2017-08-12 / Top News

DNR Says Line 5 Study Failed To Highlight Key Issues

By Kevin R. Hess

More information about environmental impacts of an oil spill at the Straits of Mackinac should have been included in the draft report by Dynamic Risk Assessment Systems, some state officials say. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Environmental Quality, Michigan Energy Agency, and the Attorney General’s office have submitted a joint statement to the company contracted to look into alternative oil transportation and risks associated with the Line 5 pipeline, in which they highlight key issues they believe Dynamic Risk left out of its report.

The state contracted Dynamic Risk in 2016 to conduct the review, which was paid for by the pipeline company Enbridge. Last week, these agencies called on Dynamic Risk to include more information about a potential worst-case scenario oil spill and include details that were missing in the draft report. During the public feedback sessions held in Holt, Traverse City, and St. Ignace July 24 and 25, citizens and environmental groups offered the same objection, saying the report was not extensive enough and did not take into account a worst-case scenario, especially considering the potential damage and impact that an oil spill would have in the Straits area.

According to the statement, the draft report “does not clearly explain why and how [its worst-case scenario] approach was implemented.” It also says the draft report “does not clearly explain why and how its consideration of worst case spills across alternatives differs from the State’s Scope of Work.” The statement also notes that, in 2015, Enbridge provided an estimated cost of a worst-case spill scenario significantly higher than that estimated by Dynamic Risk.

The report was said to include a comprehensive engineering analysis of the current condition and operation of the pipelines, offering an estimate on how long the pipelines could reasonably be operated without replacement. The state says that the report offers no explicit conclusion about the reasonable life of the pipelines, nor future possibilities of material defects, damage, bending, stress, or other change that “would result in a substantial increase in failure susceptibility and/or would justify major repairs or pipeline de-activation.”

During public feedback sessions, one argument brought up multiple times was one alleging that Dynamic Risk did not take into consideration all of the possible data, but only focused on most recent data that was favorable to Enbridge, especially in regard to span lengths. According to the 1953 easement between the state and Enbridge, there are to be spans no longer than 75 feet apart. While Enbridge has been within these limits in the past 10-12 years, people argued that the report did not consider the effects of years prior in which public information shows multiple spans beyond the 75-foot limit, and even beyond 140-feet that Enbridge asserted is a “safe” distance. The state agreed with the public view, stating, “The draft report appears to consider only information on span lengths observed in underwater inspections conducted between 2005 and 2015,” further stating that there is no reference to or consideration of other publicly available information. The state said that the report did not address, and failed to even consider, to what extent the past violations of the 75-foot limit “may have potentially, in combination with the high currents in the Straits, adversely affected the integrity of the pipelines and their susceptibility to failure.”

Many argued that the report was favorable to Enbridge because the company funded the review, and did not seriously consider all transportation alternatives or environmental risks. The DNR agreed, saying in its comments that the report should have included more references on the effects of offshore freshwater pipeline corrosion, more details of a possible pipeline failure, and “additional information to validate the report’s assumption that a release of [propane] would not pose a risk to the environment.” The DNR’s comments included a long list of details it found lacking in the report, saying that, overall, “the discussions and inclusion of readily available environmental information is very limited,” and there is little to no information provided on the potential environmental effects associated with each alternative. The DNR encourages Dynamic Risk to include more information on the possible effects on fish and their habitats, and state and federally listed threatened or endangered species.

The public comment period ended August 4. From August 5 through August 19, people can now comment on the submitted comments. After this period closes, Dynamic Risk will consider all public comments and prepare a final draft to be released sometime in the fall. Another round of hearings will likely be held after the final draft, and then the Pipeline Safety Advisory board will bring recommendations to the governor’s office.

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