LANSING — Representatives Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor), Sarah Roberts (D-St. Clair Shores), Gretchen Driskell (D-Saline) and Tom Cochran (D-Mason) introduced a package of bills to call for more state oversight for oil and gas pipelines throughout Michigan. The bills aim to enhance pipeline safety and increase protection for Michigan’s economic and natural resources.
“The Great Lakes and the people of Michigan are irreplaceable,” said Rep. Roberts. “As legislators we know there are things we can do now to increase protection, safety standards, and transparency in order to help prevent a potentially disastrous leak.”
Together, House Bills 5983, 5984, 5985 and 5986 would:
- Require all pipelines comply with Part 5 of the Water Resources Protection Rules of the Michigan Administrative Code
- Require pipelines underneath the Great Lakes to be operated responsibly and to require the DEQ to regularly inspect pipelines located under the Lakes
- Require an owner/operator of a pipeline to prepare and submit to the DEQ an emergency response plan as well as conduct release response drills to practice implementing the emergency response plan in the event of a leak
- Require an owner/operator of a pipeline to immediately notify the DEQ and all impacted property owners if they have knowledge of a leak
- Add state oversight of private oil pipelines and require the MPSC to ensure the siting of a pipelines is not likely to adversely impact public health, safety, or welfare, or the environment
- Require pipeline operators to obtain a permit from the MPSC
- Require an owner/operator of a pipeline to post on the property where the pipeline is located the contact information to notify DEQ in the event of a leak
- Require an owner/operator of a pipeline provide to the MPSC and the DEQ copies of any inspection reports that they are required to file with the US Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration
- Require an owner/operator of a pipeline to immediately notify the MPSC and the DEQ of any warnings or citations from the federal government related to the operation of the pipeline
- Require an owner/operator of pipeline to pay an annual pipeline impact fee to be distributed 50% to the county where the pipeline is located and 50% to the General Fund, to be used to implement the Emergency Management Act and the Fire Prevention Code
- Require the DEQ to give Michigan products and services priority in awarding contracts for the clean-up of leaked crude oil or petroleum
Pipeline safety is a crucial concern as new pipelines have been proposed, and existing pipelines are getting older. Line 5, the 60-year-old submerged pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac, has brought up numerous environmental and economic concerns. The U.S. Coast Guard has stated that it is not adequately equipped or prepared to respond to a major oil spill in the Great Lakes. In its 2013 report, the U.S. Coast Guard Research and Development Center stated numerous limitations in dealing with heavy oil that sinks below the surface.
“During this week when many families get together to give thanks, we too give thanks that Line 5 has not yet leaked. Unfortunately, companies operating pipelines in Michigan have had a history of leaks. Our state cannot afford to let that happen with a pipeline located in such a sensitive area underneath our precious Great Lakes,” said Rep. Irwin. “But we can do more than simply being thankful for our luck so far. We need to step up state oversight to help actively ensure Michigan’s economy and natural resources are protected.”
Earlier this year Governor Snyder announced a multi-agency Petroleum Pipeline Task Force charged with looking at pipelines transporting petroleum products around the state. The group is closed to the public, but it is expected they will share their findings sometime in 2015. However, Governor Snyder, department staff, and other elected officials have claimed there is not much Michigan can do in terms of state oversight, citing federal authority to regulate pipelines.
“While we wait to see what solutions the task force comes up with, there are things the Legislature can do now to strengthen existing Michigan laws without hampering federal oversight,” said Rep. Driskell. “We don’t need a special task force to tell us we need better communication, preparation, and transparency.”
“While the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration oversees pipeline safety, when a spill occurs it is often left up to the community and state to respond,” said Rep. Cochran. “We should be looking at pipeline safety from all angles and doing everything we can to create sound policies to protect human health and our shared resources.”