2017-12-21 / News

State Plans To Respond to Pipeline Board Resolutions

By Stephanie Fortino

The State of Michigan will respond to the three resolutions passed by the Michigan Pipeline Safety Advisory Board Monday, December 11. They addressed Governor Rick Snyder’s recent agreement with Enbridge Energy, which has garnered negative feedback and public scrutiny.

The resolutions were presented by Jennifer McKay, a member of the pipeline board and policy advocate for the Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council of Traverse City. She and fellow board members Michael Shriberg of the National Wildlife Federation and attorney Craig Hupp of Grosse Point wrote the resolutions that passed 5-1.

“They came about, really, because of the agreement that the governor signed on November 27, which was signed with absolutely no input or knowledge from the pipeline safety advisory board,” she told The St. Ignace News.

The state plans to respond to the resolutions, Michigan Agency for Energy executive director Valerie Brader told The St. Ignace News following the Tuesday, December 12, public feedback meeting in St. Ignace.

One of the resolutions recommends that the definition of adverse weather included in the agreement be amended from eightfoot high waves to three-foot-high waves to better reflect the response capabilities of emergency response equipment. It also includes other weather conditions that make recovering of oil challenging, such as ice cover.

The second resolution calls for the line to be shut down until the gaps in the outer coating layer are fixed.

“This, to me, was one of the most glaring omission with respect to the agreement, the failure to address the most visible concern,” Ms. McKay said. “We now know that coating issues have plagued the pipeline for years.”

There are at least 48 places on the section of line 5 that crosses the Straits of Mackinac where the coating is missing, where the anchor supports have rubbed off the coating, exposing bare steel. There are still another 80 locations where gaps could exist that Ms. McKay said should be investigated more fully.

“Essentially the easement calls for the pipeline to be fully coated, and basically they’re in violation of the 1953 easement,” she said. “Until Enbridge can fully inspect the rest of the pipeline and make [repairs to the coating], it should be temporarily shut down.”

The final resolution calls for more investigation to areas that were not fully evaluated by the alternatives analysis that was released in November. Gov. Snyder only asked that tunneling the Straits of Mackinac be investigated more fully, but the resolution calls for other alternatives to be looked at more in depth, too, with a special emphasis to be placed on Michigan’s energy needs.

“There were certain alternatives that were not thoroughly evaluated or not evaluated with enough data to make a decision,” she said.

The report did not look in depth at using existing infrastructure or using multiple forms of transportation to move oil, Ms. McKay continued, such as using a combination of pipelines, trucks, railroads, and other transportation to move oil. Evaluating mixed transportation was outside the scope of what the state asked Dynamic Risk Assessment to study.

“They were given these six alternatives to look at, and that’s what they did, rather than looking at actually how you can supply the oil needs of Michigan currently met by Line 5,” she asked.

The resolution calls for additional investigation into aspects of the alternatives analysis, rather than for its complete overhaul.

“What we want is for the state to essentially do studies to fill the gaps that were not addressed,” she explained. “We’re not looking for a full alternatives analysis to be redone. It took over a year to do. Nobody wants to wait for another year, year-plus, for the alternatives analysis to be redone. If we can get the state to evaluate potential options to serve the needs of Michigan, that’s a good place to start.”

Most of the oil transported by Line 5 is delivered to customers in Canada, Ms. Brader told The St. Ignace News December 11, and she doesn’t know how much is sold to Michigan residents.

“There’s no doubt that a lot of the products do flow to Canada,” Ms. Brader said, noting that the exact percentage of oil sold to Michigan residents wasn’t included in the alternatives analysis.

Ms. McKay takes issue with the state ensuring Enbridge’s continued operation, saying, “It’s not the state’s responsibility to make sure Enbridge gets its products to market. It’s to protect our citizens and our natural resources.”

Since the board is advisory, the resolutions are non-binding, although Ms. McKay hopes Gov. Snyder gives them proper consideration. Since the agreement was made without input from the board, it seemed disingenuous, she said.

Gov. Snyder “put the board together and chose the expertise specifically to request our advice and counsel, and we hope he would listen to that and take it under advisement very seriously,” she said.

In addition to circumventing the pipeline board, the agreement also undermined the public comment process, which lasts until Friday, December 22, Ms. McKay said. Following the St. Ignace meeting December 11, Ms. Brader said the state did not intend to undermine the public process.

“Whether it was the intent or not, it discounted the public’s voice,” Ms. McKay said. “It came out in the midst of the public comment period. It essentially tells the public that a path forward was chosen with tunneling.”

Ms. McKay said many concerned citizens were discouraged about whether their opinions will be heard, as some questioned whether they should even attend the public meetings aimed to gather public feedback.

“It was frustrating, to say the least, and I know that’s how the public feels,” she said.

Some aspects of the agreement were positive, Ms. McKay said, most importantly that a timeline for making a decision on Line 5 has been established for next August.

Through the agreement, the state has also acknowledged for the first time that Line 5 poses risks to other water crossings than the Straits of Mackinac. The line crosses 245 other bodies of water, including rivers, like Indian River, inland lakes, and wetlands. For years, the Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council has urged the state and federal government to consider the risks posed to other waterways.

Ms. McKay says that Line 5 actually poses a greater risk to inland waterways than it does to the straits, which is under intense public scrutiny. The construction and operation of the pipeline on land is concerning, she said, since the pipeline walls are thinner and the seams run the length of the pipeline rather than in sections around the pipe. Side seams are problematic because they are more vulnerable to stress cracking. Oil is also pumped at higher pressure through the pipes on land and they are not inspected as much as the portion that runs beneath the straits.

“The inland portion of the pipeline is likely at greater risk than the crossing at the Straits,” she said.

The pipeline also runs close to the Lake Michigan shoreline along US-2. If a leak were to occur there, it would have a similar impact to a leak at the straits, she said.

Another positive recent development was the state’s hiring of engineers Daniel Cooper and Michael Mooney, who will investigate the water crossings and tunneling, respectively.

“I think it’s great that the state has finally hired individuals that can focus on Line 5,” Ms. McKay said. “It’s been something that’s been lacking in the State of Michigan.”

She also approved of the risk analysis research team led by Guy Meadows of Michigan Technological University, calling it “encouraging.”

The team includes 41 researchers, including 21 from Michigan Tech and 20 from other organizations. Other Michigan universities represented include the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Wayne State University, Western Michigan University, Grand Valley State University, and Oakland University. The two out-ofstate universities are North Dakota State University and Loyola University Chicago. Other independent contractors and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will also contribute to the study.

“It seems like we do have significant knowledge base and expertise in Michigan academia,” Ms. McKay said, “and they recognized where they were lacking, and they went outside of the state…” to fill other gaps in their expertise.

The team also seems willing to meet with the pipeline safety board and state, she said, as well as incorporate public concerns.

“It’s a great step forward,” Ms. McKay said. “It’s a very dedicated a significantly large team with a lot to do in a short amount of time.”

Ms. Brader said that the public should expect more public presentations as the risk analysis comes to fruition over the coming months. A draft risk analysis should be finished by May 2018, and a public presentation and comment period will follow in June. The final report will be completed by August 30, 2018.

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