Grand Rapids Press: Bill would ban Great Lakes crude oil shipping, boost federal pipeline scrutiny

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Michigan's two Democratic U.S. senators have introduced federal legislation to ban shipping crude oil by vessel on the Great Lakes and add the basin to a "high risk" regulatory category with greater safety thresholds for oil pipelines.

The Pipeline Improvement and Preventing Spills Act — "a top-to-bottom review of hazardous pipelines in the region" — was introduced Sept. 23 in the U.S. Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, on which Sen. Gary Peters, (D-Bloomfield Hills), sits.

"This common-sense legislation will help us prevent an oil spill in the Great Lakes, whether it's a tanker accident or a pipeline leak in the Straits of Mackinac," he said.

The senators said the bill would assess the current status of oil spill response and cleanup plans, require ice cover be considered in worst-case scenario planning, and increase availability of pipeline safety data to the public and state regulators.

It would also mandate federal studies on risk to the Great Lakes posed by pipelines like the controversial Enbridge Line 5 under the Straits of Mackinac, where the U.S. Coast Guard is leading a full-scale oil spill exercise this week.

The bill would also expand the federal Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) criteria for "high consequence" areas and put the Great Lakes under that new umbrella.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow says Michigan should do more to regulate the Enbridge oil pipeline under the Mackinac straits during an Aug. 12, 2015 stop in Grand Rapids.
"We are now creating a higher threshold for how we view pipeline safety underwater by putting us in a whole new category," said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, (D-Lansing).

The bill would retroactively apply to older pipelines like Line 5, which is 62 years old.

Environmental groups began raising public awareness of the aging pipeline under the Mackinac straits after the 2010 Enbridge oil spill in the Kalamazoo River.

The legislation would require the Coast Guard and other agencies to independently assess the current status of oil spill response and cleanup activities and techniques, but would not mandate specific oil recovery goals, Peters said.

The bill comes as the Senate Commerce Committee begins discussing the reauthorization of PHMSA under The Pipeline Safety Act (PSA) this month. At the two senators' urging, the new PHMSA director, Marie Therese Dominguez, will attend the Mackinac spill drill this week.

"It's my hope that as we debate the PHMSA bill in the next few weeks... that you will see as much of this bill as possible in that reauthorization," said Peters.

Stabenow said the bill would help Michigan take a greater hand in pipeline oversight. The state has been considering whether to increase oil pipeline regulation this year. In July, the Department of Environmental Quality and the Attorney General's office jointly issued a task force report calling for a third-party risk assessment of Line 5 and study of line alternatives.

By:  Garret Ellison
Source: Grand Rapids Press