Issues Of The Environment: Work To Begin On New Pipeline In Washtenaw County

Feb 3, 2016

Tom Shields, president of Marketing Resource Group and spokesperson for Wolverine Pipeline Company.
Credit Marketing Resource Group /

  A new pipeline will be constructed through several Washtenaw County townships this year. In fact, initial work is to begin in a few weeks time. In this week's "Issues of the Environment," we talk with the President of Marketing Resource Group, Tom Shields, who serves as spokesperson for Wolverine Pipeline Company.  


  *   The Michigan Public Services Commission (MPSC) has approved a plan for a pipeline that will traverse several Washtenaw county townships, carrying 90,000 or more barrels of refined petroleum daily.

  *   Although Wolverine Pipeline insists that all of the proper safety and environmental assessments are in place to begin construction in Washtenaw County this spring, many residents who live near the line are not satisfied, and they feel that the 75-foot easement required by the pipeline is excessive and intrusive.

  *   Pittsfield Township has the greatest number of residential landowners who will be affected by the line and easements if they are increased. Next week, Pittsfield Township Supervisor Mandy Grewal will discuss the opposition to the pipeline in her community.

  *   Tom Shields is spokesperson for Wolverine Pipeline Company. He says the pipeline is needed to meet oil demand in Michigan and that it will benefit local communities and the State of Michigan by creating jobs, reducing ground transport of oil by truck or train, providing significant local and state tax revenue, adding millions to the local economy during construction, and minimizing land and environmental impacts (as well as ongoing operating costs) by utilizing shared pipeline locations that are already owned and operated by Wolverine, wherever possible.

The Detroit Metro Access Project

The answers to the following question were provided by Wolverine Pipeline:

What is the Detroit Metro Access Pipeline (DMAP) project?

The project will include the construction of a 35-mile, 16-inch diameter pipeline between Wolverine’s pipeline stations in Freedom Township, Washtenaw County, Michigan, and the City of Romulus, Wayne County, Michigan. Wolverine expects to use its existing easements on a significant portion of the pipeline route. It will utilize available capacity on Wolverine’s existing pipeline system, including pipelines from Blackman Township, Jackson County, Michigan to Freedom Township, Washtenaw County, Michigan and from the City of Romulus to the City of Woodhaven, Michigan in southwest Metropolitan Detroit.

Why is Wolverine proposing a new pipeline?

Wolverine commenced a binding open season to deliver refined petroleum products from refineries and storage areas in Joliet and Lemont, Illinois and Hammond and Whiting, Indiana to Woodhaven, Michigan.  Subject to sufficient commitments from shippers, completion of environmental assessments, and determination of project costs based on competitive bidding, Wolverine will decide whether to proceed with the project. The project will proceed only after obtaining all necessary regulatory permits and approvals.  The project has since met all necessary environmental approvals and will proceed.  Construction in Washtenaw County is scheduled to begin this summer and be completed by the end of 2016.

What is the age of Wolverine’s existing pipeline and how is it maintained? 

Wolverine’s pipeline between Hammond, IN and Freedom Junction, MI was constructed in 1953. The long service life of the line is made possible by careful operating and maintenance procedures designed to preserve the integrity of the pipe, such as:

  *   Operation within safe pressure, temperature and flow rate limits for the pipe;

  *   Cathodic protection—an electrical process that sacrifices buried metal anodes in order to prevent corrosion of the pipe’s external surface;

  *   Damage prevention, public awareness and one-call programs to reduce the risk of accidental damage to the pipeline by landowners and contractors;

  *   Installation and maintenance of line markers to warn against excavation near the pipeline;

  *   Weekly air patrols to inspect surface conditions on and adjacent to the pipeline right-of-way;

  *   In-line inspections conducted every five years using computerized instruments to detect dents, pits and other signs of damage to or problems with the pipeline with follow-up inspection digs and repairs as required; and

  *   Compliance with all requirements of the Federal Pipeline Safety Standards contained in Title 49, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 195.

Is an Environmental Statement/Study required?

Yes.  Wolverine will comply with all applicable laws, regulations, and associated permit and approval requirements. Wolverine will conduct an environmental assessment to determine environmental impacts related to the route and construction of the proposed new pipeline segment.

Will Wolverine be using its existing pipeline segment between Freedom Junction and Detroit Metro for the Detroit Metro Access Project? 

No.  That pipeline segment is currently leased to third party pipeline operating companies under multi-year operating leases.  When possible, utilizing an existing easement/right-of-way minimizes environmental and community impacts.  The new line will be designed to meet or exceed all federal and state safety and regulatory requirements for new pipelines.   This has added to the fears about environmental integrity by residents who live near the pipeline due to the potential for a spill similar to the Kalamazoo River system spill in 2010.

What is the difference between an easement and a Right of Way? 

Easement - A legal right, acquired from a property owner, to use a strip of land for installation, operation and maintenance of a transmission pipeline.

Right‐of‐way (ROW) - A ROW is a string of contiguous properties on which easements have been acquired along which the pipeline operator has rights to construct, operate and maintain a pipeline.

Third-party Leasing

Did Wolverine notify affected governments of the lease of its lines to these third parties?

Wolverine confirmed that the use of the leased pipeline segments for the shipment of crude oil was authorized/allowed by the Michigan Public Service Commission.  However, Wolverine did not attempt to notify all governmental entities.  Wolverine took this approach knowing that each pipeline operator lessee would be installing signage along the pipeline indicating that the lessee was operating the leased pipeline and also that each pipeline lessee/operator is required under DOT regulations to communicate with easement owners and affected governments annually as a part of each lessee’s Public Awareness Program.

Will landowners be notified before surveyors or other Wolverine contractors seek access to the landowner’s property?

Yes.  Act 16 of 1929 requires that Wolverine notify landowners before a surveyor accesses a landowner’s property for purpose of surveying the proposed pipeline route.  Additionally, Wolverine as a matter of practice makes every reasonable effort to notify its landowners before conducting any work on Wolverine’s existing or new pipelines.  The only exception to this practice is when there is an emergency situation, (e.g. third party damage to the pipeline).


Will landowners be paid an additional easement fee, even if the new pipeline is going through an existing Right of Way?

Wolverine views landowners as our neighbors.  We intend to treat each landowner fairly.  However, each landowner agreement is unique and we therefore can’t provide a generalized response for all landowners.  However, Wolverine will review each individual landowner agreement and seek to fairly compensate landowners for new, amended and existing agreements under which Wolverine may have additional pipeline rights.  In all situations, Wolverine will timely restore and compensate landowners for any construction related damages that may occur from our pipeline construction.

Why does Wolverine require the clearing of its easements?

Safety is paramount to Wolverine.  Wolverine’s decisions to clear trees and overhanging branches from its easement areas are in compliance with government recommendations contained in the Pipeline Risk Management Information System (PIPA Report) produced by the National Association of Counties Research Foundation in 2011. 

A clear right-of-way is essential for pipeline integrity and public safety. In the unlikely event that an emergency occurs, that is not the time to be removing trees or obstructions from the right of way (similar to “no parking” lanes near shopping centers). Immediate accessibility is necessary in case of emergencies or accidents. 

Pipeline companies are required by law to inspect their rights-of-way at least 26 times per year. The only practical way to do this is by air.  Trees make it impossible to detect many problems that could potentially occur. Furthermore, trees within the easement make it impossible to respond in a timely manner to a pipeline emergency, putting First Responders, Wolverine’s employees and the public at greater risk.  

Finally, the PIPA report describes several ways that trees and tree roots can damage pipelines. e.g. damage the protective coating on the pipeline, act as a conduit for lighting to reach an underground pipeline, and tree roots encircling and thereby denting the pipeline.

How much land does Wolverine need for the new easement for a second pipeline?

Wolverine has hired Michiana Land Services to obtain a 75-foot wide easement wherever possible to enable future repairs to the pipelines in an efficient manner without impacting the surrounding properties. The determination on width of each easement is dependent on local site conditions, alternative surrounding easement access and each landowner’s situation.  Landowner concerns are taken into consideration to arrive at a mutually acceptable agreement.

A local municipality only used a 10 feet easement to build a sewer line, why can’t Wolverine do the same?

There are significant differences between a public sewer line and a petroleum products pipeline. Small diameter sewer line may not be buried as deeply and larger diameter sewer lines generally have manholes, which enable subsurface, internal access.  Refined petroleum products pipelines do not have manholes.

EDITORS NOTE: (A representative from Ann Arbor’s Sewer Department indicated that they use a formula to determine the width of easement but 30 feet is a minimum.)

The following key considerations help explain why the easement for a petroleum pipeline is usually at least 50 feet wide:

  1.  The trench should be about two feet deeper than the pipe which means a minimum of seven feet;

  2.  To provide a safe work area in the trench requires approximately a six foot flat bottom in the trench;

  3.  The width of the trench will vary depending on soil conditions but at a minimum, OSHA requires a slope to prevent cave ins (or, about twenty-four feet including the six foot flat bottom to the trench);

  4.  To maintain worker safety while in the trench and for safe operation of the excavation equipment, a three foot set back from the edge of the trench is required;

  5.  The equipment used to excavate and lower a pipeline into the trench requires at least a ten foot wide track area adjacent to the three foot setback from the safely sloped pipeline trench;

  6.  An additional ten or more feet adjacent to the excavation equipment track path is needed for temporary accumulation of excavated soil.

In most situations where the easement will contain multiple pipelines, a typical fifty-foot easement is expanded to sixty-six to seventy-five feet to minimize work directly over the other pipeline(s) in the easement.


Is Wolverine’s existing 1953 pipeline segment between Wolverine’s Freedom Junction and Detroit Metro Stations safe?

Prior to leasing Wolverine's pipeline between Romulus, MI and Wolverine's Freedom Junction Station in 2012, Wolverine ran an ultrasonic inspection tool to identify potential pipeline anomalies. Anomalies were investigated and repaired as required by the U.S. Department of Transportation, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration regulations. In addition, numerous anomalies that did not meet the PHMSA threshold for repair were inspected.  Finally, the pipeline was successfully pressure tested with water (hydrostatically tested) to confirm its maximum operating pressure.  This is the same test that is required for new pipelines. It requires the operator to pressurize and hold the pipeline at 125% of the intended maximum operating pressure for at least eight hours.  Accordingly, Wolverine’s 1953 pipe segment that is leased to a third party satisfied all federal or state regulatory safety requirements.

Will this new pipeline carry tar sands? 

No.  Wolverine commenced a binding open season to transport refined petroleum products.  A vital factor that Wolverine will consider to move forward with plans to build a new pipeline is the commitment by a shipper(s) to sign a multi-year contract to ship refined petroleum products.  There are no plans to transport tar sands crude oil in this pipeline.

If there is a leak, how long will it take Wolverine to respond? 

The pipeline is monitored 24 hours a day, 365 days a year at the Wolverine control center in Portage, Michigan. If an anomaly in the pipeline operating parameters is detected at the control center, the pipeline will be shut down to stop product flow and Wolverine personnel will be dispatched to investigate and assess the situation. Wolverine has personnel strategically placed along the system.


With the addition of the pipeline, will there be added value via taxation for local townships?

Yes.  Should the project prove economically feasible, and the proposed 35 mile pipeline be constructed between Wolverine’s Freedom Junction Station and Wolverine’s Detroit Metro Station, new, incremental ad valorem taxes approximately equal to the existing collected taxes will be generated for the Townships through which the pipeline is constructed.  In other words, ad valorem taxes collected annually from Wolverine Pipe Line Company along the pipeline route where the new pipeline is proposed may approximately double.


Where will the center of the easement be located?

The center of the easement can vary with each land parcel. The landowner can call Wolverine or its land services contractor, Michiana Land Services, to obtain the easement information.  A Wolverine employee or contractor will stake the exact location of the pipeline and the boundaries of the easement.

On which side of the existing pipeline will the new pipeline be placed?

This varies with conditions and the final design is subject to further development.

How deep is the existing pipeline and how deep will the new Wolverine pipeline be installed?

The existing pipeline varies in depth between 24-36 inches deep. The new line will be installed at a minimum of 48 inches deep. The depth varies depending upon the terrain and obstacles such as roads and ditches.

Will the new pipeline be a single or double wall line?

The new pipeline will be a single wall line, coated with fusion bonded epoxy coating, the industry standard.  It will be cathodically protected from corrosion and internally inspected in accordance with U.S. Department of Transportation, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration pipeline integrity management requirements (currently every five years).

Where will the valves be located and how far apart will the new valves be located? 

Valve placements are decided during the design of the new pipeline.  Typically valves are located on each side of major rivers.  The design of the pipeline including the placement and installation of valves is regulated by the U.S. Department of Transportation, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).

What will be the pressure of the Detroit Metro Access pipeline?

The proposed pipeline will be designed for a maximum operating pressure of 1460 pounds per square inch(PSI), but will operate at less than 1000 PSI (estimated to about 900 PSI) The new line will be pressure tested to at least 125 percent of its maximum operating pressure (1460 psi x 1.25 = 1825 psi, about twice the planned operating pressure) before being placed in service.

Are there regulations about how far apart two pipelines can be located?

The U.S. Department of Transportation regulations require pipelines to be constructed at least 12 inches from any other structures.  However, to accommodate construction and maintenance of the pipelines, Wolverine will locate the new parallel line approximately 10 feet from the existing line. 

Location in Washtenaw County

While the pipeline will run through agricultural land in much of Washtenaw County, including Lodi, Freedom and Ypsilanti townships, it begins to travel under or near residential areas in Pittsfield.


Pursuant to Michigan Public Act 16 of 1929, public hearings were conducted as a part of the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) pipeline approval process. Theses included Environmental Impact Assessments and testimony (and permitting) from the engineering firm who will dictate construction. On June 17, 2015, Wolverine submitted an application for a pipeline certificate of public convenience and necessity to the MPSC under Act 16 of 1929, (b) a permit from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ).

Other Environmental Impacts from other sources:

An environmental assessment of the entire area covered by the DMAP was conducted by Steve KosterSenior Partner for Environmental Resource Management Inc. He found that alternate routes for the pipeline would pose a greater environmental impact than the proposed route. He also found that not constructing the pipeline would be detrimental due to increased ground transport of oil. He was asked,"are the no action or pipeline alternatives feasible?"  

No. The market demand would be unmet under the no action alternative, and the alternatives to the pipeline of trucking or rail transportation present greater risks and costs (and are not within the capability of Wolverine).


No. In fact, the alternatives pose a greater environmental impact risk. Preliminary comparisons of the alternatives and the corresponding segment of the proposed route have been completed using desktop resources. Table 1 below shows the results of the desktop analysis based on the 75-foot right-of-way. In comparison to the primary Route, the temporary construction corridors for the Alternate Routes are over 30 percent longer in length and in impacted area. The alternate routes also cross more wetlands and streams than the Primary Route and, based on aerial photography review, significantly more wooded areas.

Habitat and Listed Species

Steve Koster stated, “The proposed route crosses a variety of land uses and cover types, including agricultural and forested areas as well as developed commercial, residential, and industrial properties. However, the 75-foot right-of-way coincides with an existing 50-foot pipeline right-of- way. According to preliminary results of field surveys completed thus far, the 75-foot pipeline right-of-way, plus temporary horizontal directional drilling (HDD) work areas, crosses 47 wetlands, 25 streams, 8 ponds, and 1 vegetated agricultural drainage way . Of these, 1 wetland (Wetland 47 North) and 4 stream crossings will be avoided by HDD installation.

The location of the proposed project was also checked against known locations for rare species (Michigan Natural Features Inventory). The state threatened red-shouldered hawk, cup plant, beak grass, goldenseal, and three-awned grass have been known to occur in the vicinity of the proposed project. The special concern bald eagle (protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act) has also been known to occur in the vicinity of the proposed project. Field survey for the cup plant has been completed, and this plant was not identified within the survey corridor. Field surveys for the remaining listed species are planned, and if any are found, appropriate mitigation measures will be implemented. 

Questions to Detroit Metro Access Pipeline (DMAP) Engineer, Dan Cooper:


Yes. In many cases existing easements will allow for construction of the Project. In other cases, Wolverine will seek additional easements to provide a total right-of-way width of 75 feet. Additional temporary workspace easements will be secured as needed for staging.


The 75 feet wide right-of-way will contain both the new and existing pipelines. This width will provide a safe distance between the new and existing pipelines and a safe work area for construction, operation and maintenance purposes. This will provide approximately 35 feet of working space, 10 feet for the trench, and 30 feet for placement of excavated material and topsoil. Large equipment is used to construct a 16-inch pipeline, and maneuvering such equipment safely requires at least the proposed work space. Once constructed, the 75 feet of cleared right-of-way will also provide space for future pipeline maintenance and visibility for aerial patrols, a key component of pipeline continuing surveillance and damage prevention.


Yes.  It is worth noting that the proposed additional 25 feet consumes one half less land than would be required for an entirely separate 50 foot right-of-way in another location. This substantially reduces the impact on landowners, the number of landowners affected, and environmental impacts.  Placing two pipelines in a shared easement improves the efficiency and effectiveness of right-of-way maintenance, surveillance, and damage prevention efforts.


Due to the close proximity of the pipeline to neighborhoods in Pittsfield, residents of the township have the most to lose during the construction and in the event of a spill, and many residents will lose trees and possibly land if the ROW is extended. In May 2015, the Pittsfield Township’s Board of Trustees passed a resolution opposing the pipeline, but the trustees have no authority to block the pipeline.  It appears that the township and individual property owners can request that the pipeline be built in the existing ROW of that certain trees are spared, but Wolverine has no legal compulsion to comply.

Property Values

Tom  Shields denies that pipeline and ROWs decrease property values.  He said often times residents aren't even aware there are pipes near their property or municipality. "There's no history of that at all. Once these are put in the ground, there's no history of impact on property values" Shields said. "The key on this thing is safety, and for safety purposes you need to have a cleared right of way." 

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at 734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at