The Arkansas Spill
More details are emerging about the awful dilibt spill down in Arkansas. Lisa Song over at Inside Climate News is on the case. And to place the spill in some context– context which includes the Line 6B pipe moving more of the stuff through our properties– our friend Anthony Swift over at the NRDC Switchboard blog has a useful review of what we know and don’t know about transporting diluted bitumen.
Speaking of Lisa Song, she also has an excellent report on the recent EPA order to Enbridge requiring more cleanup of the Marshall spill. Enbridge has agreed to comply with the order (there was some doubt about whether they would). It’s not clear whether this means they’re rethinking their claims about how the river is “cleaner than ever.”
Press for Tar Sands Petition
And speaking of concerns about dilbit, the tar sands regulation petition spearheaded by the National Wildlife Federation has received plenty of press of national attention (we participated in a telepresser on the matter just last week)– in New England, in Nebraska, in Minnesota, and in Indiana, where the Northwest Indiana Times has a report by one of our favorite reporters Lauri Harvey Keagle (and no, that’s not just because of the quote at the end of the article!).
More Weak Michigan Regulatory Oversight
A few weeks back, we linked to some potentially disturbing stories about piles of petroleum coke, a byproduct of diluted bitumen, piled up along the banks of the Detroit River. Since that time, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has apparently looked into the matter. But don’t worry, they didn’t look too hard. And they responded, true to state regulatory form, with little more than a shrug of the shoulders. Consequently, we recommend against consuming any walleye that comes out of that river.
More Michigan Townships Prepare for the Enbridge Experience
As for Line 6B matters, landowners and townships are preparing for their own encounters with Enbridge as work on phase two nears its commencement. If anyone knows anyone along the route, we hope you’ll share this blog with them; our mission has always been to help inform and protect landowners. For our part, we plan to send a note to Bruce Township Supervisor Richard Cory, who recently expressed some (reasonable, appropriate) concerns about how the project will affect residents. Those concerns were addressed by an Enbridge rep we’ve never heard of:
Supervisor Richard Cory said he was worried about some residents east of Van Dyke since the line will run close to septic fields and property.
Doug Reichley, Enbridge project manager, said Enbridge will work with consultants to have a permanent fix if something needs to be altered, even if it’s engineering a new septic field.
“Our whole point is to take care of these folks and make sure when we leave it’s as good or better than when we first got there,” Reichley said.
With that in mind, Trustee Paul Okoniewski asked if the company would cap 36 Mile Road with limestone from Dequindre to Van Dyke after running its equipment on it.
“It will impact the road with the construction and trucks,” he said.
Reichley said he and other representatives would bring it to the project director’s attention. Similarly, he said Enbridge will replace any torn up grass, trees or fencing caused by construction.
We’ve heard these sorts of assurances before– and we all know how that has gone. Incidentally, we’re most struck here by Doug Reichley’s remarks about replacing trees. We’ve looked into that matter and are working on an extended tree post. Stay tuned for that one in the coming days!
The Latest from Pat Daniel
Lastly, earlier this month, we ran across an article on former Enbridge CEO Pat Daniel, who was recently given the Canadian Business Leader Award from the Alberta School of Business. You might recall that, in our analysis, Daniel is the person most responsible for the callous, defensive and thin-skinned, insular corporate culture at Enbridge. Even in retirement, Daniel is true to form, as defiant and delusional (or perhaps just disingenuous or even dishonest, we’re not sure) as ever. Here’s what Daniel, nearly three years after the fact, has to say about Marshall:
And while pipeline opponents seem to have targeted firms like Enbridge, Daniel insists its green efforts “have not been forgotten by the people that matter.
“When we were in Michigan in 2010 (at the oil pipeline rupture site) one of the first things people who live there told us they did was Google Enbridge because they had no idea of who we were. And they got a very favourable impression when they saw the extent of our renewable and sustainable development.”
Daniel said the pipeline rupture “is less of an issue the closer you get to Kalamazoo and Marshall” because of Enbridge’s cleanup efforts.
That’s right. If you believe Pat Daniel, Marshall might seem like a big deal up in Canada, but down in Marshall, it’s all good. Just ask the people there: Beth Wallace, Susan Connolly, Deb Miller, Michelle Barlond-Smith (and lots of others) will surely tell you what a non-issue that spill is; they’ll eagerly tell you just how favorable their impressions of Enbridge really are.
Beyond Marshall, Daniel says “he can’t understand how opponents can delay pipelines, which mean congestion and much lower prices for Canadian crude”– a statement that once again just confirms everything we’ve said about him in the past. Of course he “can’t understand.” He can’t understand because he lives in a bubble, surrounded by yes-men, showered in praise and awards, completely and utterly isolated from ordinary landowners whose everyday lives are affected by Enbridge’s projects and practices. From all available evidence, Pat Daniel has never— despite what the corporate values developed under his leadership state– bothered to “take the time to understand the perspective of others.”
Long time readers of this blog know (we hope) that we have always tried very hard not to dwell on our personal situation, even though we do occasionally report on what’s happening around our property. But when we do, we generally do it to illustrate more general principles about the way Enbridge often carelessly and thoughtlessly (or callously) conducts its business. So it is with the story we have to tell today.
First, just a little context. In the temporary workspace that Enbridge required on our property was a stand of over 100 trees (some of them were also within Enbridge’s existing easement) and our precious perennial garden, which we planned, dug, planted, and tended ourselves over a period of years. This is what it looked like the spring before Enbridge arrived:
Enbridge leveled all of it. And because there was nothing we could to to prevent them from doing so, we instead gave a great deal of thought and concern to restoration. We’re obviously not a farm, but in order to replant some version of our green wall and our garden, we need productive, fertile soil. From the start, this has always been our primary concern.
Our attempts to have some assurances about care and handling and restoration of our soil inserted into our agreement with Enbridge during negotiations were summarily rejected. Instead, they just referred us to their general remediation practices (we could show you the emails from our ROW agent) and said, essentially, “trust us.” They directed us to the “Environmental Impact Report” on file with the Michigan Public Service Commission for a description of those practices. So let’s take a quick look at a bit of that document.
Under “Clearing and Site Preparation” the report says that “All brush and other materials cleared from upland areas within the construction corridor will be placed as a windrow along the construction corridor and disposed of as agreed to with the landowner.” In our case, what Enbridge agreed to is this (from our construction line list): “Trees with with pink ribbons are to be cut and saved for landowner at NE corner of property. Trees without ribbons are to be cut and hauled away.”
Here is what that looked like after construction crews did their clearing:
Two things to note here. First, that pile of timber on the left side of the image? Those are the trees we asked to have saved. But that’s not, as the agreement states, the NE corner of the property. And second, see the piles all along the orange fence in the middle and right of the image? That’s the shredded remains of the rest of the trees. Those piles should have been hauled away– that’s what we wanted to happen; that’s what we were told would happen– according to our agreement. But as you can see, they weren’t. In fact, they’re still there now (as you’ll see in a moment).
Now, we never complained about either of these things. The timber placement isn’t really a big deal and while we feared the shredded material might eventually become a problem, we trusted that they’d keep it segregated and haul it away after the pipe is placed in the ground. And since we don’t really like to complain constantly, we let these things go.
Much more important than those matters is what the Enbridge Environmental Impact Report and our agreement have to say about the handling of soil (much of which, in our case, isn’t ordinarily topsoil as we brought in loads of rich garden soil when we created our perennial bed). And we’ll just reiterate that we invested a lot of love and sweat into that soil, which is why, as some of you may recall, we were so upset the day a bulldozer started pushing the neighbor’s weed-filled dirt onto our property.
Anyway, here’s what it says in the Impact Report:
Topsoil generally has physical and chemical properties that are conducive to good plant growth. To prevent the mixing of topsoil with less productive subsoil during construction, topsoil will be segregated in selected areas where soil productivity is an important consideration. A minimum one foot of separation must be maintained between the topsoil and subsoil piles to prevent mixing. Where the one foot separation cannot be maintained, a physical barrier, such as a thick layer of straw mulch, may be used between the spoil and topsoil piles to prevent mixing. Use of the physical barrier must be reviewed and approved by Enbridge on a site-specific basis.
So far more than the handling of cleared timber, we’ve always been concerned about this practice, especially the segregation of subsoil and topsoil. That’s why we had this listed also, very clearly, in our line list agreement, which says: “Separate topsoil from subsoil, upon completion restore topsoil to surface and properly de-compact the work area.”
It’s hard to see the pile of stripped topsoil in the picture above, but it’s on the far side of the piles of shredded material. Here are a couple of up-close pictures, the second from a different angle, of the pile of topsoil (in the foreground):
And here is just one more, looking along the temporary workspace line. Behind the orange fence, you can see the shredded material and the pile of topsoil to the left of that. Now, we can tell you that plenty of excavated subsoil was placed in close proximity to this topsoil, certainly closer than the one foot separation listed in the Report.
So where is this headed? Well, yesterday construction crews were hard at work on our property, finally putting the pipe in the ground. That means some serious excavation– the removal of lots and lots of subsoil. And in one place, where they will tie in to the pipe they bored underground several weeks ago, they had to install a big blue steel box because the slope of the trench walls are very steep. Here’s a look:
By now, we’re sure you know where this is going. All of that dirt (clay, really) they excavated to lay the pipe and install that big blue box had to be piled somewhere. Here they are piling it:
See where they put all that excavated subsoil? Yep, right on top of our topsoil and even spilling into and onto the shredded material. So much for segregation. Here is a shot from the same angle as the one of the topsoil above:
And here is a closeup of the new mixture:
As we said at the start of this post, we don’t like to dwell on our personal situation. Mostly that’s because we know very well that compared to many others affected by this project– like our friends Beth Duman and Amy Nash, not to mention plenty of other people we’ve heard from or heard about– we don’t have it so bad, even though the state of soil on our property does mean a great deal to us. Many good people along Line 6B are in far, far worse situations than we are. We are very sensitive to that fact.
But that doesn’t excuse these violations. In fact, the sort of thing we’re describing here has happened and is happening all up and down the line. Enbridge would have you believe that these are just mistakes, aberrations. That’s what we’ve been told in the past by Enbridge executives. Mark Sitek told us, “we’re not perfect.” Mark Curwin told us “mistakes happen.” And those things are probably true. We get that. We even let little mistakes (like the placement of those felled trees) pass.
But when these things happen repeatedly (we’ve documented how many just on our property?). when a large percentage (a third? half?) of landowners have each witnessed two, three, four, or more “mistakes” on their own properties, when the same sort of “mistake” is made over and over again, well, then it ceases to be a mistake and has to be called a pattern of behavior, evidence of shoddy practices. And it’s a pattern of behavior and a set of practices that are totally at odds with the way Enbridge presents itself to the public and with the way that Enbridge presented itself to the MPSC. In fact, as our citations from the Environmental Impact Report (submitted as evidence to the MPSC) show, Enbridge, one can only conclude, simply misrepresented to that agency the way that it conduct its business. (Not that the MPSC much cares.)
Now, we’re not without some slight measure of confidence– though we’re extremely wary– that Enbridge will try to take steps to make this situation with our soil right. But it’s going to take a fair amount of effort and convincing on our part, adding more frustrating experiences to our already rich store of them. And the fact is, as we have said dozens of times, it didn’t have to be this way. It doesn’t have to be this way. If only they just do as they say.
Well, some of it is anyway…
Sam investigating the trench.
Big piles of dirt.
Pipe in the ground.
But plenty of pipe still visible.
Yesterday, we took part in a telephone press conference (a “tele presser”) to announce a petition to PHMSA and the EPA spearheaded by the National Wildlife Federation and supported by a coalition of citizens and citizen groups. The petition seeks greater scrutiny, oversight, and safety standards for tar sands oil pipelines. We are happy to support the petition– and grateful to our friend Beth Wallace for the invitation to join the presser and for her work on the petition. Here is the press release, with a link to the petition:
Coalition Petitions EPA, DOT to Protect Water, Wildlife & Communities from Tar Sands Spills
ANN ARBOR, MICH. (March 27, 2013) – A coalition of landowners, former and current government officials, environmental, renewable energy and sportsmen’s groups filed a petition today with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) asking the agencies to develop stronger safety standards for tar sands oil pipelines.
“Three years after the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history, little has been done to improve pipeline safety,” said Beth Wallace with the Great Lakes Regional Center. “This disaster should have been a wake-up call to industry, regulators and public officials. Instead industry is being allowed to expand pipelines across the region and even under the Great Lakes themselves, which will continue to put communities, wildlife and our economy at risk.”
Read the full petition here (pdf)
The petition effort is spearheaded by the National Wildlife Federation and includes 29 national, state and local organizations as well as 36 landowners from states across the country impacted by existing and proposed tar sands pipelines. It requests a halt to new or expanded tar sands pipelines until adequate rules are in place.
“This petition is an exercise of citizens’ rights to request that government live up to its charge to follow the law, and protect us from the harms and risk of a tar sands pipeline spill,” said Jim Murphy, Senior Council at the National Wildlife Federation. “Until the right standards are put into place, we shouldn’t be exposing more communities and resources to tar sands risks. We expect the government to answer our request and live up to its charge to properly address the unique risks of tar sands transportation.”
Current pipeline regulations were issued long before tar sands oil production ramped up and do not cover the unique aspects of tar sands. Tar sands oil poses more acute risks than conventional fuels shipped through pipelines because the oil is a volatile mix of raw bitumen – an asphalt-like substance – diluted with gas condensates. Diluted bitumen is a toxic, viscous, corrosive substance with the consistency of gritty peanut butter that must be moved at much higher pressures and temperatures than conventional oil. Strong evidence indicates tar sands oil threatens pipeline integrity.
“Even after what happened in Marshall, pipeline companies have continued to run roughshod over the state of Michigan while regulatory agencies and elected officials have stood by idly and allowed it to happen,” said Jeff Inkso, writer of the Line 6B citizen blog and landowner impacted by the Enbridge expansion project.
Between 2007 and 2010, pipelines in North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan — the main states with a history of tar sands oil pipelines — spilled almost three times more crude oil per mile of pipeline when compared to the U.S. national average. In a scathing report on the Kalamazoo River spill near Marshall, MI, the National Transportation Safety Board pointed blame at current regulations, calling them “weak” and “inadequate.”
“Minnesota has experienced 11 oil pipeline leaks since 2002 according to PHMSA,“ said Gary Botzek, executive director of the Minnesota Conservation Federation, “We need to do a much better job of protecting our human populations and our wildlife populations that live next to these big pipelines.“
The petition requests new standards tightening several aspects of oil transport and pipeline safety:
- Stronger safety requirements than those for conventional crude oil;
- Industry disclosure of products carried through pipelines and their conveyance schedules;
- Stronger industry spill response plans;
- Shut-down requirements upon the first indication of a leak or other pipeline failure;
- Repair of pipelines as soon as defects are discovered;
- Transparent pipeline inspection reporting; and
- Pipeline inspection and monitoring by independent entities unaffiliated with pipeline or energy companies;
- A moratorium on building new or expanded tar sands pipelines until new regulations are final.
Supporters of the petition will be seeking cosigners over the next few months. Under the U.S. Constitution and the federal Administrative Procedure Act, citizens can file a formal petition requesting that a federal agency take specific actions required by law or change existing regulations. This petition requests a change in existing regulations. Federal agencies are required to respond.
National Wildlife Federation is America’s largest conservation organization, inspiring Americans to protect wildlife for our children’s future.