Bill Would Keep Pipeline Info Secret
LANSING, MI—Pipeline inspection, safety and other records would be blocked from public access under a sweeping new bill introduced in Michigan.
Legislators in the home state of the U.S.'s largest inland oil spill are weighing House Bill 4540, which would exceed federal rules governing pipeline record disclosures.
Rep. Kurt Heise (R-Plymouth) called the measure necessary for national security.
Environmental groups called it a "sweetheart bill" for Canadian oil giant Enbridge Inc., whose Line 6B rupture dumped 1.1 million gallons of heavy crude into Michigan's waterways in July 2010.
The spill launched a four-year, billion-dollar cleanup and closed 35 miles of the Kalamazoo River for two years.
Curtailing Freedom of Information
Heise's bill, introduced Tuesday (May 5), would amend Michigan's Freedom of Information Act to exempt virtually all oil and natural-gas pipeline information from public disclosure.
That includes "critical energy infrastructure information" that "relates details about the production, generation, transportation, transmission or distribution of fuel or energy"—information that "could be useful to a person in planning an attack on critical energy infrastructure."
The bill would allow disclosure of only "the general location" of crude oil, petroleum, electriciity and natural-gas assets.
State Rep. Kurt Heise (R-Plymouth) said his bill would protect pipelines from "people who may have ill intent."
Governments and first responders would be given access to information they need, and the bill would still allow for FOIA appeals, Heise said.
“We do not want people who may have ill intent to be able to locate the exact location of underground utilities, the pumps and surface machinery that may exist with those underground utilities, so they are protected from harm,” Heise told the newspaper.
The anti-terrorism bill is similar to disclosure exemptions built into the Homeland Security Act shortly after the September 11 attacks, the Detroit Free Press reported.
The bill coincides with a statewide review of pipeline safety. The review by state authorities will include Enbridge’s 62-year-old Line 5 pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac.
In a statement emailed late Thursday (May 7), Enbridge spokesman Jason Manshum said the company was "among a number of energy entities" that "are joining state police and regulators in supporting the bill, which would keep sensitive information out of the hands of bad actors who may seek to harm Michigan and its citizens."
"Like federal law, the proposed legislation would continue to ensure that key information needed by certain public bodies is available to enable them to perform their duties," Manshum said.
Environmentalists say the Heise bill is the result of intensive recent lobbying by Enbridge. A 2014 report by a University of Michigan scientist said a rupture in the twin Line 5 pipelines could be catastrophic to the Great Lakes.
Enbridge has five wholly owned or operated pipelines that travel through Michigan, including its 62-year-old twin Line 5 network.
The state review is being conducted by an ad-hoc group formed last June called the Michigan Petroleum Pipeline Task Force.
In a joint release Tuesday, the Sierra Club, Clean Water Action and FLOW (For Love of Water) said the task force review had been conducted behind closed doors, influenced by Enbridge and with "most documents secret."
With the Heise bill, “Enbridge wants a blanket exemption from disclosing critical pipeline safety records, and that’s not acceptable,” said Liz Kirkwood, executive director of FLOW. "... We need to know more, not less, about the safety of Enbridge’s pipelines and all pipelines in Michigan.”
“Pipelines leak, and as we saw in Kalamazoo [pictured], when there’s a breach, it can be catastrophic," said David Holtz, of the Sierra Club.
David Holtz, who chairs the Michigan chapter of the Sierra Club, also called for more transparency about pipeline data.
“Pipelines leak, and as we saw in Kalamazoo, when there’s a breach, it can be catastrophic," he said.
"Yet, Enbridge refuses to release any documents related to pipeline inspections and now wants the State of Michigan to sanction that secrecy.”
Editor's Note: This article was updated at 8:36 a.m. ET May 8 to add a statement by Enbridge Inc.