Michigan DEQ report urges ban of heavy oils in Mackinac Straits pipeline

Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality’s Petroleum Pipeline Task Force issued a report that recommended that heavy crude and oil sands be kept out of an Enbridge Inc. pipeline that crosses the Mackinac Straits between Lakes Huron and Michigan.

The July 14 report also called for mandatory full insurance coverage for the 5B pipeline, which Enbridge owns and operates; an examination of alternatives to the 545-mile, 30-in. line from Superior, Wis., to Sarnia, Ont., which was built in 1953; requirements for Enbridge to disclose safety inspections; and creation of a public pipeline safety advisory committee.

“These recommendations are tough but fair and are clear about responsibilities every Michigan citizen has as a steward of the Great Lakes,” said Michigan Atty. Gen. Bill Schuette (R), who formed the multiagency taskforce with DEQ Dan Wyant in 2014 to address safety concerns about various pipelines across the state.

“Certainly, the Straits Pipelines would not be built today, so how many more tomorrows Line 5 should operate is limited in duration,” Schuette said.

An Enbridge spokesman told OGJ on July 15 said the taskforce’s work would help advance safe and reliable operation of pipelines in Michigan, and the company is reviewing the entire report. “There have never been any prior, current, or future plans to move heavy crudes through Line 5, which carries light crude and natural gas liquids,” he added.

The taskforce included representatives from Michigan’s Public Service Commission, Natural Resources Department, and Transportation Department; DEQ’s Great Lakes Office; and the State Police’s Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division.

In addition to recommendations concerning Enbridge’s pipeline across Mackinac Straits, the group specifically called on Michigan’s government to:

• Coordinate mapping of existing pipelines among state agencies.

• Ensure that state agencies collaborate on emergency planning and spill response.

• Begin holding coordinated emergency response training exercises and drills.

• Ensure that the state regularly consults with the US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration on petroleum and other hazardous liquid pipelines.

• Consider legislation requiring state review and approval of oil spill response plans, improved spill reporting, and more robust civil fines.

• Evaluate whether to establish a Hazardous Liquids Pipeline Safety Program in Michigan.

• Consider legislation or a rulemaking to improve the siting process for new petroleum pipelines.

• Create a permanent petroleum pipeline information web site.

“The Great Lakes are Michigan’s most precious resource and our top stewardship charge,” Wyant said. “While we recognize the importance of transporting energy to power Michigan communities, it cannot be at the expense of our environment.”

The taskforce’s recommendations will require the actions of Michigan’s governor, legislature, and relevant state agencies, he noted.

US House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) mentioned that the Michigan report would be issued at an Energy and Power Subcommittee July 14 hearing on pipeline safety (OGJ Online, July 14, 2015). “I think we can all agree that it is much, much better to be in a position to prevent incidents before they happen rather than to respond after they occur,” Upton observed.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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