THE U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT LOOKS set to approve a change of use for two pipelines taking hydrocarbons into Canada under the St. Clair River south of Lake Huron. At first sight, these eight-inch pipelines look unremarkable among the many cross-border pipelines that the U.S. government has previously approved. But the decision would alter their use from carrying relatively easy-to-clean NGLs to crude oil. The pipelines, it’s worth mentioning, were built during the First World War. Pigs cannot travel along these ancient pipelines and being under the river makes inspecting them almost impossible.
The U.S. State Department, which has jurisdiction over cross-border pipelines, pushed the permit consideration through the Federal Register, bypassing public hearings and environmental assessments. Houston-based Plains LPG Services is confident it will get the green light on the project, but green groups are outraged by what an oil pipeline spill might do to the Great Lakes.
In 2014, the government gave Plains LPG permission to operate the two pipelines— as well as four others under the St. Clair River and one under the Detroit River—following their acquisition from Dome Petroleum. The government approved Plains’s request to transport light liquid hydrocarbons, but the firm then applied for the two pipelines, built in 1918, to carry crude instead.