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Ken Winter

Ken Winter

Line #5’s Drama Continues

June 30, 2017

There must be a back story to Enbridge’s Line #5 Straits oil and gas pipeline that apparently only a few know because from the outside nothing makes much sense.  Activists, businesses, residents, and politicians from both sides of the aisle are now calling for a change in the status quo, yet there’s little movement.

Just about every delay imaginable seems have taken place to avoid responding to public concern, especially after the July 2010 Enbridge Line #6 pipeline rupture that dumped nearly 1.2 million gallons of crude oil into the Kalamazoo River.  The waters still have not been completely finished with clean-up and restoration costs now at $1.3 billion.

The latest delay came June 21, when the State of Michigan terminated a contract with one of two firms (Det Norske Veritas, Inc. of Texas or DNV GL) preparing a risk analysis report on Line 5 below the Straits because of a conflict of interest with Houston-based Enbridge Energy, a subsidiary of Alberta-based Enbridge, Inc. owners of the pipeline. The state also hired a firm, Dynamic Risk Assessment System, Inc. of Alberta, Canada to prepare an alternative analysis.

Dr. James P. Hill, CMU Professor of Political Science, says he is very concerned that the research contract that was canceled further kicks the can down the road in terms of addressing the threat of Line 5.  The one-time DNR Commissioner and U.S. Congressional environmental adviser, wrote Attorney Bill Schuette this week. Hill now suggests maybe a university pick up the pieces and finish the study.

“I was pleased that your task force agreed with one of our recommendations for an independent report on the impact of a spill on the Straits area and was pleased to see the contract was terminated because of a threat to the integrity of one of the contracts researching the Line 5 issue,” he writes.  He and this writer along with several CMU students presented testimony to Schuette and the pipeline task force last year on the issue of Line 5.

“However, I am very concerned that this contract termination will continue the long delay in addressing the threat that Line 5 posed to our Great Lakes.”

He suggests there are three major options that could be pursued at this point:

  1. Proceed with a decision without the benefit of the impact research.
  2. Another RFP and the delays it would cause to re-do the research.
  3. Find a way to use the research already done by DNV and develop an independent analysis that will cleanse the existing report of its taint.

“I recommend that your team acquire the draft report and assemble a team of university science and public policy analysts to review and revise the report to ensure that it is fair and impartial, removing any conclusions or data that are questionable because of the conflict of interest of one of the DNV employees,” he writes.

“Give this team of university analysts a 90-day period to review the report and present their findings to your team and have Enbridge pay for this study as well. I offer this as a means of keeping this issue on a path to resolution before we enter the politics of the 2018 campaign.

The 64-year old Line #5 designed for a 50-year lifespan (through 2003) carries nearly 23 million gallons of light crude oil and liquefied natural gas in a 30-inch diameter, 645-mile pipeline daily across Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper before entering the Straits of Mackinac. There it divides into two 4.6-mile 20-inch diameter parallel lines, then continues southward again into one 30” pipeline slanting east from Bay City and crossing under the St. Clair River to refineries in Sarnia, Ontario.

Michigan Director of Environmental Quality Heidi Gretjer said in a news release the contract was terminated prior to the draft report being delivered to the state’s project team after it became aware that an employee who had work on a risk analysis at DNV GL. Enbridge spokesman Ryan Duffy told the Associated Press that he agreed the process has to be independent without conflict and his company is investigating what may have happened in the contracting process.

In the meantime, Dynamic Risk Assessment System’s draft report is expected to be delivered shortly and will be posted on the Michigan Petroleum Pipeline website with public feedback sessions starting July 6 at Holt High School and later on July 24 in the Lansing area and Traverse City; and July 25 in St. Ignace.

The State of Michigan commissioned the two independent contractors in 2006 to complete risk and alternative analyses on Line 5 following a recommendation by the 2015 Michigan Petroleum Pipeline Task Force created by Governor Rick Snyder and co-chaired by Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette and former DEQ Director Environmental Quality Director Dan Wyant. Wyant and Schuette co-chaired a multi-agency group, who met seven times between August 2014 and April 2015 before releasing its Final Task Force Report in July 2015.

While last June, Enbridge attempted to win public support by offering free BBQ serving hamburgers at six northern Michigan locations including Manistique, Mackinaw City, Petoskey, Traverse City, Gaylord, and Cheboygan. 

This year, non-profit Petoskey-based Tip of Mitt Watershed Council is serving up free workshops before the upcoming upcoming public comment period on the draft analysis in northern Michigan, July 12-19 (see workshop schedule)

The workshops will cover the Line 5 Independent Risk and Alternative Analysis draft reports, as well as review what types and the most effective public comments would be best made at upcoming July feedback sessions.

Right now we’re still in dire straits. The stage is set for a potential environmental calamity unless something changes.

State officials, elected and appointed, appear to be just standing on the sidelines anxiously waiting for something to happen even after the Task Force’s final report recommendations.

Ken Winter, former editor and publisher of the Petoskey News-Review and member of the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame, teaches political science and journalism at North in Petoskey and Michigan State University.

June 29, 2017 · Filed under Winter

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Anagnorisis // Jul 7, 2017 at 1:44 pm

    Ken, in my assessment, is correct. Line 5 will burst one day while all concerned fiddle fool with the way to address the coming crisis. Think of it: oil will inundate all harbor marinas and coastline residences as far south as Grand Haven and Port Huron, possibly further. It could be repaired now, but it won’t. Insurance covers all damages, you know. And if not higher taxes will. So it goes.

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