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.


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.


— 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