LANSING, MI—A federal permit decision allowing a controversial decades-old pipeline to operate in Michigan while bypassing scrutiny under a federal environmental law is being challenged in federal court by the Sierra Club, the organization announced today.
The Sierra Club filed suit today against the U.S. Forest Service to block a federal permit required to operate the controversial Enbridge Line 5 pipeline, which travels through Michigan from Superior, WI to Sarnia, Ontario. A small leak in the pipeline along an Upper Peninsula stretch was the focus of recent attention and points to the potential threat posed by a 60-year-old pipeline that has never been subject to rigorous environmental review. The pipeline travels through the Huron-Manistee National Forest, requiring a permit from the forest service.
“We want the court to simply require the Forest Service to use the same standards for environmental analysis as for any other project of this type and magnitude,” said Anne Woiwode, Conservation Director of the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter. “It is indefensible for the federal government to say that no environmental analysis is needed for a pipeline carrying a half-million barrels of oil a day across the Great Lakes, through a national forest , and under numerous sensitive areas.”
The pipeline carries oil from Wisconsin to Ontario, crossing under sensitive areas near the Au Sable River and under the Mackinac Straits. The Forest Service issued a permit in December, using an administrative procedure in an attempt to bypass more stringent study and analysis typically required under the federal National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Bay City, is the first legal challenge to the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline along its entire length (nearly 1,100 miles), and the only formal request for an environmental analysis under NEPA. The pipeline has been in operation since 1953, and has never undergone federal environmental analysis. It has operated across Forest Service lands without a valid permit since January 2013.
Charlie Weaver, a Sierra Club member and professional river guide on the Au Sable, said he believes the Forest Service needs to study the potential impacts of the pipeline before granting a new permit.
“It’s hard to fathom the reasoning which allows an oil pipeline under a river like the Au Sable without any studies regarding the safety of the pipeline or what the effects of a rupture would be on the river,” said Weaver.
Thomas Buhr is a Sierra Club leader who lives in close proximity to the pipeline and the Au Sable River.
“The Au Sable River is a crown jewel of cold water streams not just in Michigan, but the country,” said Buhr. “An oil spill of any type would be a sin. Let’s use an ounce of prevention because the pound of cure would be costly with no guarantee of success.”
The Sierra Club is represented by noted environmental attorney Marianne Dugan. Ms. Dugan represented the Sierra Club in its successful suit to stop oil drilling near the Mason Tract area of the Au Sable. Ms. Dugan has litigated issues in this field for over 20 years.
“I’m a little amazed that regulators and the industry are repeatedly so cavalier about allowing industrial petroleum activity so close to a river like the Au Sable,” said Dugan.
Enbridge, a Canadian Limited Partnership, is one of the largest petroleum pipeline companies in the world. It is also the owner of Line 6B, which gushed almost a million gallons from a pipeline leak into the Kalamazoo River watershed in southwest Michigan in 2010. This was the largest inland oil spill in Midwest U.S. history, and is already the costliest onshore spill cleanup in U.S. history, with cleanup efforts still underway. Using data from Enbridge’s own reports, the Polaris Institute has calculated that 804 spills occurred on Enbridge pipelines between 1999 and 2010, releasing about 161,000 barrels (25,000 cubic meters) of crude oil into the environment.