Michigan governor questions Enbridge CEO about new oil pipeline damage

Tribune Content Agency

DETROIT — The state of Michigan wants proof from Enbridge that its Line 5 oil and gas pipeline is structurally sound, after the Canadian oil transport giant on Thursday reported significant damage to an anchor support helping hold the pipeline steady along the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac.

Enbridge voluntarily shut down operation of the 67-year-old pipelines on the lake bottom near the Mackinac Bridge after discovering the damage, and is investigating.

“The information I have received about this incident leaves many unanswered questions as to the cause of this damage, the catastrophe that may have been narrowly avoided, and the threats that may remain as a result of the damaged infrastructure,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a letter sent Friday to Enbridge CEO Al Monaco.

“That’s why I am requesting Enbridge turn over to the state of Michigan all relevant information about this most recent damage and provide affirmative evidence that establishes the integrity of the pipeline.”

On Thursday, Enbridge alerted the state of Michigan an anchor support on one of the dual pipelines running along the bottomlands of the Straits of Mackinac had incurred significant damage. This support lies approximately 150 feet from a section of the pipeline where damage to the pipeline coating was discovered on or around May 26.

After discovering the damaged anchor support, Enbridge shut down the pipeline and is gathering more information through divers, the use of a remotely operated vehicle, or ROV, and other means, the governor’s office reported. The pipeline remains shut down as Enbridge continues to gather more information.

“One close call with Line 5 is one too many, which is why I am calling on Enbridge to proceed with the utmost caution and care,” Whitmer wrote to Monaco. She requested information on the incident be supplied to the state no later than Monday.

“As Governor of the Great Lakes State I carry an immense burden to protect this priceless treasure that defines the contours of our state and our way of life. I anticipate and expect your full cooperation.”

“As part of Enbridge’s seasonal maintenance work on Line 5 in the Straits we have discovered a screw anchor support that has shifted from its original position. This is an issue affecting that anchor support and not the pipeline itself,” Enbridge spokesperson Ryan Duffy said in an email to The Detroit Free Press.

“The support, installed in 2018, is on the east leg of the pipeline. We immediately shut down the Line as a precaution and are inspecting the area with divers and the entire pipeline with remotely operated vehicles.

“We were transparent in notifying the State of Michigan and our federal regulator PHMSA on Thursday, the same day we discovered the damage to the screw anchor support assembly.

“We will be providing the information the Governor has requested.”

Enbridge’s Line 5 moves 23 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids per day east through the Upper Peninsula, splitting into twin underwater pipelines through the Straits, before returning to a single transmission pipeline through the Lower Peninsula that runs south to Sarnia, Ontario. Many have expressed concern about the aging pipes over several years, noting that a pipeline disaster in the Straits such as the one that occurred in Marshall in 2010 would devastate the Great Lakes, shoreline and island communities, and the state economy. Enbridge officials have steadfastly maintained the pipes are safe.

Enbridge is now doing early work on a controversial, $500 million tunnel beneath the Straits bottom, through which it would run new oil and gas pipelines.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency fined Enbridge $6.7 million for allegedly failing to quickly fix pipeline safety issues, fines the company announced Thursday they had agreed to pay.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said she was “deeply troubled” by Enbridge’s latest announcement of damage to Line 5’s support structure.

“Yet again, Enbridge has confirmed what we already know — Line 5 is a clear and present danger to our Great Lakes and to the millions of Michiganders who rely on those lakes for recreation, business and tourism,” she said.

Nessel’s office will wait to see what information Enbridge provides about the incident, “so that we can evaluate what, if any, additional action my department may need to take.”

“In any event, this underscores why we will continue to vigorously pursue our lawsuit seeking to shut down the Straits pipelines.”

This latest incident, after years of delayed disclosures to the state about pipeline safety issues, “should be the end of the line for Line 5,” said Mike Shriberg, Great Lakes regional executive director of the nonprofit National Wildlife Federation and former member of the state of Michigan’s Pipeline Safety Advisory Board.

“How many more shoes have to drop until we stop putting the Great Lakes, our economy and our way of life at risk? This latest egregious safety violation is part of a long pattern of mismanagement and misinformation.”


©2020 Detroit Free Press

Visit the Detroit Free Press at www.freep.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.