Lawmakers want to ban maritime transport of crude on Great Lakes

Members of Congress are aiming to ban crude oil shipments on the Great Lakes and strengthen spill-response readiness in the region with two recent pieces of legislation. 

In September, Michigan Democratic Sen. Gary Peters and Sen. Debbie Stabenow introduced the Pipeline Improvement and Preventing Spills (PIPS) Act, a bill that would ban shipping crude oil by vessel on the Great Lakes and would require a comprehensive review of hazardous pipelines.

While no tankers or barges currently ship oil on the Great Lakes, the call for this ban followed an agreement between the state of Michigan and Enbridge, a Calgary-based energy delivery company, that heavy crude oil would not be transported via Line 5, prompting the exploration of alternative transportation methods. 

Indiana-based Calumet Specialty Product, which owns a refinery in Superior, Wis., was also planning to transport oil via Great Lakes tankers up until recently. The $20 million project was scrapped in August because the company was unable to find a customer that would commit.

The PIPS Act has been referred to the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

Several provisions of the PIPS Act are included in another bipartisan bill to reauthorize the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) through 2019. The Securing America’s Future Energy: Protecting our Infrastructure of Pipelines and Enhancing Safety Act (SAFE PIPES Act) aims to improve pipeline safety and oversight, and designates the Great Lakes as a highly sensitive area. 

“After experiencing one of the largest inland oil spills in U.S. history, Michiganders know all too well that a pipeline break can have devastating consequences for our environment and our economy,” said Peters. He was referring to the July 2010 Enbridge pipeline break that dumped more than a million gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River.

“One can only imagine what a disaster it would be for a similar oil spill to occur in the Great Lakes,” he said. 

While the crude oil ban will not be included in the SAFE PIPES Act, several other regulatory provisions are expected to be.
“The SAFE PIPES Act is an important step forward to improve the protection of pipeline river crossings, fill vacant inspector positions and facilitate communication between PHMSA and state agencies,” said Sen. Steve Daines, a Montana Republican. “This is a strong, bipartisan bill that will enhance pipeline safety, promote economic opportunity and help protect our environment.”

The SAFE PIPES Act is expected to include provisions from the PIPS Act that require PHMSA and pipeline operators to consider oil spill response plans for bodies of water that may be partially or entirely covered in ice. It would require the U.S. Coast Guard and other agencies to independently assess the current status of oil spill response and cleanup techniques, specifically requiring plans that address icy conditions. 

The SAFE PIPES Act was approved in December by the Senate Commerce Committee.

By Professional Mariner Staff