ST. IGNACE, MI — Michigan's two Democratic senators want the Department of Transportation to change the way it regulates oil pipelines crossing underneath the Great Lakes in order to raise the liability stakes should they break and cause a spill.

U.S. Sens. Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow sent DOT head Anthony Foxx a letter on May 17 urging him to reclassify underwater pipeline segments like the Enbridge Line 5 under the Mackinac straits as separate "offshore" facilities.

Right now, Peters said Line 5 is regulated as "onshore" facility, which means the Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) holds it to less stringent regulatory standard and caps the insurance liability at $634 million.

Should an "offshore" pipeline spill, "there's no limit to the liability," said Peters.

Enbridge's own cleanup estimate for a spill from Line 5 reaches $1 billion if the break were to happen in the winter, when the straits are iced-over. Total cleanup of the 2010 Enbridge spill into the Kalamazoo River cost more than $1.2 billion.

A state Pipeline Safety Advisory Board already wants to use a planned risk assessment study to establish new insurance and surety requirements beyond the $1 million minimum specified in the company's 1953 easement. The state considers that 63-year-old insurance figure outdated.

Tweaking the regulations would require Enbridge to have 24-hour response teams on standby as well as "make sure it's not the taxpayers paying for cleanup," said Peters, who sits on the senate committee that oversees PHMSA.

Peters said PHMSA, a DOT sub-agency, should be able to make the change on its own, but he's prepared to insert language requiring the reclassification if the agency's 2016 reauthorization bill comes back to the senate.

"We're asking them to get it done," he said. "Legislation takes time."

Artealia Gilliard, PHMSA spokesperson, said via email that "we received the letter and will respond directly to the Senators."

The letter is the latest action by Michigan Congressional delegates openly aimed at tightening regulations on Line 5, which is already being studied this year by state contractors who are evaluating the pipeline's operational risk and whether there are viable alternatives to having it traverse the Mackinac straits.

In March, the Senate passed provisions added by Peters and Stabenow into the PHMSA reauthorization bill that would designate the Great Lakes as an "Unusually Sensitive Area" and subject pipelines in or near the lakes to greater safety standards.

Also included in the bill is language that would require PHMSA and pipeline operators work ice cover into their spill response planning and require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) consider the risks posed by age, condition, materials and construction of a pipeline in safety reporting.

The age of Line 5, built in 1953 before the Mackinac Bridge, is among the chief concerns among those who would like to see it removed or replaced.

In April, Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, introduced the Great Lakes Pipeline Safety Act of 2016, which would force Enbridge to shut down Line 5 if an 18-month comprehensive study found the pipelines posed a significant risk.

At the state level, Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, introduced legislation in April that would force any existing pipeline operator with an easement to cross Michigan's Great Lakes "and connecting waters" prepare a formal Environmental Impact Statement that includes alternatives to the pipeline, performed by a "qualified, independent third party."

Enbridge spokesperson Ryan Duffy said the company already tailors its various pipeline spill response plans to each specific environment.

"We inspect Line 5 inside and out with high tech tools and those inspection reports show us that Line 5, while not perfect, is in very good condition and meets or exceeds today's standards for new pipelines," he wrote in an email.

The PHMSA bill is awaiting U.S. House approval. It reauthorizes the agency through 2019. As written, the bill would also give PHMSA new hiring powers to address understaffing and encourages the agency to adopt new mapping technology to prevent accidental pipeline damage during excavations.


Source: Garret Ellison for MLive Media Group

Categories: Industry update

By: Atmos International
Date: 15 April 2019