August 5, 2017

Sierra Club Line 5 Comments to MDEQ, Michigan AG and Michigan DoE

August 3, 2017
Director Heidi Grether Michigan Department of Environmental Quality P.O. Box 30458
Lansing, Michigan 48909-7958
Ms. Valerie Brader Executive Director Michigan Agency for Energy Attn: Line 5 Pipeline Study P.O. Box 30013
Lansing, Michigan 48909-7958
Director Keith Creagh
Michigan Department of Natural Resources
Executive Division
P.O. Box 30028
Lansing, Michigan 48909
Attorney General Bill Schuette
G. Mennen Williams Building, 7th Floor
525 West Ottawa Street
P.O. Box 30212
Lansing, Michigan 48909



We are writing to submit public comment on the Dynamic Risk Assessment Systems, Inc.’s June 27, 2017, Draft Final Report – Alternatives Analysis for the Straits Pipeline (“Line 5 alternatives draft report” or “draft report”) prepared for the State of Michigan concerning the Enbridge Line 5 pipelines in the Mackinac Straits. This submission is in addition to comments submitted on behalf of Sierra Club and other organizations by the Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign.

In these supplemental comments, Sierra Club will focus on the following three errors and omissions in the report:

  1. Failure to recognize that decommissioning Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac is the only alternative that will prevent an oil spill with catastrophic consequences for the Great Lakes and the State of Michigan.
  2. Unfair bias towards building a tunneled pipeline.
  3. Serious conflict of interest concerns and failure to provide the state with an independent, fair analysis of the alternatives to Line 5. 

Decommissioning Line 5 is the only alternative to prevent an oil spill

As stated in comments submitted on Sierra Club’s behalf by Oil & Water Don’t Mix, we believe the state must end its delay in taking action on Line 5 and exercise its authority through enforcement of its 1953 easement, an agreement that Enbridge has consistently violated. Moreover, the Alternatives Analysis itself makes a strong case for decommissioning Line 5 if the interests of Michigan’s citizens are a priority over the commercial interests of Enbridge.

Despite the study’s bias toward Enbridge’s interest, the draft report clearly documents the fact that less than 5% of crude oil and natural gas liquids transported through Line 5 remain in Michigan and that feasible options exist for Michigan to replace any loss of transport from Line 5. In other words, despite their apparent effort to downplay decommissioning as the best alternative, the report’s authors document how little Michigan benefits from Line 5 and that there are readily available and preferable options for Michigan to access energy through other means.

Moreover, the draft report ‘s analysis of risk supports Sierra Club’s position that immediate action is needed to decommission Line 5 because of the threat of an oil pipeline rupture. The draft report prepared by oil industry firms claims the risk of a Line 5 pipeline rupture in the Straits presents a 1 in 60 chance of a spill by 2053. The flaws in this analysis that result in the study’s lowered risk assessment are thoroughly discussed by Dr. Ed Timm and other commenters. Dr. Ed Timm, whose analysis takes into account the age and likely condition of the pipeline, documents a 46% likelihood of an oil spill in the Straits over the next 36 years. But the bottom line is that both estimates of the risk of a pipeline rupture are unacceptable to anyone whose primary interests are protecting Michigan and the Great Lakes. Which brings us to comment on a major flaw in the study that undermines its usefulness and purpose in comparing and analyzing alternatives.

In a March 7, 2017 letter we wrote to the governor’s Pipeline Safety Advisory Board, Sierra Club raised concerns with the Scope of Work for the Alternatives Analysis. Instead of comparing alternatives on the basis of impacts on Michigan and its energy economy, the draft report would undertake a regional analysis, which, we said, would “skew the analysis toward Enbridge’s interests.” It was as inexplicable to us then as it is to us now why the State of Michigan approved a Scope of Work for Dynamic Risk that required Michigan to take into account Enbridge’s vast regional transport network and needs using an analytic approach certain to favor Enbridge’s private interests over the public interest in protecting the Great Lakes and Michigan’s tourism economy. Predictably, the draft report clearly favors outcomes that would continue and potentially expand Enbridge’s transport capacity— something that is, at best, only incidental to Michigan’s interests. The study fails to objectively assess the availability of viable alternatives using the existing regional Enbridge pipeline infrastructure, instead relying on Enbridge's assertions that there is no capacity to offset the transport of products through Line 5.

If Michigan’s interests are paramount, the weight of evidence in support of decommissioning Line 5 is overwhelming. The State of Michigan must correct its original sin of allowing oil industry consultants to study what’s in Enbridge’s private interests by eliminating from consideration in any final decision-making on Line 5 any alternative that does not prioritize protecting Michigan and the Great Lakes.

Dynamic Risk also failed to fulfill the state’s scope of work by assuming that there was a requirement to study only alternatives that continued to allow the same amount of product to be moved from oil fields to refineries. A full range of alternatives would have required consideration of the time frame for continued production of oil and gas from the Bakken field and others that produce the light crude which the state of Michigan and Enbridge have agreed is the only type of oil allowed through Line 5. The Bakken field has already passed its peak production point, yet there is an assumption in all of the alternatives that comparable amounts of oil will be produced and shipped from there to the refineries indefinitely. An unbiased alternatives analysis demands fully factoring in the inevitable decline in products flowing through this regional system, and ensuring that Michigan is not seeing either the replacement of the existing pipelines nor alternatives such as a tunnel that would impose a burden on the state in the future when they would be abandoned. In addition, the state must request from Enbridge what their plans are for decommissioning any existing or proposed new pipelines and what other products they plan to run through the Line 5 pipeline when the Bakken field is played out.

Unfair Bias Toward Building A Tunnel

Dynamic Risk showed a bias toward building a tunnel in its original proposal to do the report, and its analysis of costs and risks appears to be both cursory and flawed.

  • They note in their report that a large risk to the project would be inadequate exploration of the subsurface along the excavation route. They admit their report was based on existing data, primarily from the bridge construction, and represents only a preliminary screening; they were unable to do an adequate study of the specific tunnel route. The report does identify a deep trough running through the middle of the Straits, either from a fault zone or an ancient river channel, but was unable to determine its actual depth. Even without this information and with limited knowledge of the rock characteristics, they advocate crossing the trough using extra grouting for support as adequate and less costly than tunneling under the full depth of the trough. Considerable more analysis is needed to determine the geologic suitability of a tunnel.
  • Tunnel construction is estimated to take 27 months, require 4 to 7 acres for the staging areas at each end of the tunnel, and will use both drilling and blasting to penetrate and remove rock and soil. The report notes that this process will require trucking the extracted material for disposal, impacting roads, traffic, noise, and air quality. However, beyond an extensive analysis of the impact construction crews would have on seasonal rental housing, there is little effort to actually quantify these community impacts. Nor is there any mention of the impacts blasting, noise and dust might have on historical sites such as nearby Fort Michilimackinac or on Native American fishing right protected by treaty.
  • A number of other risks are mentioned – construction accidents, groundwater intrusion during construction, breakout of drilling hydraulic fluids, leak detections during operations. However, the report simply assumes that proper safeguards will mitigate these risks, without quantifying the risks and the costs of mitigating them.

The report’s analysis of this alternative provides a very preliminary description of the process and issues and an inadequate and flawed quantification of its operation. The result is a rosy scenario in favor of a tunnel with cost estimates that lack credibility.

Conflicts of Interest and A Failed Process

Sierra Club believes two related, major barriers exist that may unnecessarily result in months or years of delay in addressing the threat of Line 5 pipelines to the Great Lakes. This is on top of what has already been more than three years of failure by Gov. Snyder and Attorney General Schuette to take action after the urgency of the Line 5 threat emerged. One barrier is the Pipeline Safety Advisory Board Line 5 study process. This process is without any criteria for decision-making, has no defined timeline for making a decision on alternatives and is being conducted outside any legal framework such as the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act and Michigan Environmental Protection Act that could form a basis for evaluating alternatives. The other, related process failure is a conflict of interest.

In November 2015 Sierra Club wrote Gov. Snyder asking him to remove Enbridge Energy and Marathon from his Pipeline Safety Advisory Board. We pointed out that having Enbridge and Marathon as part of the official process of evaluating Enbridge’s Line 5 presented obvious conflicts of interest and threatened the credibility of the advisory board. We also asked the governor to ensure that Enbridge’s influence over the state’s Line 5 work would not extend to paying for studies. In a March 2017 letter to the Pipeline Safety Advisory Board Sierra Club also raised significant concerns about conflicts involving the project team working on the Line 5 draft reports.

Instead of removing these conflicts, the governor and state officials continued along a questionable path that has resulted in a failed process. The state allowed Enbridge to pay for the $3.6 million studies. In addition, the Line 5 risk analysis failed to be completed on time because of a conflict of interest involving an employee who was simultaneously working for Enbridge while being paid to provide an “independent” analysis of Line 5.

Moreover, the draft alternative report’s lead contractor, Dynamic Risk, was reportedly working for Enbridge on a related pipeline and doing the Line 5 “independent” alternatives study for the State of Michigan. Other questions have been raised regarding relationships between Enbridge, Dynamic Risk and other Line 5 study project team members and there is credible evidence that the draft alternatives report is biased in Enbridge’s favor.

Much or all of this could have been avoided if the state had chosen a more credible Line 5 study process—one reflecting the seriousness of the endeavor to protect the Great Lakes. One that certainly would have required funding from the state instead of Enbridge and one headed by one of Michigan’s premier research universities or other qualified, independent entities working with and holding accountable other project team members. One that was conducted within existing Michigan laws.

What would be a mistake is if state officials compound these errors by allowing this failed study process to slow if not stop progress toward removing Line 5’s threat. The best—perhaps only—way to do that is to bring Enbridge under the rule of law and evaluate risks and alternatives under the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act for its current anchor permit request, and begin the process of decommissioning Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac to protect the Great Lakes from a catastrophic oil spill.

Respectfully submitted,

David Holtz, Chair
Sierra Club Michigan Chapter Executive Committee

Anne Woiwode, Chair
Sierra Club Michigan Chapter Conservation Committee

Nancy Shiffler, Chair
Sierra Club Michigan Chapter Beyond Natural Gas & Oil Committee