Here are two developments that, taken together, should give Michiganders pause:
•Michigan reached a $75 million settlement with Enbridge Energy, the company responsible for oil spill into Talmage Creek and the Kalamazoo River in 2010. More than 800,000 gallons of crude oil from the Canadian tar sands poured out, damaging 35 miles of river and 4,435 acres of shoreline. Most of that money reimburses the state for funds already spent on cleanup, but environmental advocates questioned whether the figure is nearly enough to assure restoration of habitat and protection of wildlife.
•State lawmakers are considering a bill to make location and condition of energy pipelines secret. This is supposed to be in the name of national security, but critics quickly pointed out that inspection records and other reports of the quality of the pipelines would also be locked away from the eyes of concerned citizens and journalists, shielded by an exemption to the Michigan Freedom of Information Act. That does not bode well.
The Enbridge spill is instructive in considering the pipeline secrecy bill. The largest inland spill in the nation’s history, it prompted a federal investigation which determined that the company had identified the cracks and corrosion in Pipeline 6B five years before the spill occurred, but had not taken steps to address them.
That report also showed that workers on duty during the spill failed to take steps that might have stopped it sooner, leading one federal official to describe it as “a complete breakdown of safety” and note that workers failed to shut the line down for 17 hours, despite alarms and loss of pressure in the line.
And, of course, Michiganders have subsequently learned that a 62-year-old Enbridge-owned pipeline is underneath the Straits of Mackinac. A study already had predicted the vast impact a leak there could potentially cause.
State officials are reviewing pipeline safety across the state. They should not do so in secret.
The nation cannot hide the location of refineries or train tracks or other facilities and infrastructure that could similarly be a target. Just as it cannot hide the locations of sports stadiums, movie theaters or shopping malls. Hiding the records of pipelines makes it less likely that citizens can protect themselves or raise an alarm when necessary. The records of underground lines should be transparent.