Monday, April 30, 2012

NWF Says Oil Pipeline Laws Don't Protect The Great Lakes

Apr 30: Nearly two years after one of the worst oil spills in Midwest history (i.e. the Enbridge Marshall Spill to Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River), a new legal analysis by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) reveals that laws governing oil pipelines do not adequately protect the Great Lakes and its communities from oil pollution -- and that states have not passed their own laws to fill in the gaps. Sara Gosman, water resources attorney for the NWF's Great Lakes office and lecturer at the University of Michigan Law School said, "Current laws leave the door open to future oil spills. Contrary to common perception, oil spills are an ongoing problem in the region. Federal and state laws should do more to prevent spills and protect our communities, economy and wildlife."
    NWF notes that pipeline spills in the Midwest are not an anomaly -- "they occur frequently and result in significant damage." The Great Lakes states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin contain 26,972 miles of hazardous liquid pipelines, according to the Department of Transportation, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. NWF indicates that hazardous liquid pipelines primarily carry petroleum and petroleum products, as opposed to gas pipelines which primarily carry natural gas. There were 277 hazardous liquid pipeline accidents in the region between 2007-2011, which spilled more than 3.8 million gallons of these liquids into the environment, resulting in more than $893 million dollars of property damage, according to the agency.
    Nick Schroeck, executive director of the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center said, "Pipeline safety is a problem that has remained under the radar for far too long. Increasing public disclosure and strengthening environmental protection is long overdue." The new report -- written by NWF's Gosman and University of Michigan Law School students -- analyzes pipeline safety laws from beginning to end: from siting and routing of pipelines; to how pipelines are maintained and repaired once they are in the ground; and finally to how operators must plan for and report spills if they happen.
    Nick Schroeck, executive director of the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center said the report, After the Marshall Spill: Oil Pipelines in the Great Lakes Region, A Legal Analysis, exposes gaps in laws that leave communities vulnerable to future oil pollution. The report finds: There is no federal review of the long-term risks associated with routing of new oil pipelines or consideration of impacts to entire watersheds such as the Great Lakes basin; The Federal Integrity Management program, which requires operators to assess the condition of existing lines, install leak detection systems, and repair defects on a set timeline, only protects some environmentally sensitive areas; and, Spill response planning may not be adequate because oversight is divided between federal agencies. Further, the report finds that Great Lakes states have done little, if anything, to improve pipeline safety. Many states have ignored the issue, while other states have imposed minimal requirements. Moreover, public involvement in federal pipeline regulation is limited, as is public access to information. 
    The report recommends several policy changes at the state and federal level to prevent future oil spills in the Great Lakes region, including: Pipeline laws should consider the effects of oil pipelines on the Great Lakes basin as a whole and should protect all areas that are environmentally sensitive to oil pollution; Pipeline information should be publicly available, consistent with national security interests; and, States should regulate intrastate pipelines and participate in the oversight and inspection of interstate pipelines.
    [WIMS notes that Congress recently passed and the President signed the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty, and Job Creation Act of 2011 (H.R.2845) [See WIMS 1/12/12] on January 3, 2012, as Public Law No: 112-90. The NWF report discusses some of the provisions and the effects].
    Access an overview, maps, the complete 20-page report and related information (click here). Access PL 112-90 (click here).
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