Happy Halloween, everyone! Those of us along Line 6B have more than our fair share of frights over the past year or more. So we’re bringing you a treat instead: a guest post from our friend and hero Beth Wallace!
5 spooky facts about Enbridge’s Mackinac Pipeline
by Beth Wallace
Halloween is one of my favorite holidays for many reasons:
- Dress up..and what girl doesn’t love to dress up!
- And best of all – you get to scare the crap out of people all day and nobody can get mad at you!
Taking advantage of the last point – I would like to share 5 very real and very scary facts about Enbridge’s Mackinac Pipeline.
This past August, I rang in my 30th birthday by joining Enbridge on a panel in Ironwood, Mich., to brief a room of reporters on the Mackinac Pipeline. I went into this conversation determined to gather as much information from Enbridge as I possibly could. I knew this was the best chance I was going to get for a long time considering that both Enbridge and the PHMSA continue to brush off our formal requests for disclosure of integrity around this pipeline.
If you’re not familiar with the Mackinac pipeline – you can watch this video for a quick debrief.
Now, on to the spooky facts:
1. Enbridge has increased pressure on the 60 year old Mackinac Pipeline by 50,000 barrels per day. This pipeline has never been replaced and has had a history of failure – including a rupture in Crystal Falls of 226,000 gallons of crude and natural gas liquids in 1999. Like many pipeline failures around the country, Enbridge did not discover this rupture. A motorist driving by smelled the strong petroleum odor and called 911. This spill formed a potentially explosive cloud that forced dozens of nearby residents to evacuate. Enbridge officials ignited the vapor cloud to prevent it from spreading, which touched off a raging fire that burned for 36 hours and scorched eight acres of land.
2. According to Enbridge, in order to increase pressure on their pipeline, PHMSA only required hydro tests of two small sections of the pipeline that had never been hydro tested before. Enbridge indicated that those sections were only ~50 miles in length and ~75 miles in length. The Enbridge folks in the room did not know where those tests occurred, but we know that one took place in Bay City since it turned up a failure on the line. Despite the test indicating failure on the pipeline, Enbridge was given the green light to increase pressure throughout their pipeline and completed that project sometime in July 2013.
3. Enbridge has not yet been required to obtain a presidential permit for the expansion and operational changes made to the Mackinac Pipeline, which would have required an Environmental Impact Statement and public comment periods. Both Enbridge and the American Petroleum Institute stated that these types of permits are arbitrary and only delay projects.
I took that opportunity to explain that these permits are the only way the public can have a voice in these risky projects. Moreover, a proper Environmental Impact Statement has never been required for this pipeline. Increasing pressure on a massive 60 year old pipeline that crosses the freshwater drinking source for millions of people should go through a public comment period and impact review.
4. If the Mackinac Pipeline were to rupture in or near the Straits of Mackinac, Enbridge has admitted to having only one representative nearby. In Enbridge’s own emergency response plan, they indicate that it would take them 3 hours to respond from Escanaba or 6 hours from Bay City. Depending on the weather, response might not even be possible at all. In addition, we have records that indicate Enbridge is not utilizing state of the art technology at these locations, for shut down of their pipeline, which could cause any rupture to be much greater.
5. Enbridge stated that this pipeline could last indefinitely and that they currently have no plans for replacement of this 60 year old pipeline. The most frightening fact behind this statement is that this kind of thinking is one of the main reasons Enbridge had the largest and most costly inland oil spill in Marshall, Mich., three years ago when Line 6B spilled around 1 million gallons into the Kalamazoo river system. Enbridge knew Line 6b had a large number of problems but they postponed plans for replacement and pressed forward with risky operations. Waiting for a pipeline to have massive failure, before you consider improvements, is extremely frightening and many would argue illegal.
If you would like to contact your senators – NWF has created a very easy action alert reminding our Senators that pipelines that have international border crossings, and go through operational changes- like the Mackinac Pipeline and Line 6B- need to obtain a presidential permit.
Since this post will cover some ground that we’ve covered before, we’ll try to be brief. We’re risking repeating ourselves because this really gets our goat:
Yesterday, we read an interesting column by Jerry Davich in the Post-Tribune up in Northwest Indiana. The column isn’t bad. In fact, in many ways, it’s quite good– better than most, we’d say. It’s well written, thoughtful, fair-minded, and even, from our point of view, appropriately skeptical of Enbridge rhetoric. Even better, it gives plenty of air time to Nicole Barker of Save the Dunes, an organization we very much admire. Nicole and her team have been doing excellent and important work down in Indiana. The whole state owes them tremendous gratitude.
So what’s the problem? Well, once again, it’s the frame. The implied narrative of the story as Davich tells it is that the Line 6B project just pits groups like Save the Dunes against Enbridge. It’s a story of environmentalists versus energy– a simple, clear, compelling, dualistic narrative.
And what’s Davich’s position? Well, he seems to have some sympathy with the enviros like Nicole Barker, but then he (cleverly) allows Barker and Robert Thompson, executive director of the Porter County Plan Commission, to state what he describes as his own “contrarian opinion on this slippery issue”:
“It’s been quite a ride dealing with this for the past two years, and seeing the pipeline come through my area in LaPorte County is still shocking each time I drive by,” [Barker] told me.
This is where Barker unknowingly hints at my contrarian opinion on this slippery issue after I repeatedly hear similar concerns or complaints from many residents.
“Then again,” Barker noted, “I am driving by and it’s my car and my usage of fuel that is contributing to this.”
“So while it’s easy to point fingers, it’s a reminder that Northwest Indiana needs to do a better job of designing communities around people rather than vehicles.”
Thompson echoed this pragmatic, look-in-the-mirror reality check.
“As long as people are going to use their autos and we demand or want lower gas and oil prices, we are going to have companies trying to service that demand,” said Thompson, who rides his bicycle to work to avoid paying for gas.
“This is my choice. But if people are going to have the demand for oil and gas, we are going to see projects such as Enbridge in the area.”
Now, it’s hard to see just what’s “contrarian” about the position stated by Thompson here and endorsed by Davich. Spend 30 seconds in the comments section of any internet article about oil or gas production and that position will invariably be one of the first ones you encounter. Far from being contrarian, it’s just about the most obvious opinion available.
Just how obvious, how un-contrarian is it? Well, it’s the very first thing that Enbridge says, all the time. We’ve heard it over and over and over, from Joe Martucci (remember him?), from Patrick Daniel, from Tom Hodge. In fact, there is almost nothing Enbridge loves more than this version of the Line 6B story because they know it’s a way of framing the story that works to their advantage. Every time. Just look: even environmentalists like Nicole Barker and Robert Thompson concede the point! Enbridge wins!
The problem is, as we’ve said before, that it’s a false choice and a lousy frame. For one thing, it’s a false choice because the idea that we would suddenly run out of fuel for our cars if Enbridge didn’t get to build its new pipeline is ludicrous. But let’s set that one aside. It’s a lousy frame because it obscures a whole host of other very serious problems with the Line 6B project, many of which (unlike our dependence on fossil fuels) could actually be solved rather quickly: the weakness of federal and state regulatory oversight, the granting of eminent domain to foreign corporations and the erosion of individual property rights, the disregard for local authority and ordinances, the terrible mistreatment of landowners by a rich and powerful multinational corporation.
Just to be clear: we are as concerned about the environmental threats posed by tar sands oil production as anyone. But these are the other issues at stake in the Enbridge project and they can’t easily be fit into the simplistic enviro vs. energy narrative. In fact, you can be the most die-hard drill-baby-drill petroleum-guzzling Hummer-driving energy advocate in the world and still think that the company building the pipeline should have to behave itself and respect the states, municipalities, and private properties through which it passes. That is, you can be in favor of the pipeline project but critical of how Enbridge is going about completing it.
This news roundup is a little dusty, we’re sorry to say, but still relevant. Here’s a barrelful of recent items of note:
Enbridge President of U.S. Operations Stephen Wuori– yes, that Stephen Wuori— was in Michigan last week. No, he wasn’t here to talk to landowners and to apologize for the shabby treatment they’ve received at the hands of Enbridge and its pack of flighty, itinerant land agents; evidently, he is unwilling to face that unpleasant truth. Instead, he was here for a nice photo-op. Enbridge has turned over three parks that they created along the Kalamazoo River to the Calhoun Conservation Club. Obviously, we think this is a very good thing. And there’s no getting around the fact that the parks are very nice–even though, as we’ve said before, they’ve also scrubbed the area clean of the history that lead to the creation of those parks. Perhaps the Calhoun Conservation Club will put up some signs that tell the truth about those parks’ creation. They certainly should. The Battle Creek Enquirer’s Jennifer Bowman has the story.
In fact, Jennifer was quite busy last week. She also covered an interesting talk— we’re sorry we weren’t there– by our friend Steven Hamilton, the scientist from MSU who probably knows more about cleaning up diluted bitumen from waterways than any other human on the planet. If you want to know how things are really going on the Kalamazoo River, you don’t look to Steven Wuori or Jason Manshum, you look to Hamilton. Here’s a little taste of what he had to say:
“Sheen is really important to the story because it actually doesn’t take a lot of oil to make sheen,” Hamilton said. “But, we see it so you have a visible sign that there’s oil in the river when sheen is produced.”
Recent reports say the sheen doesn’t present long-term harm to river users. But Hamilton said whether it’s ecologically harmful is up for debate. And tar sands continues to be a controversial energy source.
Hamilton also pointed to last year’s report from the National Transportation Safety Board, in which it said organizational failures and weak federal regulations were to blame for the 2010 spill.
“To me, that says it was preventable,” Hamilton said. “If we put enough effort and money into it, it might increase the cost of oil down to the consumer level but we can make pipelines safer if we take the right measures.”
Completely unrelated: we happened to be watching an episode of the Canadian program “Dragon’s Den” the other night, when, go figure, Enbridge’s name came up. In fact, the mention of Enbridge had everything to do with matters we were ruminating upon right here on this blog not very long ago: trees. It seems that for their “Tree for a Tree” program, Enbridge works with an outfit called Carbon Farmer. We took this as an opportunity to seek a little clarification about how, precisely, that Enbridge program works. So we wrote to Carbon Farmer with a few questions. But wouldn’t you know it? They have yet to reply. Evidently, everything Enbridge touches turns un-communicative…
Closer to home, apparently there is a bit of wariness and concern on the part of residents along phase two of Line 6B about the necessary pumping station upgrades. According to (an older) news report from one of our all-time favorite local reporters Susan Bromley, Brandon Township has approved a site plan, although some conditions of that approval have yet to be met. More recently, neighbors close to the pumping station in St. Clair township have expressed their displeasure with Enbridge’s plans. The Times Herald has that story.
Beyond Michigan, you may have heard by now about the large oil spill out in North Dakota. Obviously, this should be of concern to everybody in its own right. Even more troublesome, however, is that more recent reports seem to indicate that the company responsible for that spill, Tesoro Corp., may have known about problems with that line well before the spill? Sound familiar? If not, you haven’t read the NTSB report on the Marshall spill. And the takeaway here? Don’t feel comforted when companies like Enbridge tell you about all the fancy technology they’ve got to prevent pipeline spills. Technology, as we’ve said here many times, isn’t really the problem. Humans– that is, humans shaped by specific corporate cultures– are the real problem.
And speaking of problems we’ve experienced in Michigan that are being replicated elsewhere, you might also have heard about the gigantic piles of pet coke that are piling up along the Calumet River. Like the residents of Detroit, Chicagoans are none too happy about it. Henry Henderson has more over at the NRDC’s Switchboard blog.
Finally, a little levity from all of this unhappiness, courtesy some clever people up in Canada watching closely Enbridge’s Northern Gateway PR campaign:
We have always said that we’ll give credit to Enbridge if and when it’s due. It’s not our fault there’s more bad to report around here than good. But this morning, we’ve got something good to report.
Yesterday, we went for a walk at one of our favorite places nearby: the Shiawasee Basin Preserve in Davisburg. A couple of weeks ago, we noticed that they were installing some nice new limestone paths. That work appears to be complete now. And these signs have appeared:
You remember the Environmental Stewardship Program. Enbridge announced it almost a year ago during their settlement agreement with Brandon Township. It’s a very good program, offering $10-15,000 dollar grants to all townships and municipalities all along the Line 6B route for “green” projects. The go-getters in Springfield Township have already put (at least a portion of) that grant money to good use. The path looks great.
So thank you, Enbridge.
Of course, we should also thank Brandon Township Supervisor Kathy Thurman because without the stand Brandon took last year, we don’t think there would be an environmental stewardship program.
Anyway, your own local officials should know about this. In fact, please contact them and ask if they’ve got any plans for that money– and then let us know. (We’re writing our own Township Supervisor this morning.) It’s our understanding that residents are eligible to apply for it as well, as long as the use benefits everyone and is related to a green project. In fact, we would very much like to make this a new series: how municipalities are utilizing these funds. Heaven knows we could all stand to see some good things come out of all of this.
That would be a series even Enbridge would like!
Just a very quick update: despite our plea from yesterday: as of today, no one from Enbridge has contacted us to get the name and number of the landowner we mentioned yesterday who has standing water and ruts on his property and would just like to get some simple information about the status of restoration– even though we can tell you with absolute certainty that someone (and probably more than one person) from Enbridge read that post.
So once again, Enbridge missed an easy opportunity to do something right, something decent, something that would have cost them nothing more than an email and a phone call. Evidently, they just don’t care.