Landowners Suing Enbridge & Charcoal Grill vs. Gas

  • Neal Fisher only uses charcoal for his summer grilling (Photo by Jennifer Guerra)

Enbridge Energy plans to build a bigger oil pipeline across the state. The company says, not only will it be bigger and move more oil. They say it will also be safer than the line that broke in 2010.

The Michigan Public Service Commission approved the first phase of the project last May, but some landowners have sued. They say they weren’t properly notified that the construction work could force them to give up more land. And that Enbridge could remove more trees.


Enbridge asked the Court of Appeals to drop that lawsuit, but this week, the court denied that request, and the case will go forward.

Katy Bodenmiller owns land with an easement for the oil pipeline.

She’s not a plaintiff in the lawsuit, but Bodenmiller says the court’s decision to let the case go forward feels like a small victory.

“I think at the very least in the absence of leadership on this issue in this state from our public officials, this suit can perhaps force Enbridge to answer some questions that they have up to this point been able to side step,” said Bodenmiller.

The lawyer representing the landowners in the case, Gary Field, says the court’s decision will give homeowners an opportunity to have their say.

An Enbridge spokesman says this case might not be decided until sometime next year. In the meantime, they’re moving forward with construction.

They say details of the project were laid out in their application to the Michigan Public Service Commission.

(Editor’s note: This story was originally published in July 2009)

Neal Fisher thinks he’s an environmentally friendly kind of guy. He and his wife recycle, they use compact fluorescent light bulbs in the house, they walk most places and hardly ever use their car.

But when it comes to outdoor grilling… it’s charcoal all the way.

“It may be a little decadent when you’re taking the environment into consideration, but I do it.”

On tonight’s menu, it’s burgers, Jamaican jerk chicken, onions, and asparagus. Everything is grilled on basic, 22 ½ inch Weber kettle.

“Nothing fancy, no frills,” says Fisher.

To get the fire started, Fisher throws about 7 or 8 pounds of hardwood lump charcoal into a chimney starter.

“I don’t use the lighter fluid, I just use the charcoal chimney. I figure if I’m going to be cooking wood, I don’t want to cook a lot of chemicals too. So that’s something. I don’t kid myself that this is at all healthy for the world,” says Fisher. “

[asset-pullquotes[{“quote”: “%22I%20sometimes%20joke%20about%20it%2C%20too%2C%20well%20there%20goes%20my%20carbon%20footprint.%20Suddenly%20I%27m%20carbon%20Sasquatch.%22”, “style”: “inset”}]]

To find out if Fisher really is a carbon Sasquatch, I called up Eric Johnson in Switzerland.

“Basically the footprint of using charcoal is about 3 times higher than the footprint of gas,” says Johnson.

Johnson published a study in the journal Environmental Impact Assessment Review. In it, he compared the carbon dioxide emissions – or carbon footprint – of the two most popular types of grills: charcoal and propane gas.

When it comes to straight up carbon emissions – gas grills win hands down. Run your gas grill for an hour; emit 5.6 pounds of carbon dioxide into the air. Use charcoal briquettes for an hour of grilling; emit a whopping 11 pounds of CO2.

Fair enough.

But what if we look at the total carbon cycle of propane gas, a fossil fuel and charcoal, which is a bio fuel?

For that answer, we’ll turn to Bill Currie. He’s a professor in the School of Natural Resources at the University of Michigan.

“You have to think about, can we replace the carbon back in the pool that charcoal came from? Can we replace it biologically over a reasonable period of time? And with charcoal, the answer is yes, we can re-grow those trees,” says Currie.

That’s because charcoal is made out of wood, which is a renewable energy source. So if charcoal is harvested locally in a sustainable way, the re-grown trees can absorb the CO2 – which makes charcoal essentially carbon neutral. So charcoal made out of wood which is renewable. Propane gas on the other hand is made from oil. Not renewable.

“Fuels that are based on coal, oil, petroleum based fuel, it’s not possible to put that CO2 back where it was biologically in a reasonable amount of time. And that’s the big difference,” says Currie.

But does any of this really matter? I mean, how important is grilling in the overall environmental scheme of things. Well Currie says it’s definitely not a big-ticket item like, say, the size of your house or the number of cars you have.

“It’s probably a small factor in the whole analysis. But at the same time, we make dozens or hundreds of these choices a day. And if we know that one alternative is better than another, these little things do matter because they add up,” says Currie.

Enbridge and the Kalamazoo River: Two Years After the Spill

  • Enbridge building in Edmonton, Alberta. (Photo by user Kyle1278 / Wikimedia Commons)

It's been two years since a busted pipeline spilled more than 800,000 gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River. 

Michigan Radio's Zoe Clark and Steve Carmody discussed what has happen since then, and how it affects the environment and the company involved.


Zoe Clark: Enbridge has already spent more than $750 million trying to clean up the spill.  Where does the clean up effort stand?

Steve Carmody: At this point, there is still oil in the river.  Most of the river has been reopened. There is a section of the delta that leads into Morrow Lake which is still off-limits to the general public, because work is being done there, and there are other pockets along the river where oil still exists.

ZC: What is the river like these days? Can you sill see or smell oil?

SC: When I've been along the river, and I've been in different parts of it, you cannot smell it like you could in the early days, and even as much as a year later. But there are portions, especially where they're continuing to work to remove oil, where there obviously is still something there. But the amount of oil that is present in the environment in most of the river area is greatly diminished. However, again, there is still some oil in the environment, and there will be for quite a long time.

ZC: Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Transportation recommended a nearly $4 million fine against Embridge.

SC: That's correct, and that's the largest fine that the department of transportation has issued in a pipeline break like this.  Now, the cleanup itself is more than $800 million, and that is continuing. So $3.7 million, while it is a lot of money, is really a rather small amount of money compared to the entire cost to Embridge.

ZC: Also, another report came out from the National Transportation Safety Board.

SC: They delivered a scathing report against Enbridge and about how they handled the report when it occurred. They started noticing alarm bells going off, which apparently is not that unusual; anomalies crop up, alarms sound.  But they allowed the alarms to sound for 17 hours before they realized something had happened, and the only reason they found out something had happened is they received a call from the utility people here in the state of Michigan that there was a strong smell of petroleum in the air.

ZC: So what happens now?

SC: Enbridge still has some time to respond to the federal government for the fine, and that discussion will continue on. Embridge's stock price is about 50 percent higher now than it was two years ago, and you can look at that and say it is because of our demand for oil that the demand is so great. The price Enbridge has had to pay for the past two years, is more than compensated by what needs to be done from this point forward. Enbridge is facing other issues as well. What happened here in Michigan is affecting Enbridge's ability to build a $5 billion pipeline in Canada, because there's a lot of anger about what happened here, and they don't want it to happen there in Canada. But, the project has the strong support of the government in Ottowa. So, all of the negative publicity that has come out of this oil spill is probably not going to affect Enbridge's ability to move forward from this point.

Looking Back on the “Slick of ’76”

  • Officials placed containment booms around the barge. Most of them failed to prevent the oil from floating downriver, contaminating dozens of miles of pristine shoreline. (Courtesy of the NY State Dept. of Conservation)

30 years ago, an oil barge ran aground in the St. Lawrence River. Hundreds of thousands of gallons of thick crude oil coated the shoreline of northern New York state. The accident remains one of the largest inland oil spills in the United States. It’s a reminder that freighters haul millions of gallons of toxic liquids across the Great Lakes. And many people worry about another spill. The GLRC’s David Sommerstein talked to witnesses of the 1976 spill:


30 years ago, an oil barge ran aground in the St. Lawrence River. Hundreds
of thousands of gallons of thick crude oil coated the shoreline of northern New
York State. The accident remains one of the largest inland oil spills in the
United States. It’s a reminder that freighters haul millions of gallons of toxic
liquids across the Great Lakes. And many people worry about another spill.
The GLRC’s David Sommerstein talked to witnesses of the 1976 spill:

It was really foggy that morning. Bob Smith awoke to two sounds:

“You could hear the anchor chains going down, and next thing we know
there was a young Coast Guard guy knocking on the front door.”

The Coast Guard guy had driven up, asking around for a missing barge.
Smith remembered the anchor chains echoing across the water that woke
him up. He went outside to look.

(Sound of walking outside)

Thirty years later, Smith lives amidst cozy cottages on manicured lawns in
the heart of the touristy Thousand Islands.

“Just right about straight out there. See where that boat’s coming up there

That’s where a barge carrying oil from Venezuela had dropped anchor after
running aground. That morning Smith watched crude as thick as mud drift
out of sight downriver:

“If you’re born and raised here on the river, you don’t like to see anything go
in the river that doesn’t belong there.”

The Coast Guard placed booms in the water, but the oil quickly spilled over.
It carried 50 miles downstream. It oozed as far as 15 feet into the river’s
marshes. Tom Brown was the point man for New York’s Department of
Environmental Conservation. He says the spill couldn’t have come at a
worse time for wildlife:

“All the young fish, waterfowl, shorebirds, furbearers, were coming off the
nests and were being born.”

Thousands of birds and fish suffocated in black goo. As images of
devastation flashed on national TV, the spill killed the tourism season, too.
It was a summer with no swimming, no fishing, no dipping your feet in the
water at sunset. Really, it was a summer with no river.

(Sound of river at Chalk’s dock)

30 years later, everyone still remembers the acrid smell:

“When I woke up in the middle of the night and I could smell oil, I was
afraid I had an oil leak in my house.”

Dwayne Chalk’s family has owned a marina on the St. Lawrence for
generations. Chalk points to a black stripe of oil on his docks, still there
three decades later, and he’s still bitter:

“The Seaway has done this area, well, I shouldn’t say that, it hasn’t done any
good. To me it hasn’t.”

The St. Lawrence Seaway opened the ports of the Great Lakes to Atlantic
Ocean freighters carrying cargoes of steel, ore, and liquid chemicals. It
generates billions of dollars a year in commerce, but it’s also brought
pollution and invasive species.

Anthropologist John Omohundro studied the social effects of the 1976 oil
spill. He says it helped awaken environmentalism in the Great Lakes:

“The spill actually raised people’s consciousness that the river could be a
problem in a number of areas, not just oil.”

Groups like Save the River and Great Lakes United began lobbying for
cleaner water and safer navigation in the years after the spill:

“If a vessel carrying oil or oil products were in that same type of ship today,
it would not be allowed in.”

Albert Jacquez is the outgoing administrator for the US side of the St. Lawrence
Seaway. The 1976 barge had one hull and gushed oil when it hit the rocks.
Today’s barges are mostly double-hulled and use computerized navigation.
Jacquez says a lot has changed to prevent spills:

“The ships themselves are different, the regulations that they have to follow are
different, and the inspections are different. Now does that guarantee? Well,
there are no guarantees, period.”

So if there is a spill, the government requires response plans for every part of
the Great Lakes. Ralph Kring leads training simulations of those plans for
the Coast Guard in Buffalo. Still, he says the real thing is different:

“You really can’t control the weather and the currents and all that. It’s definitely going to be a
challenge, especially when you’re dealing with a real live incident where
everyone’s trying to move as fast as they can and also as efficient as they

Critics question the ability to get responders to remote areas in time. They
also worry about spills in icy conditions and chemical spills that oil booms
wouldn’t contain.

(Sound of river water)

Back on the St. Lawrence River, Dwayne Chalk says the oil spill of 1976
has taught him it’s not if, it’s when, the next big spill occurs:

“You think about it all the time. Everytime a ship comes up through here,
you think what’s going to happen if that ship hits something.”

Chalk and everyone else who relies on the Great Lakes hope they’ll never
have to find out.

For the GLRC, I’m David Sommerstein.

Related Links

Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Lingers

It’s been more than 17 years since the Exxon Valdez split open on a reef off the coast of Alaska. More than 16,000 tons of crude oil washed up onto the rocky shores. Now scientists have found that the oil is still impacting the region’s ecology. The GLRC’s Mark Brush reports:


It’s been more than 17 years since the Exxon Valdez split open on a reef off
the coast of Alaska. More than 16,000 tons of crude oil washed up
onto the rocky shores. Now scientists have found that the oil is still
impacting the region’s ecology. The GLRC’s Mark Brush reports:

Scientists studied a series of islands that were the first to be hit by the
Exxon Valdez oil spill. It’s estimated that 100 tons of crude oil are still
impacting the region’s shorelines. The researchers found that about half
of the remaining oil is in the more biologically rich areas of the Prince
William Sound.

Jeffery Short is a research chemist with the National Marine Fisheries
Service. He says animals such as sea otters forage for food in these

“And if they were to encounter oil in their search for clams, it would get
on their fur, and since they rely on their fur to stay warm, they would
have to lick it off during preening and then they would ingest it.”

Short says this could be why the numbers of animals in this area still
have not rebounded since the oil spill. An Exxon spokesman told the
Associated Press that they believe the Prince William Sound has

For the GLRC, I’m Mark Brush.

Related Links

Agencies Join to Fight Environmental Crimes

Officials from the U-S Coast Guard, the F-B-I, U-S customs, and
the E-P-A have signed an agreement that would allow the agencies to
more actively pursue and prosecute those who break Great Lakes
environmental laws. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Scott Willis
has more: