Governor Snyder's New Pipeline Safety Advisory Board: Long on Bureaucrats & Special Interests, Short on Technical Talent
Governor Snyder filed Executive Order 2015-12 with the Secretary of State yesterday to create a Michigan Pipeline Safety Advisory Board under the aegis of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. A response to the disastrous 2010 Enbridge Pipeline 6B rupture in Calhoun County and the agitation against Enbridge Pipeline 5, which transects the Straits of Mackinac.
Meanwhile, Attorney General Schuette completed a binding legal agreement with Enbridge to prevent Enbridge Pipeline 5 from being used to transport ‘heavy crude oil’ under the Straits of Mackinac. This agreement formally implements the first recommendation of the Michigan DEQ Petroleum Pipeline Task Force Report released in July to ban heavy crude oil in Line 5. Sounds good, but Enbridge Pipeline 5 does not now have the pumping horsepower for heavy crude transmission, and the weight of the crude has very little to do with pipeline integrity. Corrosive constituents in the crude, biofouling, and a host of other technical issues are far more important determinants of pipeline integrity. This agreement has great optics, but little consequence.
Governor Snyder also announced the 15 members of the new Board. The Executive Order defines the 15 members of the Board:
- The director of the Department of Environmental Quality, or his/her designee from within the Department of Environmental Quality;
- The Attorney General, or his/her designee from within the Department of Attorney General;
- The director of the Department of Natural Resources, or his/her designee from within the Department of Natural Resources;
- The director of the Michigan State Police, or his/her designee from within the Department of State Police;
- The executive director of the Michigan Agency for Energy, or his/her designee from within the Michigan Agency for Energy;
- The chairperson of the Public Service Commission, or his/her designee from within the Public Service Commission;
- An individual representing federal response and recovery agencies, or his/her designee from within that federal response and recovery agency, who shall be appointed by the Governor;
- An individual representing an environmental group who shall be appointed by the Governor;
- An individual representing a statewide conservation group who shall be appointed by the Governor;
- An individual representing pipeline operators who shall be appointed by the Governor;
- An individual representing the oil and gas industry who shall be appointed by the Governor;
- An individual representing public universities who shall be appointed by the Governor;
- An individual representing the hospitality and tourism industry who shall be appointed by the Governor;
- A technical consultant with experience in pipeline operations and safety who shall be appointed by the Governor; and
- An individual representing the public who shall be appointed by the Governor.
- Dan Wyant, director of the Department of Environmental Quality. Wyant will serve as a co-chair.
- Valerie Brader, the executive director of the Michigan Agency of Energy. Brader will serve as a co-chair.
- Bill Schuette, Michigan Attorney General, or his designee.
- Keith Creagh, director of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, or his designee.
- Col. Kriste Kibbey Etue, director of the Michigan State Police has designated Capt. Chris Kelenske, commander of the Michigan State Police, Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division.
- John Quackenbush, chairperson of the Michigan Public Service Commission, or his designee.
- Jerome Popiel, of Avon Lake, OH, assumed duties as Incident Management and Preparedness Advisor, Ninth Coast Guard District, in 2011. He is also co-chair of Regional Response Team (Region 5) and the Joint Response Team for the Canada and U. S. Great Lakes region. He is a 1992 graduate of the U. S. Coast Guard Academy. On behalf of the Rear Admiral June Ryan of the Ninth Coast Guard District, Popiel represents federal response and recovery agencies.
- Jennifer McKay, of Petoskey, is the policy specialist for Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council. She serves on the Emmet County Local Emergency Planning Committee, Northern Michigan Area Committee, Healing Our Waters – Great Lakes Coalition Steering Committee, and the Bay Harbor Regional Stakeholder Group. McKay earned bachelor’s degrees in environmental and political studies from Michigan State University. She represents environmental groups.
- Michael Shriberg, of Ann Arbor, is Great Lakes regional executive director for the National Wildlife Federation. He previously served as education director at Graham Sustainability Institute and worked as a lecturer at the University of Michigan. Shriberg earned a bachelor’s degree from Cornell University, and a master’s degree and Ph.D. in environmental studies from the University of Michigan. He represents statewide conservation groups.
- Brad Shamla, of Eden Prairie, MN, is vice president of U.S. operations at Enbridge Energy Co. and has been with the company for more than two decades. He is a licensed professional engineer and earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Minnesota. He represents pipeline operators.
- Craig Pierson, of Bowling Green, OH, is president of Marathon Pipe Line LLC, where he has served as vice president of operations and as region manager for crude products pipelines in the Gulf Coast, Wyoming, and mid-south. He earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Ohio Northern University. He represents the oil and gas industry.
- Guy Meadows, of Hancock, is director of the Great Lakes Research Center and an adjunct professor in geological and mining engineering and sciences at Michigan Technological University. He earned a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Michigan State University, and a Ph.D. in marine science from Purdue University. He represents public universities
- Christopher (Chris) Shepler, of Harbor Springs, is president of Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry Service. He was appointed to the Citizens National Bank Board of Directors in 2014 and serves on the Mackinaw City Municipality as the chairman of the Downtown Development Authority. He studied economics at Ohio Wesleyan University and geography and marine affairs at the University of Rhode Island. He represents the hospitality and tourism industry.
- Jeffrey Pillon, of East Lansing, is director of Energy Assurance and Midwest Regional Coordinator for National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO). He also served more than 36 years with the MPSC and State Energy Office. He has a special term appointment to Argonne National Laboratory, Infrastructure Assurance Center. Pillon earned a bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University. He represents consultants with experience in pipeline operations and safety.
- Robert (Craig) Hupp, of Grosse Pointe, is a member of Bodman PLC, and has represented clients in commercial, environmental, and local government litigation, specializing in complex, multi-party matters during his more than 32 years of law practice. Hupp earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Virginia, a graduate certificate and law degree from Wayne State University, and a master’s in engineering from the University of New South Wales, Australia. He represents the general public.
A fine, upstanding assemblage of government bureaucrats and the typical special interests orbiting Michigan government to be certain, but the task of this Board is ‘pipeline safety’. Four engineers, but none who practice the actual technical disciplines critical in assessing and ensuring pipeline integrity:
- Computational Fluid Dynamics
- Fracture Mechanics
- Mechanical Testing
- Non Destructive Examination
- Petroleum Chemistry
- Structural Analysis
Technical experts current in these disciplines could actually determine pipeline integrity and recommend best practices to prevent future pipeline ruptures. Instead, the Board has three engineers who haven’t practiced in many years (if ever) and a retired academic engineer whose disciplines have only tangential relevance. The two industry representatives will have some currency in the lexicon of the critical technical disciplines, but the others? Does this give them an unfair advantage? Does this make you feel secure?
The Board does have the authority to establish subsidiary advisory panels which could be staffed by germane technical professionals, but the problem here is that the Board will simply not be able to understand those technical professionals. So they will cherry pick statements and issues from the panels’ outputs which suit their bureaucratic and political agendas. Engineering doesn’t work this way. Every expression of modern engineering has both benefits and dangers. The trick is to maximize the benefits and identify the dangers. Neither can be eliminated, except in the mind of a Luddite. And this Board has its fair share of Luddites. Competent engineering decision makers must have a good grasp of all disciplines involved. Not the case here.
The Board reports to MDEQ, not the Governor, so any subsidiary technical advisory panel is three levels down from the Governor and a world away from our Legislature. Calls to mind the classic social experiment where you line up a bunch of people and have them whisper along, from person to person, some tidbit of information all the way to the end of the line. The distortions which arise are hilarious when it is an experiment; not so funny in real life.
So is this Board anything more than an empty political exercise designed to diffuse responsibility for future pipeline disasters? AG Schuette’s agreement with Enbridge to prevent Enbridge Pipeline 5 from being used to transport ‘heavy crude oil’ under the Straits of Mackinac is a case in point. Embridge could easily blend ‘heavy crude oil’ with the current natural gas liquids (NGL) running through Pipeline 5 and legally devote about half of its capacity to ‘heavy crude oil’. This would expose the pipe steel to much more corrosive constituents and higher pressures; genuine threats to the line’s integrity. So the Straits of Mackinac are no safer today than they were before the agreement, and depend entirely upon the competence of Enbridge. Michigan’s signatories to the agreement – AG Schuette, MDEQ Director Wyant, and DNR Director Creagh – are clueless. But the optics of this agreement are great. A true exemplar of Michigan politics today.
This is what happens when bureaucrats and special interests, working behind the veil of committees, dictate technical issues. The very same situation which makes Michigan’s roads such a hapless issue. This is how the Soviet Union collapsed; the Russian word soviet [сове́т] translates as committee in English. A synonym for Board.