2017-09-07 / Front Page

Line 5 Must Have Immediate Review, Say State Agencies

By Gary Heinlein

Governor Rick Snyder and four state agencies are calling for an immediate and aggressive review of Enbridge Energy’s Michigan operations after the company disclosed last week it has found a number of gaps in a protective layer of enamel coating on its pipes running beneath the Straits of Mackinac.

The Michigan Agency for Energy, Michigan departments of Environmental Quality and Natural Resources, and the Michigan State Police are calling for immediate inspection of areas around every anchor on Enbridge’s Line 5 oil and natural gas liquids-carrying pipeline that runs be- neath the Straits of Mackinac. The gaps in coating are at points where the company installed supportive pipe anchors, they said.

Enbridge has said in the past its inspections indicated the twin 20- inch-diameter lines between St. Ignace and Mackinaw City are safe and in good condition, but its disclosure that coating is missing from small portions of the pipe drew criticism from state officials. The company said it intends to make repairs when it’s finished with the inspection process that led to discovery of the coating gaps.

The state agencies say at least one of the gaps evidently developed during the installation of supportive pipe anchors. They want Enbridge to make repairs within 30 days to the portions of pipeline where there are coating gaps.

“The possibility this loss of coating occurred during the anchor installation process and was not immediately addressed is completely unacceptable,” said Michigan DEQ Director C. Heidi Grether.

“As we continue to review the current permit application to install more anchor supports, I plan to ask Enbridge to provide additional information regarding previous installations, including, at a minimum, any available video footage of the installation activities,” Ms. Grether added. “I want a greater assurance that the integrity of all aspects meant to protect the Great Lakes is the company’s utmost priority.”

Gov. Snyder said he is “greatly concerned” about the new finding.

“Protection of Michigan’s natural resources is of utmost importance,” he said in a prepared statement issued Wednesday, August 30. “I have directed our departments to accelerate an aggressive review of Enbridge operations and maintenance procedures throughout the state.”

Disclosure of the coating gaps likely will provide new fuel to opposition from environmentalists planning an anti-Line 5 rally, the third-annual Pipe Out Paddle Protest, in Mackinaw City and St. Ignace. (See accompanying story.)

As Enbridge contemplates the installation of additional support anchors, the state has taken public comment and is trying to determine if there are safe, viable alternative modes of transportation that would eliminate the portion of the pipeline crossing the Straits. The Mackinac Island City Council passed a resolution earlier this summer calling for closure of that part of the pipeline.

Enbridge has been conducting maintenance and studies of the pipe in response to state prompting. One study that will run through mid- September assesses the impact of the pipeline on aquatic organisms, such as mussels, and includes an inspection of the enamel coating in various places.

While final results of the study won’t be available for weeks, the company says, it found two small areas where the pipes are without coating and a third where there may be bare metal, but that’s still being evaluated. A confirmed gap in one pipe is a few inches long and gaps in the other pipe are smaller than that.

“There is no visual evidence of any corrosion or impact on the integrity of the pipe or the safe operation of the dual pipelines,” Enbridge said in a statement issued August 30. “The Line 5 pipelines at the Straits are protected with redundant systems, including the enamel coating, cathodic protection, and internal and external integrity inspections.”

The company added that it “will repair these sections of coating immediately following the completion of all sampling and internal and external integrity inspections.” The August 30 findings “underscore the effectiveness of Enbridge’s monitoring and maintenance program,” according to Enbridge, but state officials say they want more answers.

DNR Director Keith Creagh said the recent finding raises concerns about Enbridge actions to protect Great Lakes waters.

“We need to ensure that all appropriate risk mitigation measures have been put in place by Enbridge. Until the happens, we, as a state, will not be satisfied,” Mr. Creagh said.

There’s no indication the gaps create an immediate safety hazard, given that the exterior protection system is reportedly operational, the state agencies acknowledged, but they say the results point to larger issues.

“While the hydrotest results give us confidence that the pipeline is not in imminent danger from these gaps, the fact that human error, not a mussel, created them is something that raises real concern,” said Michigan Agency for Energy Director Valerie Brader.

Ms. Brader said human error was a major factor in the 2010 Enbridge pipeline spill into a tributary of the Kalamazoo River that resulted in the closing of 35 miles of the river for cleanup until 2012, when portions of the river were reopened. A six-foot rupture in pipe crossing Talmadge Creek resulted in one of the largest inland oil spills in U.S. history.

That pipeline carries a type of heavy crude oil from Canada’s Athabasca oil sands to the United States. Following the spill, volatile hydrocarbons evaporated and heavier bitumen in the oil sank to the river bottom. Enbridge says Line 5 doesn’t carry heavy crude now and the company doesn’t plan to use the line for that in the future.

Nonetheless, the company “should quickly repair the damaged pipeline covering to provide the extra protection” in the Straits part of Line 5, said Capt. Chris Kelenske, deputy state director of Emergency Management and Homeland Security and commander of the Michigan State Police Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division.

“It is imperative that the company do the right thing for the residents of Michigan and prove they can be good stewards in protecting the natural resources all Michiganians hold dear,” Capt. Kelenske said.

The pipes that extend nearly five miles under the Straits between St. Ignace and Mackinaw City are part of an Enbridge pipeline that carries as much as 540,000 barrels a day of light crude oil and natural gas liquids, according to state officials. The 645-mile-long pipeline, built in 1953, runs through the Upper Peninsula and part of the Lower Peninsula between Superior, Wisconsin, and refineries in Sarnia, Ontario.

Return to top


Click here for digital edition
2017-09-07 digital edition