04.27.16

Detroit Free Press: Oil company will not ship under St. Clair River in wake of outcry

A petroleum transport company will not be shipping heavy crude oil under the St. Clair River through 98-year-old pipelines, following an outcry from residents and concern from state and federal officials earlier this year.

The company, Plains LPG, based in Houston, has withdrawn a request to revise its permit that would have allowed it to potentially transport oil under the St. Clair River between Marysville and Sarnia, Ontario, according to announcements issued Wednesday from U.S. Senator Gary Peters, and Reps. Candice Miller, R- Harrison Township, and Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn.

“We are thrilled to hear that Plains LPG has decided to withdraw its request,” Miller and Dingell said in a joint statement. “As we’ve said, given the strong currents in the St. Clair, any spill would quickly spread and have a devastating impact on the entire region.”

Peters said in a statement: "“An oil spill in Great Lakes waters, especially in an area with strong currents such as the St. Clair River, would have disastrous effects on the valuable freshwater resources that make up our way of life in Michigan. The significant human and environmental health risks associated with this proposal outweigh its benefits, and I do not believe it serves our national interest."

Plains LPG could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday night. The two pipelines in question, in St. Clair County, are 8 inches in diameter and were built in 1918, according to State Department documents. They were fitted with 5-inch diameter liners during the 1970s, according to Plains officials, who have previously said that they never planned to use the lined pipelines to ship crude oil, and that the request to revise the permit was only a legal formality associated with the ownership change.

The withdrawal comes after the Free Press first revealed the permit request in a story on Feb. 27. At the time, the permit appeared likely to win approval, essentially without a public hearing or an environmental assessment. A 30-day public comment period on the proposal expired Feb. 24 with virtually no comments, and Michigan environmental groups learned of the permit consideration on the day the comment period ended.

As statewide outrage grew over the possibility — and the fact that the public's chance to comment has already passed, largely unnoticed —  Reps. Miller and Dingell, along with Sens. Peters and Debbie Stabenow asked U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to delay plans to decide on Plains LPG's revised permit. The origins of the debate began in in 2014, when Plains LPG was approved permits to operate six pipelines under the St. Clair River and one line under the Detroit River. The initial approval was for the shipment of "light liquid hydrocarbons," similar to what's allowed in Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac.

But Plains LPG officials later provided the State Department with copies of correspondence between the department and Dome -- the pipelines' original owner -- from 1971, in which the company stated it planned to use two of the pipelines under the St. Clair River to transport "crude and other liquid hydrocarbons." The State Department responded and acknowledged the company's plans.

The company later said it never intended to ship crude oil in two of the six pipelines, which cross the U.S.-Canada border, under the St. Clair River, between Marysville and Sarnia, Ontario. Marysville is a major energy hub area along the St. Clair River, where pipelines carrying natural gas, oil and industrial chemicals converge and often continue on into nearby Sarnia, Ontario. It is often referred to as "Chemical Valley," a 15-square-mile area packed with 40% of Canada's petrochemical industry.


By:  Daniel Bethencourt and Keith Matheny
Source: Detroit Free Press