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Slow down on pipeline

Editorial, Battle Creek Enquirer, May 18, 2012

Replacement plan merits federal review

Enbridge Energy’s plan to replace more than 200 miles of Line 6B may be a lot of things, but it’s not a maintenance project, and it merits a lot more scrutiny that it seems to be getting.

The plan before the Michigan Public Service Commission would more than double the capacity of the pipeline that ruptured near Marshall almost two years ago. We believe such an expansion should prompt far more thorough review of the potential environmental impacts of the project, something that’s not going to happen under the state’s current regulatory framework.

The project that Enbridge announced this month is the second of a two-phase project. Work on the first phase, already approved, will be done this year. A hearing for the second phase is scheduled for June 6 in Lansing, and the company expects the review to take about six months.

That’s too quick for comfort.

The Alberta-based Enbridge is still overseeing the cleanup of Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River, where a ruptured pipeline spilled more than 1.1 million gallons of oil on July 26, 2010. It was the largest inland spill in history, and the cleanup has been long and arduous, owing to the type of crude the pipeline carried.

Whether an economic boon or an environmental threat, tar sands oil is nasty stuff. The crude extracted from oil sands is a viscous goo that is difficult to deliver, difficult to process and difficult to clean up.

For one, it sinks. Submerged oil has been a serious headache for crews working on the Kalamazoo, which is the major reason almost two years later most impacted sections of the river remain closed to public use. The truth is that Enbridge many never recover all of the spilled crude.

What does that tell us? Well, we really don’t know. And that’s sort of the point.

Many who live along the Kalamazoo River have legitimate questions about the long-term health and environmental impacts of the spill, and they deserve answers.

As we stated in an editorial on May 2, the spill on the Kalamazoo River underscored the need for tougher oversight of our oil pipeline network.

A spokesman for the company was quoted by the Associated Press as stating the company wants to replace the pipeline to reduce the number of future maintenance activities to restore the capacity of the line.

We, however, see the replacement of Line 6B as part of an international distribution network designed to move tar sands oil through Michigan to ports for export. We think that calls for federal oversight and permits, including a environmental impact study of the project.

Enbridge is clearly hoping to move quickly on this project. Officials with state of Michigan, which stands to receive nearly $23 million in new tax revenue, may feel a sense of urgency, as well.

But the public also deserves a thorough accounting of the environmental costs and threats, and more confidence that those can be minimized.


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