As we reported last week, the Department of Justice and Enbridge have reached finally reached a settlement in the Marshall spill. For reasons we described in our post, we don’t think the settlement is at all satisfactory. And we’re not alone. In an excellent Smart Pig blog post, Rebecca Craven of the Pipeline Safety Trust also outlines some of the areas where the settlement appears to fall short. Our own view is that, in many ways, the settlement is quite advantageous to Enbridge.
However, there is one bit of good news in the settlement that we neglected to mention: it clearly prohibits Enbridge from ever re-using the original Line 6B. You might recall that this is something many of us in Michigan asked for repeatedly prior to construction of the new Line. But Enbridge always hedged. Now, that line will be decommissioned permanently, which is very good news indeed. Of course, even that injunction is less than ideal: it should have been part of the terms of approval of the new line and Enbridge should have been required to remove it, rather than leaving it in the ground.
Which brings us back to the consent decree. You see, as we mentioned in our last post, the proposed settlement contains a number of provisions relating to Enbridge’s Line 3 project in Minnesota, a project that might well induce in Michiganders a terrifying sense of déjà vu. Like Line 6B, Line 3 is old and deteriorating. The consent decree requires Enbridge to replace it and decommission the original Line 3. But this is in no way an onerous requirement for Enbridge and it certainly isn’t punishment. That’s because Enbridge already planned to “replace” the line. But as with Line 6B, they aren’t really “replacing” the line. Instead, they’re building a brand new one—an even bigger one—and they want to build it in a different location. Yes, you read that correctly: a larger diameter pipeline in a different location. To call that a replacement is an abuse of language. It’s also a very clever way of skirting the requirements of their presidential permit for that line—a replay of their Line 6B strategy.
But the Line 3 boondoggle is even worse than the Line 6B replacement. That’s because the consent decree does not require the permanent decommissioning of the original Line 3. Instead, it lays out a number of conditions that would allow Enbridge to continue to operate it. That’s deeply troubling. If that line is going to be decommissioned, we agree with our friends in Minnesota that it should be taken out of the ground, just as should have been done with Line 3 (in fact, you can support their efforts by signing this petition). But instead, the settlement leaves open the possibility of allowing Enbridge to operate both a new Line 3 in a new location and the old Line 3. As a result, Enbridge, cunningly, seems to have negotiated an agreement with the Department of Justice that essentially rewards them for the costliest inland oil spill in U.S. history.
But here’s the (potentially) good news: the settlement is not yet final. The public has 30 days to comment on it. We urge you to do so. In particular, we urge you to ask the DoJ to remove the Line 3 provisions altogether. After all, what do those things have to do with affairs in Michigan in the first place? You might also encourage DoJ to file criminal charges and to require Supplemental Environmental Projects that could benefit Michigan. Lastly, you might ask for some tougher requirements with regard to Line 5. Instead of giving them tacit permission to continue to operate those lines, Enbridge should have to generate a plan to shut down and remove those dangerous pipelines from beneath the Straits of Mackinac once and for all.
For more reasons you should oppose the Line 3 project and helpful links for commenting on the consent decree, visit this page from our friends at Honor the Earth.
What is it with Michigan elected officials? At a moment in time when almost everybody in the U.S. and Canada recognizes the need for heightened scrutiny of pipeline operators– especially given the failures of our federal regulators— Michigan Representative Kurt Heise of Plymouth has introduced legislation designed to allow pipeline operators to escape even more scrutiny. Keith Matheny of the Free Press has the story. It’s as if Kurt Heise has never even heard of the Marshall spill. Either that or he’s just a gutless shill for the oil and gas companies. Reminds us of some others.
If Heise is in your district, please contact him and express your extreme displeasure at his willingness to do the bidding of the company responsible for the most expensive inland oil spill in U.S. history– not to mention his shameful attempt to play us all for chumps and pass it off as as a matter of “national security” (his contact info is below). That line is total b.s. and everybody knows it. Also, you might send him a copy of the NTSB report on the Marshall spill as well. He’s clearly never seen it.
TOLL FREE: 855-737-5878
If you’ve been following the news this week, you’ve surely heard that ET Rover has altered its plans significantly. They’ve entered into an agreement with Vector Pipelines (a joint operation owned by Enbridge and DTE) to use existing infrastructure through much of Michigan, eliminating the need to build new pipe through a number of counties. The new plan still calls for roughly 100 miles of new pipeline construction through Lenawee, Washtenaw, and Livingston counties, where that new pipe will meet up with the existing Vector line.
Yesterday, in the face of this (seemingly) good news, we expressed our concern about previously announced plans by Vector to expand capacity by building “loop” line adjacent to the existing one. But two reporters, the excellent Keith Matheny at the Free Press and the equally excellent Beth LeBlanc at the Times Herald in St. Clair County reported late yesterday that Vector has decided to scrap its expansion plans. Here is Enbridge’s Lorraine Little:
“At this time, Vector Pipeline will not need to expand its mainline system to meet these firm transportation obligations.”
And here is DTE’s Erica Donelson:
“Currently, Vector can support the capacity requirements for Rover.”
So it appears our question from yesterday has been answered. That said, we’d just like to make a few observations in the face of this latest news:
First, we understand the jubilation of local officials and landowners upon learning of this news. There is no question that this new plan is much better for landowners than the old one. A lot of people will be spared a lot of disruption and risk. And unquestionably, they use of existing infrastructure is preferable to new construction. However, it’s worth remembering that an awful lot of landowners and communities will still be affected. We hope that all of those deeply concerned residents of Oakland, Genessee, Lapeer, St. Clair, and Macomb counties will continue to show concern for their fellow citizens in Lenawee, Washtenaw, and Livingston.
Secondly, we should also bear in mind that many of the arguments against ET Rover still stand. If you believed before that Rover was not a public necessity before, that the project will of little benefit (but significant risk) to Michiganders, and that corporations ought not to be able to take private property for their own profit, you should still believe it now. The fact that a handful of counties have been spared does not invalidate those arguments.
Lastly, we’re still a little nervous about the prospects of Vector expansions. In fact, every time a pipeline company spokesperson starts a sentence with “At this time,” our heart skips a beat (and we’re pretty sure an angel loses its wings). It might well simply be a matter of time before those plans resurface. Landowners along the Vector line are now, as a friend of ours put it, living with a second shoe dangling over their heads, waiting to drop. We hope people are dusting off and reviewing their easement agreements.
So for those reasons, we’ve decided not to celebrate this news. We’re pleased in some ways and we’re extraordinarily proud of the remarkable efforts of those citizens and local officials who put real pressure on Rover and FERC, pressure that quite clearly caused this positive change in plans. But there’s more work to be done. Perhaps those in the spared counties will consider working with and helping those counties still in Rover’s crosshairs.
Don’t uncork the champagne just yet.
By now, you’ve probably heard the news that ET Rover’s plans have dramatically changed. The Free Press, the Clarkston News, and MLive have more on the story. Rover has struck a deal with Vector Pipelines which will eliminate the need to build about 110 miles of pipe in some of the northern counties along the original route. But they still want to build about 100 miles through Michigan’s Lenawee, Washtenaw, and Livingston counties. That’s still a very serious concern.
And the news might be even worse. Another news outlet that follows the natural gas industry reports this morning that Vector is preparing for this expanded capacity. Here’s the sentence that has us worried:
With enough binding support, Vector could add a 42-inch diameter loop and additional compression, pending contract renewals and depending upon interest of new shippers.
A “loop” is a pipeline that runs parallel to an existing pipeline. So in this instance, what that means– possibly? potentially?– is that Vector is considering installing a second line next to the one already in place. Admittedly, that’s not very clear at this point and if that is the plan they would most likely have to go to FERC for a certificate. Nevertheless, this would mean construction and disruption on the properties of lots and lots of Michigan landowners, many of whom also have Line 6B on their land, construction and disruption of precisely the sort that those of us along Line 6B endured. So instead of ET Rover beating up on a bunch of new Michigan landowners, this could mean Enbridge once again beating up on many of the same landowners they’ve already beat up on, along with some others.
To be clear: at this point, none of this is certain yet; the details are hazy at best. We just don’t have enough information right now. However, it does appear that yesterday’s news might not be quite as good as it at first seemed. If and when we learn more, we will let you know. In the meantime, property owners along the Vector route might want to check their original easement agreements to see if they allow for additional pipelines or just one. Please let us know what you find out.
Update 4:15 pm: Eric Dresden at MLive has confirmed with a Rover spokesperson that the pipeline is still planned to run through Lenawee and Washtenaw counties. See the comments section of the MLive article linked below.
Update: In an earlier version of this post, we said that Rover would not need to build any new pipeline in Michigan. But that’s not entirely clear. The announcement states that they are eliminating the segments through Shiawasee, Genessee, Lapeer, Oakland, St. Clair, and Macomb counties. What that means for Lenawee, Washtenaw, and Livingston counties remains uncertain. We apologize for the confusion. MLive has more on the story.
Thanks to one of our friends, we’ve gotten to the bottom of today’s ET Rover news. We’re still thinking through and digesting the full implications of the matter, but preliminarily we can say that it is very, very good news: it means that Rover will not need to build 110 miles of their proposed new pipeline infrastructure here. For many landowners, that is cause for celebration!
According to their press release, Rover has struck a deal with Vector Pipeline to use its existing infrastructure to transport oil through Michigan (many readers of this blog have the Vector line on their properties). So Rover and Enbridge have reunited: Vector, you may recall, is owned (in part) by Enbridge.
We believe Rover never would have sought this agreement were it not for the loud voices of Michigan citizens and the excellent leadership and action of so many local government officials. Thanks and congratulations to all!
Here is the press release:
This (possibly excellent news) just in: today, Representative Joe Graves posted the following to his Facebook page:
I was notified this morning that ET Rover is no longer looking to run a pipeline through Genesee or Oakland County. I will post the official press release when it comes out.
Please share this post with anyone that may be interested. I have been working on this issue for several months and I know that many in our community had great concerns about this pipeline.
It’s not clear yet precisely what that means. We’re looking into it. We’ll post more information as we obtain it.