Senators want higher liability for Great Lakes oil spills

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — Michigan’s U.S. senators want the Department of Transportation to make sure oil pipelines crossing underneath the Great Lakes are treated as “offshore” and not “onshore” to ensure the owners will have to pay the full cost of a cleanup if there is a spill.

Sens. Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow, both Democrats, sent U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx a letter on Tuesday urging him to make sure underwater pipeline segments in and around the Great Lakes are classified as separate “offshore” facilities.

The senators wrote the finding has “significant consequence,” because under the Oil Pollution Act the liability for cleanup costs for owners or operators of onshore facilities are capped at $634 million, “whereas companies operating pipelines classified as offshore facilities are required to demonstrate they have sufficient resources to pay for all cleanup costs.”

The pipeline belongs to Enbridge, based in Calgary, Alberta, and runs from Wisconsin to Ontario, Canada, including the Straits of Mackinac, which connect Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. Line 5 transports 23 million gallons of crude oil and liquid natural gas daily.

Enbridge was responsible for one of the largest inland oil spills in U.S. history, when in 2010, more than 800,000 gallons of oil poured out of a ruptured line in southwestern Michigan, spoiling the Kalamazoo River and tributaries. Total cleanup cost more than $1.2 billion.

Enbridge’s estimated cleanup for a spill from Line 5 reaches $1 billion if the break were to happen in the winter, when the straits are iced-over.

Peters told The Grand Rapids Press ( ) that the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration should be able to change the classification of the pipeline to offshore on its own, but said he’s prepared to insert language requiring the reclassification if the agency’s 2016 reauthorization bill comes back to the Senate.

“We’re asking them to get it done,” he said. “Legislation takes time.”

Artealia Gilliard, a spokeswoman for the PHMSA, told the newspaper in an email that the administration had received the letter from Peters and Stabenow and “will respond directly to the Senators.”


Information from: The Grand Rapids Press,

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