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Pipeline secrecy bill puts Great Lakes at riskPrint

Line 5 | May 5, 2015

Pipeline secrecy bill puts Great Lakes at risk

New legislation would block public access to pipeline safety records in Michigan. 

LANSING—Citizens groups sharply criticized proposed legislation introduced today that would permanently block public access to pipeline safety records in Michigan, including for high-risk pipelines running through the Straits of Mackinac operated by the controversial Canadian oil conglomerate Enbridge, Inc.

The sweeping bill, House Bill 4540, which would amend Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act, goes beyond federal rules governing pipeline records disclosure. It would exempt virtually all oil and natural gas pipeline information from public disclosure and is being sought by Enbridge, responsible in 2010 for the nation’s largest inland oil spill near Kalamazoo.

“Enbridge has a questionable safety record and desperately wants to keep critically important pipeline safety information from the public,” said Nic Clark, Michigan Director of Clean Water Action. “This bill exploits the public’s legitimate concerns over national security to cloak the real purpose for Enbridge, which is to keep secret its safety and other records.”

Enbridge’s twin Line 5 pipelines through the Straits of Mackinac have been the subject of intense public interest since it was revealed in early 2014 that the Eisenhower-era lines pose a serious threat to the Great Lakes and northern Michigan communities and businesses. A special task force of state officials assembled last June is expected to issue a report this month on the pipelines. The Michigan Petroleum Pipeline Task Force, however, has been meeting behind closed doors, releasing only press releases and presentations. Meanwhile, Enbridge and the task force have kept most documents secret under an elaborate arrangement involving a password-protected website fashioned by Enbridge.

“Enbridge wants a blanket exemption from disclosing critical pipeline safety records and that’s not acceptable,” said Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director of FLOW, a water policy and education center based in Traverse City. “At any moment, a pipeline spill could contaminate the Great Lakes and collapse the northern Michigan tourist economy. We need to know more, not less, about the safety of Enbridge’s pipelines and all pipelines in Michigan.”

The proposed legislation was introduced today by state Rep. Kurt Heise (R-Plymouth). An Enbridge lobbyist has been working behind the scenes in recent weeks to line up support to exempt pipelines from Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act, which requires public disclosure of most public records.

“What Michigan needs is more transparency about the pipeline’s safety, potential harm, and alternative routes, not less,” said David Holtz, Chair of the Michigan Chapter of Sierra Club. “Pipelines leak, and as we saw in Kalamazoo, when there’s a breach, it can be catastrophic. Yet Enbridge refuses to release any documents related to pipeline inspections and now wants the State of Michigan to sanction that secrecy.”

Enbridge’s efforts to close off access to pipeline safety documents through an exemption to Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act comes on the heels of a report revealing that a two-year-old pipeline operated in Missouri by TransCanada suffered major corrosion, with 95% corrosion in one section of the pipe. The report was based on documents obtained under the federal Freedom of Information Act.

“In Missouri you have a 21st Century pipeline that had to be shut down and the only reason we know the details is because the law required the documents to be released publicly,” said Jim Lively, Program Director, Michigan Land Use Institute. “In Michigan we have pipelines running through the Great Lakes, under extremely volatile conditions, and these pipelines were constructed in 1953 during an era where color television was the newest technology. Yet Enbridge wants to keep the safety of these pipelines secret.”

Thousands of Michigan residents and visitors have signed a petition urging Governor Rick Snyder to order open public hearings on the oil pipelines in the Straits and alternatives to eliminate the risk of a catastrophic spill.

“We expect openness and transparency,” said Peggy Case, President of Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation. “What we are getting from Enbridge in this proposed legislation is defiance.”