TRAVERSE CITY — A group of concerned citizens argued that the Mackinac Straits pipeline is unsafe and should be shut down.
Straits Area Concerned Citizens for Peace and Justice Northern Michigan met with federal and local officials at the Cheboygan Area Public Library on Oct.12 to express those concerns and learn about spill response plans should Line 5 — an Enbridge Energy-owned pipeline built in 1953, running through the Mackinac Straits — rupture.
Group members questioned an Enbridge spill contingency plan they said outlines a resource shortage and lack of adequate equipment to deploy in a portion of Lake Michigan known for strong currents, harsh winds, tall waves and unstable ice conditions.
“We all want the pipeline shut down, but as long as it’s still operating, we want to make sure they have the equipment on-site and trained personnel to contain the spill,” said Roger Gauthier, a group member. “Clearly, there’s not enough equipment, there’s not enough personnel.”
Representatives for Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters also attended. Enbridge and Department of Environmental Quality officials weren’t invited, Gauthier said.
Ryan Duffy, Enbridge regional communications and media relations supervisor, heard about the meeting featuring Environmental Protection Agency, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, Coast Guard and other officials, and refuted claims regarding a shortage of oil spill response resources near the line.
“We feel like we are prepared to respond to anything that would happen there,” he said. “We have always been prepared, but we are always looking to improve and add to it.”
He referenced a $7 million purchase of eight current busters that are towed by boats to collect oil-contaminated water. Enbridge also purchased two arctic brush skimmers to remove oil from portions of ice during a winter spill.
Enbridge crews at the St. Ignace and Mackinaw City offices can deploy boats, a combined 2,000 feet of boom and other equipment, Duffy said.
Coast Guard officials previously admitted their weaknesses in responding to oil spills during ice cover but said Enbridge’s investments certainly help, while citizen’s group officials doubted the new equipment’s effectiveness.
“If there are some challenges with responding, I can say they are less than they were when we began,” said Capt. Marko Broz, U.S. Coast Guard Sector Sault Ste. Marie commander. “Enbridge is following through on their commitment to bring additional resources to the area and that’s a good thing for our environment.”
Citizen’s group members raised more concerns that Enbridge may not have boats available to pull some of the equipment. Duffy said the company has “hundreds of boats” of varying sizes on standby.
Further concerns dealt with a potential lack of trained personnel to operate the new equipment. Duffy said Enbridge conducted a large training session for the current busters last month in Escanaba, while discussions continue to determine where to place the equipment.
“We think we are very prepared and will be even more prepared when we get our new equipment placed,” he said.
The group called for burning the oil on the water’s surface and Mackinac Straits hydrodynamic modeling to also protect the resource. They continued to call for a pipeline closure until adequate plans are in place and an independent analysis of the line is completed to determine whether the line is safe for operations.
“They need to decommission the line. There is no other way to put it,” Gauthier said. “If they don’t decommission it, they damn well better be able to contain (a spill) within the first 12 hours.”