Michigan officials: Straits of Mackinac pipeline’s ‘days are numbered’

This story has been updated with comments from Enbridge.

Top Michigan officials announced Tuesday that the state would not call on Enbridge Inc. to shut down a controversial oil pipeline that runs along the floor of the Great Lakes.

However, in light of recent calls for greater oversight and shutting down the pipeline, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette suggested that the line may have a limited lifespan anyway.

Schuette and Dan Wyant, director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, unveiled a set of recommendations for the pipeline along the Straits of Mackinac as well as for pipelines throughout the state.

The Michigan Petroleum Pipeline Task Force report — a year in the making that involved several industry and environmental stakeholder groups — does not call for closing the pipeline as some groups are seeking, but brings “aggressive, tough and fair” long- and short-term solutions for pipeline safety in Michigan, Schuette said.

“We have a massive responsibility as stewards of the Great Lakes,” Schuette told reporters Tuesday in Lansing. “Our Great Lakes heritage is a big deal.”

Rather than immediately closing Line 5, Schuette said it would be prudent to limit its use to light oil and natural-gas liquids given increased North American energy production and until Line 5 is retired.

Schuette could not give a specific timeframe of when it might shut down, but he said alternatives should be studied, as “you would not build a Straits pipeline in this decade. I’m doubtful it will be open in future decades. … Its days are numbered, its duration is limited in my opinion.”

In a statement, an Enbridge spokesman Michael Barnes said: “We have a vigorous inspection plan to ensure that the pipeline is safe. Our focus is on the continuous safe and reliable operations of Line 5.”

Barnes added that the company is still reviewing the recommendations.

The report lists 13 recommendations to improve pipeline safety and transparency in Michigan. Five of those apply directly to Enbridge and its Line 5 connecting the Upper and Lower Peninsulas.

Specifically, the report calls for an immediate ban of transporting heavy crude oil and tar sands from Alberta, Canada through Line 5, even though the company has not done so since the pipeline opened 62 years ago. Barnes said there has never been “prior, current or future plans to move heavy crudes through Line 5.”

The report also mandates full insurance coverage of the pipeline, requires Enbridge to disclose safety inspections on the pipeline and creates a public advisory committee on pipeline safety.

For pipelines throughout the state, the report calls for coordinating the mapping of existing pipelines among state agencies, enhanced emergency planning and training, better collaboration with federal regulators, more robust civil penalties if accidents occur and creating a permanent Petroleum Pipeline Information website.

Officials say the report is the result of heightened scrutiny towards oil transportation following the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history that took place on another Enbridge pipeline in Michigan in 2010, as well as an increase in domestic oil production.

“Pipelines will be an issue in Michigan — we want to be proactive,” Wyant said. “The reason we didn’t call for closing it is because we’re very dependent on petroleum.”

The report’s recommendations will require action from Gov. Rick Snyder, state agencies and the legislature.

The recommendations also come at a time when Enbridge and other industry groups are backing legislative Republican plans to limit the amount of information on pipelines available to the public.

In May, Republicans introduced a bill calling for a broad exemption of information about pipelines from open-records laws. Supporters say it’s important for national security. That bill is still in committee.

Schuette, a Republican in his second term as attorney general who is rumored to be interested in a governor’s bid in 2018, said he does not support the bill as originally introduced.

Wyant said his department, which also did not support the Republican plan as drafted, said it is working with the governor’s office to “strike a balance” between national security and proprietary concerns versus transparency and the public’s right to know.

Democrats, meanwhile, have introduced legislation calling for more transparency.

‘Major step forward’

Some environmental groups responded Tuesday by calling the recommendations a good start in improving pipeline safety transparency, while others are renewing calls to shut down Line 5.

The National Wildlife Federation called it a “major step forward to protect communities, wildlife, Great Lakes from risky oil pipelines.”

“The report creates a framework for a broader conversation about options for transporting fossil fuels in environmentally, socially, and economically responsible ways throughout Michigan and the Great Lakes region,” Mike Shriberg, regional executive director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes Regional Center, said in a statement. “It’s now up Gov. Rick Snyder, Attorney General Bill Schuette, and the Michigan Legislature to prioritize addressing this threat to the Great Lakes and our way of life.

“This study sets the stage for the only acceptable outcome: That this pipeline be removed from the Straits of Mackinac.”

The Michigan Environmental Council said the report includes the “right ideas” for improving pipeline safety in Michigan, “That said, we need immediate action focused on eliminating this threat, because no amount of preparation would be adequate to prevent utter disaster if Line 5 fails,” MEC president Chris Kolb said in a statement.

“Twenty-three million gallons of oil pass through the Straits of Mackinac in these aging pipelines every day, so we need to see a strong sense of urgency from state leaders to put these good ideas into action.”

However, the Sierra Club said the report is simply renewing the group’s call to shut down Line 5 permanently.

“If you believe these existing pipelines pose an immediate threat to the Great Lakes — and we do — the task force recommendations amount to a rearranging of deck chairs on Michigan’s Titanic of oil pipelines, only worse: the threat of Enbridge’s pipelines through the Straits are there for all to see,” David Holtz, chair of the Michigan chapter of the Sierra Club, said in a statement. “What is needed — and needed now — is to shut down Line 5.”

When pressed on whether he thought the line is currently safe, Schuette said: “Michigan is safer now” because of the recommendations. “The pipeline is safer today because of these rules.”

12 thoughts on “Michigan officials: Straits of Mackinac pipeline’s ‘days are numbered’

  1. So instead of us building a better pipeline that’s new that goes over land. We are going to continue to use an outdated old probably has cracks and weak spots in it that goes along our great lakes bed.. Wonderful conservation there peeps. Yes Lets risk the Entire LAKE vs a small area that could easily be gotten to by a repair crew. Keystone? Or Line 5.. Looks like media on the truth of pipelines in existence that keystone could supplant wasnt there. When our old pipelines break guess they will bring up keystone then.

    • Keystone XL would carry oil sands crude from Alberta to the Gulf Coast and would not displace any of Line 5’s capacity.

  2. And we have how many miles of pipelines carrying millions of gallons of petroleum products all over the United States which haven’t been inspected for years and won’t be even if there is major leak/spillage. When leaks/spillage occur the pipeline is repaired at that point but no effort is made regarding inspecting the rest of the pipeline. And we only know about the major leaks and spillage which are visible, but what about a pipeline that leaks 100 gallons a day(out of 100,000 gallons that it carries everyday) sure that’s a small leak but what if that leak has been going on for 10 years or more where has all that oil gone.

  3. the forcing out of coal power plants will not be good. wait til we have winter power outages.

  4. I live only 45 minutes from the Straits and I know the exact date when this pipeline will be “retired.” It will be one day after its catastrophic failure.

    • I didn’t even know this specific underwater pipeline existed and I grew up around the Great Lakes (in Ontario) for the first 27 years of my life. This kind of thing is bad bad news for the Great Lakes. The last thing we need is an oil spill to happen in this vital area.

  5. meanwhile fossil fuel corporations crush support for renewables in the state while receiving $502 billion dollars in subsidies in 2013. No wonder we have no ‘freaking’ choice but to rely on oil. Michigan has enough renewable potential to export wind and solar generated power even relying on low hanging fruit. Instead the industry shapes our choices, fossil fuels or nuclear, while wind and solar seem like foolish options.

    My neighbor will get all the power for his home and enough to power his electric car from solar panels, but us serfs have to rely on fossil fuels. A neighboring town near Kalamazoo claimed solar wasn’t practical in the area. A German company in that same town put up solar electric panels and get 100% of their power from them. The German company, Elbe, didn’t listen to the naysayers and they have freedom people locked into ‘fossil and nuclear are our ONLY hope’ will never have. They’ve become their own power company and end up paying only themselves.

    Embridge and government officials need to be charged with crimes against humanity if the pipeline spills into the Lakes to the fullest extent a world tribunal can levy, whether they are in office/on the board on not. Better yet, they could remove the pipeline, Mr. Upton could sell all of his shares in fossil fuels and we could increase in state support for renewables with a MANDATE, rather than wish renewables could compete with some $5 billion dollars in subsidies.

  6. Frankly, as a lifelong resident of the U.P., I hope this pipeline fails under the Straits in Winter. We need something that catastrophic to wake up these moron politicians and state bureaucrats. It is painfully obvious that the Enbridge pipeline failure near Muskegon, the largest on land spill in the U.S., had no affect on these blithering idiots. They are all pawns of Enbridge of Canada which has a history of poor inspection and maintenance of their pipelines. Sadly there is no accountability in gov’t service for bureaucrats, such as criminal charges for stupidity, malfeasance and sucking at the teats of Corporate AmeriKa.

  7. We all know how reliable Enbridge is when it comes to checking pipelines and stopping leaks. When that sucker breaks, and it will, and destroys Lake Michigan, saying “I told you so” is not going to make a lick of difference. And anybody who thinks the AG gives a damn is out of their minds. He thinks his imaginary friend will take care of any problems when they occur.

  8. Pipeline has been there for 62 years, you realize how many gallons have come across safely? You really believe that Enbridge wants a spill ? What happened in Battle Creek was terrible, but look in the mirror–the Kalamazoo river had been in terrible shape since the 1930’s. Why didn’t you clean it up prior to 2010 ? Why don’t you get rid of the the PO4 before it enters Lake Michigan now ?

  9. This same pipeline is 300 yds from my home, 250 mi west of the big Mac. The line about 60 years old and Enbridge monitors it continuously. They make ongoing improvements to the pumping stations. They also make immediate repairs to the pipeline if any situation is revealed by the ‘pig’ they periodically send down the pipe. A fix occurred next to me about 10 years ago. It took them one day.

    There’s a gas pipeline running next to it, and the lines are 1/4 mi apart. MI has been talking about the 5 mi underwater run for several years now. It’s time to order up a brand new pipe be put in next to the existing line at the straights. These are called ‘loops” and the existing lines have many of these already, more recently installed.

    They should not be allowed to wait. The pipe at the straights is critical, both for supply, but more importantly environmental protection. Eventual replacement extends to the whole line, which runs the entire length of Michigan. This would be an economic boom to the UP and NW Wisconsin and beyond, for at least a decade.