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Little reassurance at symposium on Straits pipelinePrint

Clean Energy | June 30, 2014 | By Jim Lively

Presentations from PHMSA, Enbridge and the EPA were followed by a Q&A session with 15 representatives from a variety of regulatory and advocacy interests.
Presentations at the pipeline symposium from PHMSA, Enbridge and the EPA were followed by a Q&A session with 15 representatives from a variety of regulatory and advocacy interests. (Photo: Rebecca Fisher)

On June 24, Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council hosted the Northern Michigan Pipeline Symposium in Petoskey, bringing together state and national groups involved—or concerned—about the aging oil pipelines running through the Mackinac Straits. 

The event provided a forum for regulators and Enbridge, the company that owns the pipeline, to reassure the public about the threat of a spill. Unfortunately, most people left just as concerned about the risk as when they arrived. 

The forum brought about 150 people to the Petoskey High School auditorium, including many residents concerned about a potential spill. Mixed into the crowd were about a dozen protestors from MI-CATS (Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands) who brought with them a large protest sign out front and some sharp words during the presentation. 

Presentations from PHMSA, Enbridge and the EPA were followed by a Q&A session with 15 representatives from a variety of regulatory and advocacy interests. 

PHMSA and Enbridge had a similar message throughout the presentation and panel—essentially "we learned a lot from the Kalamazoo River spill, we have a new culture of safety, and we are very confident that this is safe." But the more they talked about their plan for a cleanup, the more it underscored the potential for a spill – and how devastating it would be.

The format was tightly controlled and there was no opportunity to engage in any dialogue with Enbridge or regulators—both of whom had well rehearsed answers for most questions, and little to say about tougher questions like the lack of transparency and the public trust responsibility inherent within the Great Lakes. But these are questions that deserve clear answers and a "trust us" response is not sufficient. 

Enbridge also made a surprising claim about the company’s benefit to Michigan’s economy. They said they are proud to employ 11,000 workers in North America, with 250 Enbridge jobs in Michigan. So while Michigan takes ALL of this incredible risk to our Great Lakes, the economic return is only 250 jobs. Even for those who want argue about the economic benefit of pipelines, Enbridge doesn't have much to answer. 

This was Enbridge’s best chance to explain to reassure a concerned public about the risk of a spill in the Straits of Mackinac. Most leaving the auditorium Tuesday were not convinced.