Flanagan South Pipeline raises concerns, offers benefits to Missouri
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 2, 2013: Lisa Williams was stunned by a 4 o’clock phone call on July 26, 2010: Oil spill on an Enbridge line. Come quick. Williams, a contaminant specialist for Michigan’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, traveled to the incident command post two hours later. Noxious fumes hit her crossing the Kalamazoo River, two miles upstream from the spill.
Many factors made the Michigan spill an environmental catastrophe: Recent rains had flooded the river, depositing some oil high on the banks and carrying the rest quickly downstream; pipeline operators were unresponsive; the pipe ruptured beneath a tributary, where it was less protected than under the Kalamazoo River into which the creek flowed.
Williams’ role started small: protect the wildlife. Instead, she became a reluctant pioneer in the continent’s new oil order. “Ooh, I learned a bunch of things I hope I never need again,” she says.
These lessons are worth remembering as Enbridge Energy, Inc., builds a new pipeline through Missouri. Called Flanagan South, the pipeline will run 600 miles between Pontiac, Ill. and Cushing, Okla. It carries more than twice the capacity of the failed pipeline in Michigan and is twinned beside another Enbridge pipe called Spearhead, 60 years Flanagan’s senior.
Kalamazoo: a cautionary tale
Three years later, the story still stands as a cautionary tale about what can happen when authorities fail to provide adequate supervision and research before a disaster happens.
This oil was different, unlike any crews had worked with before. Western Canadian bitumen is so thick when mined that producers must dilute it with much lighter petroleum products (think Coleman fuel) to flow through pipes, says Kevin O’Connor, an Enbridge spokesperson. The mixture is called dilbit. In water, those chemicals evaporate over time, leaving oil to attach to debris and sink. The oil at Kalamazoo flowed, then sank, for 17 hours before emergency crews hit the scene.
“It wasn't clear to me in the first days, even weeks of the spill,” says Williams. “I didn't hear the word ‘dilbit,’ I didn't hear anyone talk about dilbit or tar sands.”
She was among the first to bring attention to the oil’s behavior. “Our crews were out looking for turtles and fish. Some of the oil had sunk; people hadn't noticed at first. They stepped out of the boat into what looked like a clear stream and oil would come up. I said, ‘I think we've got a problem.’”
Enbridge flew in experts to stabilize and clean the local wildlife, including 3,000 oiled turtles. Amazingly, only about 100 died, Williams says. The company estimates it has recovered 1.15 million gallons of oil from the Kalamazoo River, and the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that “about 180,000 gallons of Line 6B oil (plus or minus 100,000 gallons) remain in the river bottom sediment.”
According to the National Transportation Safety Board accident report, costs of cleanup exceeded $767 million, and about 320 people reported sickness from exposure to the hazardous liquid. In addition to paying for cleanup, the company purchased dozens of homes near the river and its tributary. Three years later, it is still dredging the Kalamazoo River.
The Canadian company says it is learning from past mistakes. “We want to make sure we are a good corporate neighbor,” says Katie Lange, Enbridge’s community relations’ consultant
The newest artery in a major reworking of the continent’s oil system, Flanagan South will carry both dilbit and Bakken oil, millions in tax benefits, and a new discussion of infrastructure responsibility.
Until recently, this pipeline has faced less public scrutiny and opposition than its Transcanada Corp. counterpart, Keystone XL.
The main difference: To cross the boundary between Canada and the United States, Keystone XL needs State Department approval. Flanagan South does not. Both projects, and others like it, aim to transport new North American oil resources to existing refineries.
“Enbridge has one of the largest capital project programs underway in the world, considering all the projects Enbridge has underway in both the U.S. and Canada,” said Jerrid Anderson, project manager for Flanagan South.
The company’s website lists 24 proposed pipeline expansion projects. One doubles its mainline capacity across the U.S. border. Another would carry North Dakota oil. Another, resisted by British Columbia officials, proposes cutting through First Nations territory to access the west coast.
Enbridge was founded 64 years ago, shortly after the first major oil discovery in Alberta’s boreal forest, but transporting dilbit has been economically viable only for about the past decade. Improved technology, combined with newly tapped reserves from the Bakken region in Montana and North Dakota, requires increasing north-to-south capacity.
“Flanagan South is a conduit tying the product to refineries,” Anderson said.
And the product keeps coming. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers forecasts crude oil production to double to 6.74 million barrels a day by 2030. If oil doesn’t come through pipelines, it would still be shipped — by rail or truck, both more dangerous options, according to the Pipeline and Hazardous Safety Materials Administration.
Lange, says the company has a record that deserves to be recognized. “We transport 2.5 million barrels of crude oil per day,” she said. “Also, a national goal in the U.S. is for energy independence, and Flanagan South is part of that nation’s efforts toward that goal.”
Benefits of project
Enbridge estimates that Flanagan South will cost $2.6 billion. Contractors will hire 1,100 people for construction jobs and boost local economies not only through services but also massive tax benefits.
“Just about any business gets to benefit,” says Lowell Brien, vice president of U.S. Pipeline Inc., which will construct the second half of the line.
Sub-contractors for the project will be largely local, he says. The company needs fencing around pipe yards, gravel delivery, truckers and haulers, garbage service and catering service, to name a few.
Enbridge enlisted local Chambers of Commerce to identify lodging, catering, port-a-potties and other services to guide contractors and workers. “You name it,” said a spokesperson for the Macon Area Chamber of Commerce. “They’ve just been very helpful in sharing the information.” She added that several workers and service providers have already inquired about staying in the area, and business owners are ready and excited for new opportunities.
The company estimates that sales tax from all of the services will come close to $25 million along the route in Missouri. Each of its two contractors will hire about 500 people for its sections, with at least 50 percent local laborers. At the construction’s peak, Enbridge estimates 400-700 workers on each of the line’s four spreads.
“We sometimes hear people worried about an attitude almost like the carnival coming into town,” Brien says, and laughs that off. This isn’t a rowdy crowd. “These guys work a minimum of six days a week, usually 10-to-12-hour days. By the time they get off, they’re aren’t going out to party.”
Landowners are wary
The road toward Flanagan South has been long: two years of surveys, land negotiation and government permitting versus an estimated one year of construction. The company has had mixed reviews in the past, but with more open houses and generous compensation, many landowners — but not all — feel their concerns have been addressed.
Most of the 2,000 landowners who live along the Flanagan South have lived with Enbridge for a decade, since the company bought Spearhead and reversed its flow to run north-to-south. Oil has quietly pumped beneath the region even longer, since 1952. Red warning poles, 50-foot clearings and a biweekly flyover plane are the few signs the pipeline exists.
That is, until May 2012 when Enbridge land agents arrived with new right-of-way contracts and checkbooks in hand. They originally didn’t cover crop loss compensation, repairs to the farmland or protection from further development. In mid-Missouri, where farmland sells for up to $11,000 an acre, a 50-foot easement over each pipe was no small request. Farmers refused to sign immediately.
Last fall, Neal Bredehoeft, a Lafayette County farmer and former president of the American Soybean Association, gathered his neighbors whose property enveloped the Spearhead Pipeline. Jack Harvey, a retired Army Reserve lieutenant colonel and former Marshall Parks and Recreation director, organized Saline County. The group, about 40 landowners, gathered against behavior that their lawyer cited, “at best, vague, and at worst, deceptive.” Too-tight deadlines, bad information, and threatening language were chief complaints.
“If that’s what we’re getting from the head offices, then what can we expect when the tire hits the pavement here on our properties?” Harvey asked.
In his case, tires will hit 150 feet from his front window. Like many century farm owners along the route, Harvey says his concern for the land is more personal than economic. This is where he planted trees for a 4-H project, collected arrowheads near the creeks, and wondered at the Old Santa Fe trail tracks, once visible from his parents’ porch. This legal ordeal was about protecting the land’s dignity.
That’s not to say Harvey wants to dampen progress. He sees Canadian heavy crude as a positive alternative to oil from the Middle East. “We need that to reduce our dependence on foreign oil,” he says. “So in the big picture of things, it could be a benefit to all Americans.”
Bredehoeft agreed. “We’re not trying to stop the pipeline from coming through,” he says. “We are trying to make sure we can live with it after it does come through.”
Despite at least one eminent domain case here, Missouri was the first state where all landowners signed on with Flanagan South. In other states, the company is still waiting on 5 percent of the property owners to complete negotiation.
Safety and inspection
To relieve concerns, Enbridge held informational open houses for landowners along the line in 2012 and three more for the general public this July. Dozens attended the open house in Archie, Mo., and at least 20 Enbridge project managers answered questions about safety, construction, land restoration, and the environment.
“They’ve been a good company to work with so far,” said Jim Arnold, who owns land near the Kansas border. “They’ve always maintained everything really well.” He and his wife signed right away. “They initially paid some amount and came back and paid more,” he said. “It was something about the land being more valuable than they thought.”
The choice to agree to easements was simple for many landowners. Enbridge calculates compensation based on fair market value for the land they use and agrees to repair agricultural features. Most visitors at the open house echoed Arnold, saying the company has acted professionally, even attentively, to address their needs.
Outside the open house, however, a small group of protestors held up posters of the ExxonMobil’s Pegasus pipeline spill in Mayflower, Ark. In one image, oil streams between houses into a cul-de-sac. In another, a person in a yellow hazmat suit works knee-deep in black sludge. In the sweltering summer heat, volunteers gave fliers to passersby.
One of the leaders of local opposition is Danny Ferguson, an Adrian city councilman. After seeing coverage of the Pegasus failure, he became concerned about Flanagan South. The Enbridge pipeline crosses Adrian’s water supply district mains about 14 times, he says. Ferguson would like his city to have a spill response plan in hand or on file with local emergency responders.
Enbridge has declined to make its spill response plan available. “The plan itself is not a publicly available document,” said O’Connor. “You’d have to have a plan in context with specifics with what’s in the line.” He says operators use the document, and an operations team manages it.
Although Enbridge must submit a response plan to the Pipeline and Hazardous Safety Materials Administration, it may operate Flanagan South for two years before the administration reviews and approves the plan.
Pipeline companies organize annual local emergency responder trainings, and Enbridge will train counties and municipalities near Flanagan South before operation begins, Lange said. Enbridge also offers a free online training program for emergency responders that covers pipeline operation basics, hazards associated with pipeline products, and emergency response tactics.
Ferguson attended an annual training and said it did not address heavy crude spills in valuable detail. He continues to educate his neighbors on the nature of tar sands oil and Enbridge’s spill history. “I’d like to slow them down if I can, at least,” he said. “My main goal is to have the community and the oil company talk about the risk that they’re putting us at.”
To prevent possible spills, Enbridge performs “regular internal inspections using state-of-the-art technology” to test pipeline integrity, Lange says. ;If anomalies are detected, crews will perform maintenance or an integrity dig, something that might have kept the pipeline from Kalamazoo from failing.
Monitoring equipment for its pipelines are located in the Enbridge control center, located in Edmonton, Canada. “Multiple on-site detectors and transmitters are employed to promptly initiate shutdown and isolation, if necessary, from the Edmonton control center,” she said. “This can happen within minutes.”
Government support, responsibility
Unlike natural gas transporters, oil pipeline companies have relatively little oversight during construction.
Enbridge builds to federal safety requirements, but when it comes to construction, “For the whole of the project, there is no federal permit that needs to be issued,” Lange said.
She said that the lead agencies for Flanagan South are the Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“For the Corps, the federal authority or jurisdiction is limited to waters in the U.S.,” explains Mark Frazier, chief of the regulatory division in the Army Corps of Engineers Kansas City district. “In areas upland, then the responsibility falls on Enbridge to consult to Fish and Wildlife directly.”
Each of the four Corps districts involved in the project is processing the Nationwide 12 permit, a system common for utility lines. This involves the same rigorous survey work as an environmental impact statement, but doesn’t allow for public comment. The agency doesn't require onsite monitoring during the construction phase, but it does require photographic evidence that water crossing has been completed or restored.
On Friday, the Great Rivers Environmental Law Center filed suit in federal district court in Washington, D.C., against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over the Corps’ failure to release any information on the proposed Flanagan South pipeline.
Endangered species impacts
For endangered species affected by the construction, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Missouri Department of Conservation play advisory roles. The most important species at stake are the Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis), which roosts under shaggy tree bark near the Mississippi River; the American burying beetle (Nicrophorus americanus), a carrion-loving insect that lives in Kansas and Oklahoma; and the Missouri-listed Wastern Massasauga rattlesnake whose river-bottom habitat has largely been lost to farmland.
“50 feet by 200 miles, you’re talking a lot of habitat,” says Sybill Amelon, a bat ecologist with the U.S. Forestry Service. “But in the big, big picture, other things are a lot worse.”
Enbridge is timing its construction to minimize impact to bat roosting and snake denning. Its environmental analyst relays environmental permitting conditions and requirements to construction groups.
Beyond endangered species, that leaves the states to regulate new pipeline construction. Only Illinois has a statewide approval system for oil pipelines. Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma do not.
Under the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, Enbridge must comply with cultural resource requirements, land disturbance permits for the pipeyards and pipeline, hydrostatic testing permits, and a water quality certification.
Land disturbance permits dictate that an Enbridge environmental specialist inspect its site every seven days. Inspection reports are supposed to be kept on site. The DNR also has authority to conduct unannounced inspections of a site, yet a department spokesperson couldn't say how often those inspections might occur.
Stronger laws in other states help make up for the federal government’s lack of new pipeline oversight. Wisconsin, for instance, mandates that a company pay for independent environmental monitors who report to regulators. Missouri has no such practice. Its regional environmental specialists have numerous responsibilities in addition to monitoring Enbridge, so it relies largely on the permits’ threats of revocation to ensure compliance.
As Flanagan South stretches west a mile each day, farmers and community leaders will be watching. "There's strength in numbers," Harvey says. He believes that efforts like his own have helped Enbridge see the value in respecting their neighbors and hopes that the contractors follow the permit.
"The proof is going to be in the pudding when the project's complete," he says. "That's going to tell you if they're legitimate and sincere about doing the right thing."
Flanagan South by the Numbers
592.7 miles: Length of the pipeline from Flanagan, Ill. to Cushing, Okla.
36 inches: Diameter of Flanagan South.
½ - ¾ inches: Pipeline’s wall thickness.
600,000 barrels per day: initial capacity of Flanagan South
2 years: Time Enbridge took to plan this project
1 year: Time Enbridge expects to complete construction
2,000: Approximate number of streams the pipeline will cross.
2,000: Approximate nmber of individual properties the pipeline will cross.
19.6 million gallons: Anticipated quantity of water discharged into the North Fork Salt River during hydrostatic testing. The lowest testing quantity in Missouri is 7.32 million gallons in the Chariton River.
Taxes and investment
$2.6 billion: Enbridge’s investment in Flanagan South.
$25 million: The company’s estimate of sales tax from services in Missouri.
$8.7 million: The company’s estimate of tax benefits during the construction phase in Missouri, based on state formulas for equipment on the ground.
$2.4 million: Estimated Missouri tax revenue Flanagan South will generate once in operation. The rate is assessed by the Missouri State Tax Commission.
$1.04 million: Taxes Enbridge currently pays for the Spearhead pipeline.
1,100: total construction jobs to build Flanagan South
400: minimum number of local jobs, based on contractors’ hiring agreements with local unions
2: permanent jobs created in Missouri, one for each pumping station
$22-80: hourly wage range for a pipeline construction worker, hired through local laborers, operators/oilers, teamsters, and welders/helpers/journeymen unions.
Tina Casagrand is a recent graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism. She received funding for this article from the Enterprise Journalism Fund of the Press Club of Metropolitan St. Louis. Applicants and donors can learn more about the fund at stlpressclub.org.