Michigan’s US senators introduce Great Lakes pipeline safety bill

Michigan’s two US senators, Democrats Gary C. Peters and Debbie Stabanow, introduced legislation aimed at increasing crude oil and products pipeline safety in and around the Great Lakes. One provision of S. 1226 would change the classification of such lines from onshore to a special category that would hold pipeline operators to liability standards like those for US offshore systems, they said.

Michigan’s two US senators, Democrats Gary C. Peters and Debbie Stabanow, introduced legislation aimed at increasing crude oil and products pipeline safety in and around the Great Lakes. One provision of S. 1226 would change the classification of such lines from onshore to a special category that would hold pipeline operators to liability standards like those for US offshore systems, they said.

“The Great Lakes ecosystem is unlike any other in the world, and many existing pipeline safety rules and regulations do not adequately protect this precious resource from a disastrous oil spill,” noted Peters, who is a Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee member.

“Sen. Stabenow and I are working together to hold Great Lakes pipeline operators to the highest standards and help protect against the catastrophic consequences of a worst-case spill that would endanger our environment and the multibillion shipping, tourism, and fishing industries supported by the Great Lakes,” he said.

“We cannot allow another devastating pipeline break like the one that dumped 1 million gal of oil into the Kalamazoo River in 2010,” said Stabenow.

Enbridge Energy Partners LP reported a leak on July 26, 2010, from Line 6B on its Lakehead system near Marshall, Mich., into a creek that flowed into the Kalamazoo River. By early August, an estimated 10,000 bbl of crude had been recovered, most of which never reached the creek or river, said Enbridge Pipelines Inc. Executive Vice-Pres. Steve Wuon (OGJ Online, Aug. 2, 2010).

The US Department of Justice and US Environmental Protection Agency subsequently announced that Enbridge agreed to pay $177 million to resolve federal charges stemming from that incident, where an estimated 20,000 bbl leaked, and from a Sept. 9, 2010, rupture of its Line 6A near Romeoville, Ill., where at least 6,427 bbl leaked (OGJ Online, July 20, 2016). They said the settlement included a commitment to spend at least $110 million to prevent spills and improve operations across nearly 2,000 miles of pipelines in the Great Lakes region.

The senators said their new legislation would:

• Change pipelines crossing the Great Lakes from their current onshore classification to one like the existing offshore regime, which makes operators responsible for covering all spill cleanup costs, up to $133.65 million in economic damages and provide proof of financial ability.

• Expand the US Transportation Secretary’s authority to shut down pipelines when unsafe conditions exist.

• Require both the US Coast Guard and EPA to review oil pipeline operator response plans submitted to the US Pipeline & Hazardous Material Safety Administration. Currently, both agencies have the option to review these plans but are not required to by law.

• Make it possible for information PHMSA collects from pipeline operators to be publicly reviewed more easily than through cumbersome and costly Freedom of Information Act requests.

• Establish a USCG Center of Expertise for the Great Lakes focused on the impacts of oil spills in freshwater environments.

Peters and Stabanow’s bill has been referred to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

More in Pipelines & Transportation