier this month between the state and Enbridge Energy to take more safety precautions with the operation of the Line 5 oil pipelines crossing under the Straits of Mackinac, the Michigan Pipeline Safety Advisory Board has made three recommendations to the governor that take a stronger public stand.

The resolutions, passed at a meeting in Lansing Monday, December 11, call for: 1) the Straits crossing to be shut down until the exterior coating of the pipes is repaired, 2) the line to be shut down temporarily when Lake Michigan has waves higher than three feet (rather than the eight-foot waves negotiated by the governor), and 3) more analysis of alternatives to Line 5 by next June.

The board is comprised of 15 members appointed by Governor Rick Snyder, who established the board by executive order in 2015. The resolutions were passed 5-1 with seven members of the board abstaining. Chris Shepler, president of Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry, voted in favor of the resolutions Monday. He was appointed to the board to represent the hospitality and tourism industry.

The resolutions were presented by Jennifer McKay of Petoskey, the lead policy advisor for Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council, R. Craig Hupp, a lawyer from Grosse Pointe, and Michael Shriberg of Ann Arbor, the Great Lakes regional executive director for the National Wildlife Federation. Mr. Shepler said several members of the board abstained from voting because the resolutions were not distributed to the board prior to the meeting, but said that he was satisfied after hearing the explanation from the co-authors of the resolutions.

“I want the pipeline out. It’s pretty simple to me,” he told The St. Ignace News. “That’s why I didn’t have any confusion with those resolutions or needed to read those resolutions. In my opinion, and I’m not speaking on behalf of the pipeline board, but speaking as president of Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry.”

In addition to the coauthors of the resolutions and Mr. Shepler, Homer Mandoka of Bronson, chair of the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi and president of the United Tribes of Michigan, supported the resolutions.

Since being appointed to the board, Mr. Shepler has been vocal about his opposition to Line 5 and the threats an oil spill poses to the Straits of Mackinac.

“I fear the worst, and the worst would be a leak in the Straits of Mackinac,” he said. “I’m not confident with the cleanup. I’m not confident that there will be no spill. I’m not confident with Enbridge.”

On November 27, Gov. Snyder signed an agreement with Enbridge that tasked Enbridge with further researching putting the Straits crossing of the line into a tunnel. While the agreement called for more transparency with Enbridge, it was not shared or considered by the pipeline board before it was made public. During the nearly 2.5-hour-long public comment period Monday, Mr. Shepler said many expressed their frustration with how that deal was brokered behind closed doors.

“There were some new faces expressing their distrust of Enbridge and the fact that they fear the worst, like I do. There were some old faces, too,” he said, who were frustrated that their past appeals have been ignored.

Mr. Shepler said he shares some of their frustration.

“Why are we on the board when we’re not advised on anything that’s going on behind the scenes?” he asked. “It’s a little bit frustrating.”

One of the resolutions passed by the board tightens the November 27 agreement between the governor and Enbridge that called for the temporary shutdown of the Straits crossing during eight-foot sustained seas. The advisory board’s resolution recommends that Enbridge shut down the Straits crossing when the lake has three-foot-high waves, since the United States Coast Guard has said that it cannot clean up an oil spill if waves are higher than three feet.

“If the Coast Guard said they can’t clean up a spill at higher than three feet, why don’t we have that the norm?” Mr. Shepler asked. “Why don’t we have ice coverage be adverse weather?”

Line 5 under the Straits was shut down temporarily for about five hours during a storm Tuesday, December 5.

A second resolution recommends Line 5 be shut down until the dozens of gaps in the exterior coating of the Straits crossing are repaired and the rest of the anchor supports along the pipeline are inspected. This would essentially shut down the line this winter, Mr. Shepler said, since repairs cannot be made until spring.

The third resolution raises concerns with the Line 5 alternative transport analysis that the state made public November 20.

“The Final Alternative Report fails to fully review alternatives from the perspective of the State of Michigan and the needs of its citizens, fails to consider the public need for Line 5 in Michigan, fails to sufficiently evaluate alternative pipeline capacity and mixed modal transport, and fails to sufficiently evaluate workable alternatives to supply propane and oil to meet Michigan’s needs currently met by Line 5.”

The resolution calls for further investigation of the “public need of Line 5 in Michigan” and more investigation of rerouting Line 5 and transporting oil to Northern Michigan.

Mr. Shepler doesn’t know whether the state will act on the resolutions and what the next steps will be. Some questions regarding whether the resolutions actually passed were also raised, he said, since so many members of the board abstained from voting. Only one-third of the 15 members voted in favor. But even if the resolutions aren’t carried any further, Mr. Shepler is encouraged that their concerns with Line 5 are now on the record.

Guy Meadows, a professor and researcher at Michigan Technological University, also stepped down from the pipeline board to direct the new risk analysis of Line 5. Dr. Meadows will lead a team of 41 researchers from nine universities and organizations to evaluate the risks posed by Line 5, a draft of which should be completed by May of 2018. An earlier risk analysis ordered by the state this year was scuttled after conflicts of interest between the contractor and Enbridge were revealed. The new risk analysis is slated to be finished by August 2018.

Mr. Shepler also noted the Michigan Safety Pipeline Advisory Board will meet more frequently in the coming months. A meeting is planned for February, instead of March, and another will be held in late April or early May.

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