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Enbridge response spurs more questions than answers

by Susan Bromley

September 05, 2012

Brandon Twp.- A 2-page letter from Enbridge appears to possibly be a response to a recent township resolution requesting higher standards for the company's planned replacement of a petroleum pipeline here.

However, the letter, dated Aug. 31, does not specifically mention the township resolution and instead defends Enbridge's current design standards and emphasizes that pipeline design and safety is regulated at the federal level, seeming to imply that concerned township officials and residents will have no power over what Enbridge does regarding the pipeline.

"Enbridge disagrees with the assertion that the design of the replacement segments falls short of enhancements that Enbridge committed to on another project crossing the Rocky Mountains in remote areas of Alberta and British Columbia, Canada," the letter, written by Project Director Thomas Hodge, reads. "There is no substance to this claim."

The township board unanimously approved during their Aug. 20 meeting a resolution regarding the Enbridge Line 6B replacement project. The project entails the multi-billion dollar company constructing a replacement petroleum pipeline alongside an existing one from Indiana to Canada, including a 50-mile segment between Stockbridge and Ortonville, 65 miles total in Michigan, with approximately six miles in Brandon Township and three miles in Groveland Township.

Brandon Township officials and residents have voiced concerns about the plan and cited Enbridge's poor record with spills resulting in environmental catastrophes, including the 2010 Marshall disaster in which a ruptured Enbridge pipeline spilled approximately 1 million gallons of crude oil into Talmadge Creek and ultimately the Kalamazoo River.

Brandon Township officials appear to be the only community who requested Enbridge seek consent to move forward with the project within township boundaries. In July, Enbridge sent four representatives and a lawyer to a township meeting, but township officials received vague answers to questions and subsequently drafted and passed the resolution, which acknowledged that Enbridge has reported a need for the replacement of line 6B as the "integrity of the pipeline has undergone numerous testing and significant faults have been discovered with some resulting in leaks and oil spills that have significantly compromised the environment and required millions of dollars to clean up" and also cited Enbridge's work with the Northern Gateway project team "to ensure their project would be built and operated to the highest standards including further enhancements in pipeline design and operations."

The Northern Gateway Project consists of twin pipelines proposed to be installed between the provinces of Alberta and British Colombia in Canada. The project has faced opposition from multiple native groups and has sparked widespread concern about the environment, causing numerous delays in construction. In July, Enbridge sought to allay concerns by offering extra safety measures.

Those enhanced safety standards are what the Brandon Board is seeking here. However, the Enbridge letter asserts that the Northern Gateway Project is not comparable to the Line 6B replacement project due to unique terrain, remote areas and higher operating pressure in Canada. The letter also seeks to assure officials of the safety standards planned for Line 6B, including future internal inspections of the entire pipeline at 5-year intervals (or less), "using the world's most sophisticated instruments. This practice far exceeds federal standards requireing such integrity assessments only through federally designated 'high consequence areas.'"

In the letter, Hodge notes that the federal goverment regulates pipeline safety.

"Enbridge understands the need for local governments and local communities to ask questions about the design standards and safety measures for this pipeline that will operate in their area," he wrote. "However, Enbridge must comply with federal laws that govern the safe construction, operation and maintenance of its interstate common carrier pipeline... As an interstate pipeline, Enbridge is solely regulated by federal pipeline design, construction and safety legislation and regulations."

Hodge concludes by saying that Enbridge is "prepared to meet with local communities and townships at your convenience to discuss these Line 6B projects, and we are available to respond to any questions that you might have about them."

Brandon Township Supervisor Kathy Thurman has questions.

"It looks like they are attempting to respond to our resolution," she said. "I'm sure there are issues I want them to clarify first before I have a discussion with the township attorney."

The next Brandon Township Board meeting is set for 7 p.m., Sept. 17, at the township offices, 395 Mill St.