Michigan Senators Want Oil Pipelines to be Offshore Facilities

Michigan’s Senators are asking for pipelines running under the Great Lakes to be classified as "offshore", which would make owners fully liable if there’s an oil spill.

Senator Gary Peters and Senator Debbie Stabenow sent a letter to the U.S. Transportation Secretary this week urging him to classify the Enbridge Pipeline that runs under the Straits of Mackinac as a separate offshore facility.

The Senators say under the Oil Pollution Act the liability for cleanup costs of onshore facilities is capped at $634 million, meaning the rest of the financial responsibility would fall on the state.

If approved Enbridge would have sole responsibility if there’s ever an oil spill.

Enbridge released the following statement:

“We will continue engaging with Michigan’s elected leaders to make sure they have factual information about Line 5 and the hard work of our employees and contractors to protect the Straits, Great Lakes and other sensitive areas.

We most certainly take into consideration the unique environments in which we build and operate all of our pipelines and our response plans are tailored to the environment. From Line 5’s design, to how it’s operated and monitored, and our preparedness to respond should a leak or spill ever occur, everything is tailored to the unique environment in the Straits of Mackinac. Safety is the top priority in everything we do.

To start, the Line 5 Straits crossing uses a pair of pipes – not just one – to mitigate risk. These pipes are nearly 1” thick, similar to offshore pipes. They are anchored to the lakebed to prevent shifting. We operate them at one-quarter the maximum allowable operating pressure to minimize stress. They have a formidable external coating and cathodic protection is used to protect them and prevent corrosion. They are monitored 24/7 and have automatic shut off valves so that if there is ever a change in pressure or throughput, they will be shut down within three minutes. A response plan, which reflects input from the U.S. Coast Guard and Environmental Protection Agency, and has been reviewed by Enbridge’s federal regulator – the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. Local emergency first responders and third party spill response organizations are trained on that plan and on call should there ever be a need to call on them. 

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.”