Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) chief and the state’s attorney general will lead a multi-agency government task force that will examine oil and natural gas pipelines.

The Great Lakes Petroleum Pipeline Task Force is to include Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette and DEQ Director Dan Wyant, as well as the Michigan Public Service Commission, Department of Natural Resources, Michigan Office of the Great Lakes, Michigan Department of Transportation and Michigan State Police, Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division.

Wyant said Thursday the task force would take a “close look” at the transmission systems across the state.

Formal oversight for interstate pipelines rests with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. However, “the vast network of lines transporting petroleum products over and under Michigan has the potential to impact Michigan’s environment and communities,” Wyant said.

“We have an obligation to do all we can to protect public health and the environment in Michigan. People around the state have expressed concern about pipelines, and we want to make appropriate information available to the public about the energy infrastructure network beneath our feet. This task force is assembled to respond to those concerns and shed some overdue light on key issues.”

State officials have a “responsibility to practice good stewardship of our lands and waterways, and that includes working aggressively to minimize risk at every turn,” Schuette said. “We’re launching this pro-active effort to safeguard our natural resources by trying to avoid tragedy before it strikes. The task force will serve as an advocate and voice for protecting the health, safety and welfare of Michigan citizens.”

DEQ and the attorney general’s office in May issued a formal inquiry to Enbridge Inc. regarding the status, condition and future of an oil pipeline under the Mackinac Straits. Enbridge also is working with Canada’s Union Gas Ltd. on new gas pipeline capacity to carry about 1.1 Bcf/d through a transportation network that would go north to Ontario’s Dawn hub via border crossings from Michigan and New York (see Daily GPI, April 17).

The inquiry regarding the Mackinac Straits pipeline concerns how Enbridge is prepared to deal with a possible leak from the two oil pipelines, and how it is complying with a 61-year-old easement to construct and operate the pipe. In 2010 an Enbridge pipeline leaked oil into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River, which still is being cleaned up. Michigan Sens. Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow also have called on federal regulators to ensure the safety of the Enbridge system.

The new task force also plans to address the state’s emergency management preparedness for spills; permit issues for pipeline upgrades/replacement; and creating a website to serve as an information clearinghouse for citizens who have questions or concerns about pipelines. The group plans to hold meetings to discuss pipeline safety and hear testimony from industry groups, environmental experts and the public.