TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. – A new federal regulation requires higher safety standards for pipelines carrying oil and other hazardous liquids through the Great Lakes region, marine coastal waters and beaches, officials said Thursday.
The rule issued by the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration designates those locations as “high consequence” zones where pipeline operators must step up inspections, repairs and other measures to avoid spills.
The agency estimated that 2,905 additional miles (4,675 kilometers) of hazardous liquid pipelines will be covered under the new rule, primarily in states along the Gulf of Mexico.
“The Great Lakes and our coastal waters are natural treasures that deserve our most stringent protections,” said Tristan Brown, the agency's deputy administrator. “This rule strengthens and expands pipeline safety efforts."
Congress ordered the pipeline safety agency last year to include the Great Lakes, coastal beaches and coastal waters among “unusually sensitive areas" meriting extra attention.
“We know a pipeline spill in the Great Lakes would be catastrophic,” said Sen. Gary Peters, a Michigan Democrat who sponsored the provision.
The natural gas and oil industry "is committed to the safe and environmentally responsible operation of U.S. energy infrastructure, and pipelines remain one of the safest ways to deliver affordable, reliable energy," said Robin Rorick, a vice president of the American Petroleum Institute, a trade association. “As our industry works to protect the environment and communities where we live and work, this rule provides the opportunity to further that commitment.”
Large oil releases would severely damage shoreline and underwater environments, fisheries, human health and coastal community economies, the regulation says.
The 53-page document acknowledges there's no way to know how many disasters the new requirements will prevent. But it offers several previous examples of damaging spills in the designated areas.
Among them: last month's release from an oil pipeline in Southern California and a 2010 spill of about 840,000 gallons (3.2 million liters) of crude near Marshall, Michigan, which contaminated nearly 40 miles (64 kilometers) of the Kalamazoo River.
It also notes a 2018 anchor strike that dented Enbridge Energy's Line 5 in Michigan's Straits of Mackinac connecting Lake Huron and Lake Michigan, although it didn't cause an oil leak.
The new rule requires operators to include any pipeline that could affect the designated environments in their safety management programs.
Those procedures include in-line inspections, pressure tests and other methods to measure pipeline integrity, as well as analyses of significant threats such as corrosion.
Environmentalists praised the measure but said they would continue pushing to shut down Enbridge's Line 5, which moves oil between Superior, Wisconsin, and Sarnia, Ontario.
“The aging pipelines in our basin are a risk to our water and way of life,” said Beth Wallace, Great Lakes campaign manager for the National Wildlife Federation.
Enbridge said its integrity management program for Line 5 already meets the new requirements.
“Our goal is to protect the waters of the Great Lakes while safely and reliably delivering affordable energy to Michigan and the region daily,” spokesman Ryan Duffy said.