Oil leak on massive pipeline pushing tar sands through the Great Lakes

Enbridge Energy has just reported that their Alberta Clipper tar sands pipeline is being shut down because they have spilled over 5000 gallons of oil. The spill happened in Saskatchewan, Canada, and it is not yet clear what has caused the leak. Enbridge has reported that the spill occurred at one of their pumping stations but some of the oil has sprayed onto nearby private property.

This latest spill is yet another example on why Enbridge should focus a lot more time on pipeline safety instead of rushing and pushing through massive amounts of pipeline expansion projects throughout Canada and the US.

In fact, Enbridge is currently trying to gain approval in both canada and the US to expand the Alberta Clipper pipeline. They want to increase pressure on this pipeline from 450,000 barrels per day to 880,000 barrels per day!

The Alberta Clipper tar sands pipeline is the beginning point for all the Enbridge expansions throughout the Great Lakes, which will make the largest freshwater system, in the world, a super highway for transporting and refining tar sands. Enbridge is even one of the companies behind the recent proposal to ship tar sands, via tankers, throughout the Great Lakes.

All of these expansions are being rushed through despite the fact that Enbridge still has no idea how to clean up tar sands and Enbridge definitely doesn’t want you to realize that US regulators, PHMSA, still has a corrective action order out on the Lakehead System, which is the entire pipeline system that transports tar sands throughout the Great Lakes. This corrective action order says:

The Original CAO noted that the history of failures on Respondent’s Lakehead Pipeline system, the defects originally discovered during construction of Line 14, a 2007 failure on Line 14, and the July 2010 failure on Line 6B in Marshall, Michigan, and additional failures throughout all parts of the Lakehead System indicate that Respondent’s integrity management program may be inadequate. PHMSA has communicated its longstanding concerns about this pattern of failures with Respondent over the past several years. Given the nature, circumstances, and gravity of this pattern of accidents, additional corrective measures are warranted.

Despite this unprecedented corrective action order, and several failures since, PHMSA is still allowing Enbridge to expand many pipelines along the Lakehead system, including a 60-year-old pipeline that runs under the Straits of Mackinac.

There are several easy online action tools that allow you to reach out to the decision makers behind these proposals. Please consider taking a few moments to fill these out to show your opposition to the major risk Enbridge continues to build in the Great Lakes.

Contact the Department of State and let them know that Enbridge should not be allowed to increase pressure on the Alberta Clipper pipeline. 

Also, please contact your US Senator and let them know that Enbridge should never be allowed to increase pressure on a 60-year-old pipeline that runs through the heart of the Great Lakes.

UPDATE: This spill has been confirmed to be heavy tar sands and Enbridge has restarted the pipeline. No information has been released regarding the cause of the leak. You can no view photos of the spill by JOHN W. MURRAY HERE.

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Another Great Lakes protection success story – WI DNR dismisses oil tanker terminal permit

Another Great Lakes protection success story – WI DNR dismisses oil tanker terminal permit

I just received word that the application to rehab a terminal, in Superior, Wisc., for oil tankers has been dismissed by the WI DNR. This terminal permit would have been the first step in getting large oil tankers on the waters of the Great Lakes. You can read more about that project, the impacts and the dismissal below:

The Alliance for the Great Lakes and Minnesota Environmental Partnership just released this press statement:

Wisconsin dismisses controversial oil terminal permit application, for now Proposal would open the door to tar sands shipping on the Great Lakes

SUPERIOR, Wis. — A plan to begin shipping tar sands oil across Lake Superior – and potentially open the door to shipping large volumes of this relatively new form of thick crude across the Great Lakes — has been dealt a setback for now.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in December dismissed an application for a loading dock rehabilitation viewed as the first step toward a $25 million crude oil complex meant to facilitate shipments of tar sands crude across Lake Superior starting as soon as next year. As the first permit to pave the way for tar sands shipping on the Great Lakes, the proposal had broad implications for the region.

Before the project can proceed, the DNR has instead ordered a comprehensive Environmental Assessment of the entire dock project, something many called for during a public informational hearing in November attended by about 50 residents from both Wisconsin and Minnesota.

“Area residents really care about Lake Superior and they want to make sure this unique resource is not threatened by costly and harmful spills of this dangerous type of crude oil,” said Andrew Slade, Northeast Program Coordinator for the Minnesota Environmental Partnership. “This demonstrates how, when citizens speak up on such important water issues, government agencies can actually respond.”

The applicant, Elkhorn Industries, may re-apply for the permit under conditions set by the DNR in its Dec. 23, 2013 letter to the company. The letter says public comments from the meetingplayed a role in its decision, and states that the agency “will need significantly more information about the plans and activities proposed for the site.”

“We want to thank Wisconsin DNR for agreeing that more information is needed, and to the members of the public who helped make this change,” said Lyman Welch, Water Quality Program director for the Alliance for the Great Lakes. “This gives the community – and the region – much-needed time for a larger binational discussion about whether the Great Lakes should become the next frontier for shipping tar sands crude oil.”

Welch is the lead author of a report released in November (www.greatlakes.org/tarsands) that explores the potential risks of tar sands oil shipping across the Great Lakes. The report found that neither the Great Lakes shipping fleet nor its ports were designed to ship this form of crude over the lakes, and highlighted the proven challenges of cleanup after a spill.

The DNR cited two other issues as having a role in its dismissal of the application, including that Elkhorn Industries does not own the entire waterfront property necessary to complete the proposed project and could not legally apply for work on the property it does not own.

Contacts:

– Andrew Slade, Minnesota Environmental Partnership, 218-727-0800 andrewslade@mepartnership.org

– Lyman Welch, Alliance for the Great Lakes, 312-445-9739, lwelch@greatlakes.org

U.S. Senators receive jibber jabber from pipeline safety agency

U.S. Senators receive jibber jabber from pipeline safety agency

The current conditions at the Straits of Mackinac. Proof enough that all efforts should be focused on preventing a spill because any response will fail.

The current conditions at the Straits of Mackinac. Proof enough that all efforts should be focused on preventing a spill because any response will fail.

Last month I thanked Senator’s Durbin, Stabenow and Levin for taking the first steps needed to ensure the Great Lakes are protected from a 60-year-old oil pipeline running through the Straits of Mackinac owned by Enbridge Energy.

The Senators wrote a letter to the federal agency that oversees pipeline safety (PHMSA) basically demanding transparency on the integrity of the Mackinac Pipeline.

This request is not just lip service by the Senators to appease concerns of their constituents. Sadly, our region (and frankly the nation) has been plagued with examples on why we should be concerned about this pipeline. The largest example being the massive rupture from Enbridge’s Line 6B three years ago, which is still being cleaned up to this day. If you want a quick glimpse into the history of this company in our region, check out this video (FF to the 1 min mark).

Despite the clear need for overall pipeline safety reform, this past summer Enbridge  took steps to increase pressure on the 60-year-old pipeline, through the Straits of Mackinac, so they can export more oil into eastern Canada. The most alarming piece to this story is how little PHMSA seemed to require of Enbridge in order for the increase in pressure. As far as I’ve been able to uncover, the only testing PHMSA required of Enbridge is two small hydrotests in sections of the pipeline nowhere near the Straits crossing.

Well, PHMSA is (yet again) in a position where they feel the need to defend themselves.  You can read the jibber jabber response to the Senators here or feel free to skip ahead to my top 5 takeaways:

  1. PHMSA underscores they have had to hold Enbridge’s hand on pipeline safety for the past 3 years and they are working with Enbridge to continue required improvements.
  2. In order for the public to see any level of detail on those improvements, PHMSA will need a Freedom of Information Act request. Thank you very much!
  3. PHMSA is talking with the spill response agencies and they’ve got this..don’t you worry.
  4. PHMSA does ‘t really care about the Maximum Allowable Operating Pressure (MAOP) on this 60-year-old pipeline because Congress told them in 2011 they don’t have to… gotcha there.
  5. PHMSA doesn’t exactly have all the information requested so we’re going to spend the next couple months asking for it from Enbridge..we’ll get back to you.

As you might have picked up, this isn’t my first rodeo. The National Wildlife Federation has submitted a second FOIA to PHMSA for information proving the integrity of this pipeline, which hasn’t even gotten a response other than PHMSA needing more time.

If this 60-year-old pipeline just increased in pressure, and PHMSA just reviewed information verifying the pipeline’s safety, what is the hold up?

More to come.

Underwater footage of the Mackinac Pipeline suspended across the Straits. By NWF

Underwater footage of the Mackinac Pipeline suspended across the Straits. By NWF

Why the name game matters. Is tar sands the same as crude?

Why the name game matters. Is tar sands the same as crude?

The Kalamazoo River covered in tar sands oil following the 2010 Enbridge spill.

The Kalamazoo River covered in tar sands oil following the 2010 Enbridge spill.

Since the Kalamazoo River tar sands (heavy crude) oil spill three years ago, there has been overwhelming evidence that not all crude oils are equal, despite what Enbridge and PHMSA would lead you to believe. I started to really question this point, from a regulatory perspective, after learning that A) Line 6b had been switched to a tar sands pipeline without public notice and B) after clean up crews discovered that most of the tar sands oil in the Kalamazoo River has ended up on the bottom of the river because heavy crude sinks vs. floats.

My last point is one that Enbridge, to this day, disputes -which is incredible considering they are still trying to figure out how to clean up the Kalamazoo River because of submerged oil. My take on this is they believe if you say something over and over and over again, the public is stupid enough to believe it and perhaps they remove themselves of some liability (and brainwash their employees). Either way, as George Santayana said “those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it!” The frightening piece to that fact is that it’s people, wildlife and natural resources that will are left in the wake of their next disaster, and not Enbridge. Enbridge has proven that despite the largest and most costly inland oil spill in history, they can get away with expanding business and turn major profits.

I’ve digressed.

Back to my point, the latest SMH (shake my head) moment on this issue came after reading Lorraine Little’s response in the Detroit Free Press news story where Congressional members have demanded better transparency from Enbridge and PHMSA on the Mackinac Pipeline. In that story, Lorraine says this:

The increase in capacity is “relatively minor” and noted that the pipeline “does not now and never has carried heavy crude.”

The problem I have with this point is that Enbridge (and PHMSA for that matter) continue to talk out of both sides of their mouth. In order for Enbridge to make people feel better about the massive tar sands pipeline expansions flooding our region, they say crude is crude and tar sands oil floats. But when defending the safety of Line 5, which runs under one of the most sensitive locations in the world, they say things like the above.

What’s incredibly ironic about this is that Line 5 does in fact carry heavier crude that they’ve labeled as “sour”.. again, another name game to confuse you. With all that being said – how do you feel about the smoke and mirrors that’s before you, before our decision makers and before our regulators?

In addition, the devil is in the details. Looking back at the regulation, again, you should note that if Enbridge were to switch to a heavy crude on any of their pipelines, no notification would have to go to the public. Enbridge could push a batch of heavy crude through line 5 this afternoon and you would have no idea, nor would our regulators because crude is crude as far as they are concerned.

As I’ve already pointed out, PHMSA seems more than willing to continue playing the same game as industry. They have refused to acknowledge the difference, despite the real life lab study of the Kalamazoo River, and have sat on their hands for the past three years all while more and more tar sands pipeline projects overwhelm the U.S. The EPA, on the other hand, has taken some steps to pass along the lessons learned from the Kalamazoo River response and warned the State Department that Keystone XL needs special attention because it is a tar sands pipeline – their public advocacy on this point has stopped there.

The National Wildlife Federation is pushing to make some swift change on this issue through a rulemaking petition to both the EPA and PHMSA calling for tar sands pipeline safety regulations. Sadly, both agencies have not moved on our request and tar sands pipeline projects are speeding ahead at record pace.

We need to get some more momentum in the Great Lakes on this issue because we are already the hub for transportation of tar sands oil. Please consider writing the Department of State to tell them to deny the Alberta Clipper tar sands pipeline expansion until tar sands pipeline safety efforts are in place. Also, consider making a year-end tax delectable donation to the Great Lakes Regional Center of the National Wildlife Federation so I can continue to push this issue along.

The now infamous oil samples that Enbridge shops around to communities with the goal to show that crude is crude.

The now infamous oil samples that Enbridge shops around to communities with the goal to show that crude is crude.

Another Great Lakes treasure was protected from oil and gas drilling today

I’m so thankful to see the Michigan Department of Natural Resources protect the ‘holy waters’ of the Au Sable River today, thanks to heavy opposition from many environmental groups, landowners and concerned hunters and anglers.

Below, Director Keith acknowledges the need to protect critical locations and I personally hope this mindset continues within both the MI DNR and DEQ. We need a lot more proactive measures from these agencies in order to sustain our waters.

State Natural Resources Director Keith Creagh prohibited drilling on land tracts in the Au Sable River’s “holy waters” corridor Thursday while approving oil and gas exploration leases that worried fly fishermen and environmentalists.

“Michigan has special places that deserve careful attention and thoughtful protection,” Creagh said while announcing his decision at the monthly Michigan Natural Resources Commission meeting here. “The Au Sable River is one of those places.”

You can read more about this breaking news at the The Detroit NewsDNR director prohibits drilling near Au Sable River corridor

 

The Au Sable River at Thompson's Landing by Linda N.

The Au Sable River at Thompson’s Landing by Linda N.