Lansing — The state’s top environmental official said she has lost confidence in Enbridge Energy as a state panel decided Monday to put a researcher with a history of working for the Canadian oil and gas firm in charge of a new risk analysis that’s meant to be independent.
Guy Meadows, a member of the state’s pipeline safety panel and director of the Great Lakes Research Center at Michigan Technological University, will choose more than a dozen top university researchers to conduct an independent risk analysis of Enbridge’s Line 5. The pipeline carries 23 million gallons of oil through the Straits of Mackinac each day.
The panel selected Meadows to lead the effort despite his past work with Enbridge developing more sophisticated pipeline surveillance techniques. He also helped install and is maintaining a monitoring buoy paid for by Enbridge that measures lake currents.
The state canceled a prior Line 5 safety probe due to a contractor’s past work with Enbridge.
At the same Michigan Pipeline Safety Advisory Board meeting, state Department of Environmental Quality Director Heidi Grether said Enbridge lied to her and other state officials about the size and number of sections along Line 5 where enamel coating is damaged.
Enbridge previously told state officials and media that one “Band-Aid” size section of the pipe and two smaller segment were missing protective coating meant to keep Great Lakes water from directly touching bare metal. But Enbridge now tells state officials there are at least five spots lacking coating, including one that was nearly one-foot square and another that was at least a 1.7-foot square, according to the Michigan Agency for Energy.
“This troubled us greatly when we learned about this,” Grether said Monday at a pipeline safety board meeting. “And frankly I think that we really need to know that what Enbridge is telling us is the truth and that it is accurate because we were not told the truth nor was it really accurate.”
Grether told reporters later that “it’s hard” to have much confidence in anything the company tells the state from this point forward.
But the board showed trust in Meadows by voting unanimously for him to lead the new research effort. Meadows said his work could be considered a conflict of interest, but that he’s not beholden to the company.
“That’s for the public to decide,” he said. “We don’t feel that we have any beholdings to Enbridge as a result of this work. It’s been all totally open and 100 percent transparent. I have done a tremendous amount of work for the state, and I think Enbridge is probably a little nervous of the environmental work I’ve done in my career.”
Meadows said he and other researchers will look into multiple sections on the pipeline where coating was missing, study Great Lakes currents and examine other factors that may be involved in a possible future rupture.
“I’m looking forward to seeing what they come up with,” Grether said.
“He’s the quarterback of this, but there’s many others that will be working on it as well,” she said in response to questions about Meadows’ Enbridge work.
The move comes after the last study was canceled when state officials discovered a conflict of interest with the private contractor Det Norske Veritas Inc. because the company had done work for Enbridge in the past.