2017-08-12 / Top News

Michigan DEQ Hears Public Input Concerning Enbridge Permit

By Kevin R. Hess

During a public hearing in St. Ignace about Enbridge Energy’s permit application to install up to 22 anchor structures on the Line 5 pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac, every person who offered comment was ultimately against the operation of Line 5. Any support offered for the anchor supports was to keep the pipeline safe until such a time that it could be decommissioned. Many who expressed support for the anchors did so only if conditions were added that there be an independent, extensive, and comprehensive evaluation of the pipes. The hearing was Tuesday, July 25, at Little Bear East Arena, hosted by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).

Concerned citizens were given from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. to share their concerns or support for the permit application and their reasons why. Steve Casey, Upper Peninsula District coordinator of the Water Resources Division of the DEQ, chaired the hearing.

The project would install 22 anchor supports on the dual pipelines to decrease the span distance at these locations. As part of the 1953 easement the state grants to Enbridge, spans between anchors are to be no more than 75 feet apart. In a letter to the state in August 2016, Enbridge acknowledged that four spans were found to be slightly more than the 75- foot requirement, but none were more than 78 feet. The increase in the spans was created by “normally occurring water currents at the lake bottom, which shift the soils around the pipe.” They also noted that independent engineering calculations confirmed that spans up to 140 feet are well within safety acceptability.

For Love of Water (FLOW), a Traverse City-based Great Lakes water law and policy center, disputes these claims, saying that a 2003 survey identified 16 unsupported spans greater than 140 feet, the longest at 224 feet on the east leg and 286 feet on the west. They also say Enbridge’s own inspection report revealed nearly 250 instances between 2005 and 2016 of unsupported spans on the pipelines that exceeded the 75-foot limit.

Beyond the four areas it has identified, Enbridge plans to install 18 additional anchors, which are not required, “proactively addressing our long-term maintenance approach.” The anchors would be augured directly into the lakebed using 44 10-inch diameter screws. Enbridge’s proposal came in response to environmental groups and state inquiry about the company’s compliance with the easement. Some contend Enbridge is in violation and has been in violation of the easement and, therefore, the state should exercise its authority, terminate the easement, and shut down Line 5 under the Straits of Mackinac.

The state contracted two independent contractors to give a risk analysis report of Line 5, as well as an alternative analysis report, outlining alternative fuel and oil transportation. Because public hearings were being held Monday, July 24 and Tuesday, July 25 about those reports, the DEQ decided to hold its public hearing on the permit application at the same time, to accommodate people who may be traveling to participate at the hearings.

If approved, the anchor project would begin this summer and take approximately three weeks to complete.

The DEQ is charged with determining the risk and adverse effects to environment, local citizens, and businesses. All comments made and information shared will be used by DEQ to help it decide whether to approve the permit application. Each person was given three minutes to comment and had the option of further commenting once everyone who wanted to speak had the opportunity.

Ed Timm, a licensed engineer, argued the data used to evaluate the pipeline was flawed. Of the 22 anchors to be installed, 17 are on the west leg. Of those, five of the proposed anchors are clustered along a portion where inspection reports show that the pipeline has been bent and “ovalized,” meaning a section of pipe has been misshapen enough to lose its roundness. Documents show that section of pipe is bent in five places and ovalized twice. Dr. Timm argues these bends are not getting enough attention. He says Enbridge calls them deflections and downplays the significance of them.

“These are not deflections,” said Dr. Timm. “They are bends. They are damages.”

Dr. Timm referenced his own study, “An Analysis of Errors and Omissions in the Dynamic Risk, Inc. Line 5 Alternative Analysis, Option 5.” Although this hearing was separate from the feedback session on the alternatives analysis, Dr. Timm said the state study used incomplete analysis, making it suspect and raising questions about its credibility. Because of his perception that the study is flawed, he believes no work should be done on the pipe until an independent study is done on the damages.

“By all means, authorize the additional supports, but require a full technical evaluation of the pipes damaged,” he said.

Several members of the Straits Area Concerned Citizens for Peace, Justice, and the Environment voiced their concerns. Leonard Page said he could support the anchors, but only on the condition that they would be approved only after further testing and analysis. The additional anchors would increase the total number of anchors on Line 5 to 150. Mr. Page says this is evidence that the lakebed is not holding like it was originally believed it would do.

“The original engineering falsely estimated that the lakebed would be enough support, but clearly it is not,” he said. “Maybe it’s time for the DEQ to find out what is going on down there. This is a call for rationality. We’ve got our heads stuck in the sand.”

Another commenter said, “It is a moving lakebed that Enbridge is screwing the anchors into. No matter how many anchors [they] install, it will not stop the weakening of the pipe. I do not support the placement of additional anchors until such time that the DEQ and the Army Corps of Engineers can find out what is going on with the conditions of the pipeline.”

One of the arguments against the approval of the anchors is that this project is repair work, and not routine maintenance, making it important to do a study to assess why and how the pipeline was damaged.

“The currents are obviously stronger than originally assumed,” said one commenter.

David Dwyer, a Mackinaw City resident, said, “There is a lack of information and too much misinformation on the pipeline. We really need to know what is going on, and what is causing the bends.” He said the report Enbridge offered on the safety of the pipelines is not satisfactory.

Citizen Kevin Gilbert wondered why the discussion keeps going on when public sentiment “has clearly been in opposition.”

“I’m not opposed to making a pipeline safe,” he said. “Enbridge has told us the line is safe. They weren’t in compliance [with the easement], now they say they are and it is safe. If it is truly safe, why do they need the additional anchors?”

For Love of Water (FLOW), a Traverse City-based Great Lakes water law and policy center, claim a 2003 survey identified 16 unsupported spans greater than 140 feet, the longest at 224 feet on the east leg and 286 feet on the west. They also say Enbridge’s own inspection report revealed nearly 250 instances between 2005 and 2016 of unsupported spans on the pipelines that exceeded the 75- foot limit. According to FLOW, “this track record does not provide confidence that the company will fulfill its obligation in the future.”

Liz Kirkwood, executive director of FLOW, said, “The reality is Enbridge is scurrying to fix violations. If the permit is approved, it will only further damage the pipeline.”

Jim Olson, president of FLOW, argued the anchor supports are not authorized by the easement and that this is really an effort by Enbridge to increase and expand their operations. Mr. Olson claims that Enbridge has expanded Line 5 under the “rubric of maintenance.”

“Our cities, villages, and citizens have ended up with Enbridge’s version of the Keystone XL right here in the Great Lakes, and it happened without the public notice, hearings, and independent impact and alternative analyses required by law,” he said in a statement.

Enbridge says the additional anchors will be placed in areas where the span is approximately 60 feet, keeping them from expanding beyond the 75-foot requirement before the next biennial inspection in 2018.

Mr. Gilbert pointed to the situ- ation with the water in Flint and addressed the DEQ members, saying, “You still have not done your job in Flint. You have a chance to do your job and be the good guy here in the Great Lakes, which has 20% of the world’s freshwater.”

Others noted that July 25, the day of the hearing, was the seven-year anniversary of Line 6 pipeline rupture that spilled nearly 1.2 million gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo river, the largest inland oil spill in North American history. The cleanup has cost $1.3 billion. Several commenters expressed their concern of a similar spill in the Straits of Mackinac with even more devastating consequences.

“The straits is our livelihood,” said St. Ignace resident Stan Helms. “To risk that for one entity [Enbridge] that has been questionable, at best, makes no sense. I don’t think most people would be willing to risk the waters to save five or ten cents a gallon on gas.”

Sean McBrearty of Clean Water Action compared an approval of Enbridge’s application to drivers caught driving under the influence. He said when drivers are charged with that offense, they lose their license, and asked why Enbridge keeps getting caught being non-compliant but is allowed to get more permits.

“We need to stop approving permits for ‘Band-aid’ fixes, and remove their license,” said Mr. McBrearty. “Our Great Lakes are at risk. What would we do without them?”

Another point of contention in the application is that the contractor Enbridge chooses to do the work “will prepare a safety plan and environmental protection plan for this work activity.” Many argued that it is a conflict of interest for an Enbridge contractor to be tasked with issuing an environmental protection plan, and that the state should require an independent contractor to do this.

“In 1953, an environmental impact statement was not a thing,” said one commenter. “Now it is. Don’t you think it is time to do one of those?”

“The permit application seems to give Enbridge authority to determine if public trust is being considered and protected,” said James Clift, policy director of the Michigan Environmental Council.

Pat Egan of Grand Marais said the DEQ was narrowing the focus of the hearing to the anchors, instead of the big picture.

“It seems like you are setting this up for an answer you already have,” he said.

Many contended the public trust was not being considered nearly as much as benefit to Enbridge and other corporations.

“Up until now, the state has relied on information from Enbridge, businesses who work for Enbridge, or businesses who hope to work with Enbridge,” said David Holtz of the Michigan Sierra Club. “We request that the permit be deemed incomplete and require more analysis. In the meantime, the flow of crude oil through Line 5 should be stopped.”

Many levied accusations that the state was not properly enforcing the easement and, instead, operating outside the rule of law by creating processes outside of the easement, such as the formation of advisory boards and the holding of public hearings.

While some called for independent studies to gain more information, others simply called for the decommissioning of Line 5.

Mr. Gilbert asked, “Why are we having meeting after meeting? Let’s just shut this thing down.”

The feedback session was recorded and will be made available to the public. In addition, the public comment period is open until Friday, August 4. Additional comments can be submitted to the Gaylord DEQ office at (989) 731- 4920 or online at www.michigan.gov/pipelineanchors. Once the public comment period is over, the DEQ will consider all comments and information shared and can choose to approve, deny, or require further information for the permit application.

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