Michigan Petroleum Pipeline Task Force
Date: September 3rd, 2015
Topic: Energy, Natural Resources
In 2010, Enbridge Energy, LP was responsible for releasing over 1 million gallons of Alberta tar sands heavy crude oil into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River. It was the largest land based oil spill in United States history. Enbridge settled a lawsuit based on the spill with Michigan’s Attorney General, Bill Schuette and the Michigan Department of Environment Quality in 2015 for $75 million. Enbridge also currently transports light crude oil through the Straits Pipelines, which run under the Mackinac Straits. In order to address public concerns regarding the Straits Pipelines in the wake of that Kalamazoo River disaster, Attorney General Bill Schuette convened the Michigan Petroleum Pipeline Task Force in 2014. The Task Force consisted of the heads of various state agencies including the Departments of Natural Resources, Transportation, Environmental Quality and State Police, as well as the Public Service Commission, Office of the Great Lakes and the Attorney General.
After concluding its investigation, the Task Force issued a report outlining various recommendations relating to the Straits Pipelines, as well as several other pipelines throughout the state. Given the facts that the Straits pipelines are over 60 years old, the currents of the Straits are incredibly strong, and Enbridge has a poor safety track record, the Task Force expressed serious concern for a potential spill or leak. In particular, the Task Force studied the relative effects of a heavy crude oil spill on the environment. The Kalamazoo spill involved heavy crude oil, and there is a recent increase in demand and availability of it from the Alberta tar sands. The Task Force found that heavy crude oil poses a more serious risk than light crude oil in the case of a spill because it does not float on top of the water, and therefore is more difficult to remove. Such a spill could cause severe ecological damage to the Great Lakes and the iconic Mackinac Island, especially considering the environmental sensitivity of the surrounding area. The location of the pipeline would also allow for a rapid and far reaching disbursement of the oil.
Pursuant to one of the Task Force’s recommendations, Enbridge formally entered into an agreement with the State of Michigan, stating that it would not use the Straits Pipelines to transport heavy crude oil without updating the engineering configuration and getting approval from the State.