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Jun 27

Pipeline Symposium: Well Rehearsed, Dishonest, But the Crowd Wasn’t Buying It

Last Tuesday evening, Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council, an environmental advocacy organization in Northern Michigan, hosted representatives from Enbridge, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), the Environmental Protection Agency, the US Coast Guard and several other agencies at a high school in Petoskey, Michigan to talk about Enbridge’s Line 5.

Pure Michigan? Protect the Great Lakes. Stop Line 5. Photo Credit: David Castleman

Pure Michigan? Protect the Great Lakes. Stop Line 5. Photo Credit: David Cassleman

Line 5 is probably the most noteworthy crude oil pipeline in Enbridge’s Lakehead system. It runs right underneath the Straights of Mackinac, which connects lakes Michigan and Huron. If line 5 were to spill into the Straights of Mackinac (and line 5 has spilled in the past in Michigan), it would devastate the water supplies of 30 million people in the US and Canada as well as essentially annihilate Michigan’s economy.

Map depicting line 5 rupture spill zones through the Straights and Lakes Michigan and Huron, hours after a spill would occur. (source: National Wildlife Federation, nwf.org)

Enbridge sent their best PR representatives to assuage the people of northern Michigan, to say that everything was alright, Enbridge has learned its lesson from Kalamazoo and that the pipes are now all safer. But they presented dubious claims which further cast doubt on their trustworthiness. Among some of the misleading things that Enbridge representatives said was that the portion of the line 5 that runs under the Mackinac Straits is comprised of seamless pipes. This ignores the fact that the 5-mile segments of line 5 under the Straits are obviously welded together, which Beth Wallace from Pipeline Safety Trust was quick to point out. In response the Enbridge representative gave a hurried reassurance that the welds are being regularly monitored.

Earlier, while running an information table, another Enbridge representative claimed that post-Kalamazoo, Enbridge’s pipeline monitoring systems have been changed so that drops in pressure don’t merely trigger an alarm in a control room, but lead to an automatic shut-off of the pipeline so that risks aren’t taken with extra fossil fuel spilling. Back in July 2010, one reason that so much tar sands spilled in Marshall was that when control room operators detected a pressure drop (a clear indication that a rupture may have occurred), instead of shutting down the line they increased pressure on that line thinking that that would clear issues the sensors were having. Instead of fixing anything, it just lead to more tar sands gushing out of the pipe. And now Enbridge is telling us that they’ve fixed their control room operational procedures so that this won’t happen again. Yeah, right, okay, we trust you Enbridge.

Credit: David Cassleman

Credit: David Cassleman

Regarding the structural integrity of the outside of line 5 under the Straits, Enbridge said that every 2 years they run an automated marine vehicle to survey that the pipe is properly supported with sand bags, screw type anchors and a ballast saddle. Enbridge promises that the pipeline is properly supported and fastened all along the Straits of Mackinac. This is despite independent video evidence taken by National Wildlife Federation last July (see below) revealing that portions of the pipeline are unsupported and covered in unidentified debris. In 2010, Enbridge hired divers to secure the pipeline with a newly innovated screw type of anchor. “We feel from an engineering standpoint, that the screw anchors are state of the art” Brad Shamla, Enbridge Vice president said Tuesday evening. These claims are questionable, especially given that Enbridge has remained quiet about what has actually been done to address the dangling braces you see in the quite recently taken video below.

Enbridge has not been transparent with their inspection methods. They said repeatedly that they are constantly inspecting, and constantly meeting many standards, yet Enbridge refuses to make public any proof of the stringent standards they are meeting. If Enbridge is so proud of their rigor in the inspection process, why aren’t they more transparent about it? We have been fed lip service time and time again, and its time to see some real documentation and evidence. In the pursuit of seeking information and transparency, the pipeline regulatory agency PHMSA hasn’t been much of a help either. PHMSA has been ignoring/stalling on FOIA requests, and is thus complicit in Enbridge’s lack of transparency. Both PHMSA and Enbridge are expecting people to believe them without concrete evidence.

Ralph Dollhopf of the EPA claimed that pipelines can last forever! “Steel doesn’t age,” Dollhopf said confidently. They just corrode on the inside, which is totally fine! Psyche. Tell that to the people of Marshall and Battle Creek. Corrosion causes thinness. Thinness causes pipelines to weaken. Weakened pipelines makes them more prone to bursting.

After being spoon fed lip service for around an hour, one member of Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands called out Enbridge and the 14 officials on the risk they are putting us all in.

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