Michigan, Enbridge reach agreement to boost safety of Line 5

Photos of Enbridge Line 5 - from DEQ

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and Canadian oil transport company Enbridge Inc. announced an agreement Monday intended to boost the safety of Line 5: twin oil pipelines beneath the Straits of Mackinac where Lakes Michigan and Huron converge. A final decision between the state and company is expected to be made in August 2018.

Read full Final Report – Alternatives Analysis for the Straits Pipelines

Enbridge has a troubled past in Michigan: in 2010 its pipeline Line 6B burst into the Kalamazoo River causing what’s considered to be the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history. Then, mid-November the public learned Line 5 is in worse condition than Enbridge made public: the company reported to the state 42 areas with exposed coating gaps along the pipeline, many of which Enbridge knew about since 2014.

“We do need to change the way that we are engaging with the state," said Guy Jarvis to reporters Monday, Enbridge Executive Vice President and President of its Liquids Pipelines group.

"We do need to change the way that we are communicating information about the operation, and it needs to be towards providing as much transparency as possible, as opposed to that historical reliance on risk.”

Monday's signed agreement does not call for the decommissioning of Line 5 as environmental groups have demanded, although it does call to replace it and procedures to temporarily shut down the pipeline throughout the 5-mile-long underwater segment beneath the Straits of Mackinac when waves reach eight feet high. Product would remain in the pipeline "stagnant" Jarvis said, though without operating pressure while shut down.

“Having a pipeline through the straits of Mackinac is simply too great a risk to 20 percent of the world’s fresh water resources, especially a pipeline that is 64-years-old and in terrible condition," said Sean McBrearty, Oil and Water Don't Mix coalition campaign coordinator.

The agreement also calls for a study to examine the possibility of digging a tunnel beneath the Straits of Mackinac through which the existing pipelines — or a new one — could be routed. The two 20-inch lines have lain exposed on the lakebed since 1953.

It also calls for steps to allow faster detection of and quicker response to a potential spill.

"Business as usual by Enbridge is not acceptable and we are going to ensure the highest level of environmental safety standards are implemented to protect one of Michigan's most valuable natural resources," Snyder said in a statement Monday.

Congressman Fred Upton, R - Kalamazoo, told FOX 17 he supports replacing and burying Line 5 beneath the lakebed but not rerouting it out of the Straits. Upton also serves as chair of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Energy and recently met with Jarvis on this ongoing issue and agreement.

“It’s jobs here, and it keeps our prices where they are: without it we would be paying I think I saw reports in the last week or so that we’d be paying more than a dollar more a gallon [of gasoline," said Upton.

“The bottom line is this pipeline is important to those of us in the Midwest. We need to ensure that it 100 percent safe and we are now on a timeframe to ultimately I hope see it replaced and rest assured that it will not cause a problem in the Great Lakes.”

However, McBrearty says Enbridge's Alternatives Analysis Report, which this agreement is based upon, is biased. It was completed by contractor Dynamic Risk with Enbridge employees.

“The analysis that they produced really only looked at the alternatives that benefit Enbridge the most: they didn’t look at for instance building a pipeline through Canada because they know that the government of Ontario would not allow that," said McBrearty.

"They didn’t look at existing pipeline capacity, which when Line 6B, the line that runs through Kalamazoo spilled back in 2010, the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history, they actually doubled the capacity of Line 6B when they rebuilt it without asking for anyone’s approval. So Line 5’s capacity could go there as well. There’s all sorts of alternatives that are available. The bottom line is we cannot take the risk of having an oil gas pipeline running through the most sensitive part of the Great Lakes Straits of Mackinac.”

Dec. 11 Enbridge will publicly present the full status of Line 5's condition to the Michigan Pipeline Safety Advisory Board in Lansing: 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Causeway Bay Lansing Hotel and Convention Center, Ballrooms F-J, located at 6820 S. Cedar St.

Also, the public comment period on what the state should do about Line 5 runs through Dec. 22. You can make comments by doing any of the following:

  • Write a comment online on the state's Pipeline Safety Advisory Board's website here (scroll to the bottom of the page)
  • Attend one of the public feedback meetings:
    • Wednesday, Dec. 6, in Taylor, beginning at 6 p.m., at the Heinz C. Prechter Educational and Performing Arts Center, Wayne County Community College District, Downriver Campus, 21000 Northline Road
    • Tuesday, Dec. 12, in St. Ignace, beginning at 6 p.m., at the Little Bear Arena & Community Center, 275 Marquette St.
    • Wednesday, Dec. 13, in Traverse City, beginning at 6 p.m., West Bay Beach Holiday Inn Resort, Leelanau Banquet Rooms, 615 E. Front St.
  • Mail a comment to this address:
    • Department of Environmental Quality, Attn: Line 5 Alternatives Analysis, P.O. Box 30473, Lansing, MI 48909-7973

Line 5 is a 645-mile (1,040-kilometer) line that runs from Superior, Wisconsin, through northern Michigan to Sarnia, Ontario. Daily Line 5 carries up to 540,000 barrels of light crude oil and natural gas liquids under the Straits of Mackinac.

The company says the 5-mile (8-kilometer) underwater segment is safe, but environmental groups and some officials have raised concerns about Line 5 for years, including after recent disclosures of gaps in protective enamel coating.

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