2017-09-28 / News

Pipeline Board Recommends Michigan Tech for New Line 5 Risk Assessment Report

By Erich T. Doerr

The state should ask Michigan Technological University Great Lakes Research Center Director Guy Meadows and a team from the Houghton school to conduct an independent risk assessment of the portion of Enbridge Energy Line 5 pipeline that runs beneath the Straits of Mackinac, Michigan’s Pipeline Safety Advisory Board decided at a Monday, September 18, meeting in Lansing.

If the state agrees with the recommendation, approved unanimously, Dr. Meadows and the Michigan Tech team will work with other universities in Michigan to determine the potential environmental and economic impacts of an accident involving the line’s Straits crossing. In June, the state terminated the contract of the original firm it hired to create the risk report, Det Norske Veritas, after a conflict of interests was found days before the report was to be released.

“Michigan’s universities would be working together to provide the data,” Dr. Meadows said in a release. “Michigan Tech would lead the process because of our extensive knowledge of the Straits of Mackinac region and its complex flows, and would determine the best ways for the best people at Michigan’s universities to contribute.”

The state highly values the views of the pipeline advisory board and is planning to move forward to get the Michigan Tech team under contract as soon as possible, said Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) public information officer Melody Kindraka. Dr. Meadows, who represents Michigan’s universities on the pipeline safety board, was selected for this study because the board members specifically want it conducted by the state’s public universities.

If he is approved by the state, it will take about six months to compile the report and gather public comment on it. Dr. Meadows excused himself from voting on his appointment and will resign from the board if the state agrees with the recommendation that he head up the study.

Ms. Kindraka said the DEQ, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Michigan Agency for Energy and the Office of the Attorney General will have representatives on the study team. The attorney general’s office likely will handle contract negotiations with Dr. Meadows.

There is no estimate yet on when the work would begin. The report, whose scope is to be defined in the contract, will cover all risks posed by the pipeline, including a worstcase scenario spill.

“Michigan taxpayers funded three-fourths of the Great Lakes Research Center for this very purpose,” Dr. Meadows said in a release. “In this role, we would be fulfilling our promise to address complex problems facing the Great Lakes on a data-only basis and to make recommendations to decision makers based on a complete picture.”

Ms. Kindraka said the state hopes to move quickly on this study. Enbridge has paid the state for it, so no taxpayer money will be needed; that allows the state to select the study team more quickly because it doesn’t have to follow its usual purchasing guidelines. The universities will be under contract to the state during the work.

While Enbridge paid for the analysis, it will have no control over the work. Once the final report comes out, the energy company will have to have adequate finances to cover liability for damages from a worst-case incident, as required in a state easement that allowed the construction of the pipeline.

The study will look at the impact and cost of the accidental release of oil from Line 5’s 4.5-mile Straits section could have, including cleanup efforts; short-term and long-term health and safety effects; and the measures needed to restore the environment afterward. Natural resource damage, government costs, and other public and private economic damage will be analyzed. At least one public information presentation will follow the development of the draft report, so the team can respond to the comments when preparing the final report.

“(Michigan Tech)’s enabling legislation calls on the university to provide the means for Michigan residents to acquire knowledge that will contribute to industry,” Dr. Meadows said in a release. “By conducting this analysis, we’d be getting to the heart of what Michigan Tech was created to do.”

“The Pipeline Safety Advisory Board recommended Michigan Tech because the people of Michigan need a data-driven solution,” Michigan Tech President Glenn Mroz added in a release. “That’s what scientists and engineers do. We ask questions, gather the evidence, and analyze the data to understand the big picture.”

Line 5 was built in 1953 and runs from Superior, Wisconsin to Sarnia, Ontario, Canada. A lot of attention and many local Straits area protests have been focused on the line and other oil transportation safety efforts since Enbridge’s Line 6B spill into the Kalamazoo River in July 2010 became the largest inland oil spill in United States history. The multi-agency Michigan Petroleum Pipeline Task Force was formed after the spill and issued a report in 2015 that made several recommendations, including the formation of the Pipeline Safety Advisory Board and commissioning a pair of studies on Line 5 to analyze the risks and possible alternative transportation options.

Dynamic Risk Assessment Systems, Inc. of Calgary, Alberta, prepared the alternatives report and released it in late June. It has been posted to the Michigan Petroleum Pipelines Web site, mipetroleumpipelines.com.

The Pipeline Safety Advisory Board was created to ensure the safe upkeep of all Michigan’s pipelines and advise state agencies on pipeline routing, construction, operation, maintenance, and transparency related to their operations. Michigan Agency for Energy Executive Director Valerie Brader and DEQ director Heidi Grether serve as co-chairs for the board.

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