Lansing — A company hired to look into alternatives and risks associated with running the Enbridge Line 5 oil and natural gas pipeline running under the Straits of Mackinac left out key environmental information, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
In a comment submitted to the Pipeline Safety Advisory board this week, the DNR contends that the report’s author, Dynamic Risk Assessment Systems Inc., should have included more “comprehensive information on effects to the environment.”
“Overall – The discussions and inclusion of readily available environmental information is very limited,” the comment said. “There is limited to no discussion on effects to rare species, including state of federal listed threatened or endangered species. There is also limited to no information on the potential environmental effects associated with each alternative.”
The DNR, Department of Environmental Quality, Michigan Energy Agency and Attorney General’s office contracted Dynamic Risk to conduct the review, although the report cost was paid by Enbridge.
Those departments called on Dynamic Risk in a comment last week to include more information about a potential worst-case oil spill and include missing details.
The report looks into potential alternatives to the 64-year-old twin pipelines and includes an analysis of the risk of operating them. Together, they pump 23 million gallons of light crude oil through the straits each day.
A 2016 University of Michigan study has said a worst-case oil spill could contaminate more than 700 miles of pristine Great Lakes shoreline.
The separate state-funded alternatives report looked into the possibility of leaving the lines in place, rerouting them, running them through a tunnel or transporting the oil they carry another way.
James Mihell, an engineer with Dynamic Risk Assessment Inc., told a public hearing in early July there is a 1.6 percent chance over the next 35 years for a pipeline failure. An Enbridge spokesman downplayed the overall failure projections, noting the low odds analysts had identified for individual risks.
The state’s environmental quality chief, Heidi Grether, canceled a prior report that would have looked into the risk of operating Line 5 because of a conflict of interest from an employee of the firm hired to conduct the analysis.
A Det Norske Veritas staffer was involved in what was supposed to be an independent Line 5 risk analysis but also later worked on a separate project for Enbridge. That violated conflict-of-interest bans in the state contract with the Norway-headquartered company, the state said.
DNR said in its comment that the other draft final report should have included more references on effects of offshore freshwater pipeline corrosion, more details in its analysis of a possible pipeline failure and “additional information to validate the report’s assumption that a release of (propane) would not pose a risk to the environment.”
The comment includes a long list of other details DNR officials found lacking, such as “a very limited description of fish and their habitats within the region … potentially affected by an oil spill in the Straits of Mackinac.”
Environmentalists who want Line 5 shut down over the potential for a spill or leak were quick to highlight the state’s comments.
“Our state’s Great Lakes, shorelines and ecosystems are what make Michigan unique, and a catastrophic oil spill from the 64-year-old Line 5 pipelines poses a totally unacceptable risk to our natural resources,” said David Holtz, chair of the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter and campaign coordinator of Oil & Water Don’t Mix.
“The fact that a state agency has pointed out serious shortcomings in the study only reinforces the need for the state not to allow this flawed study to continue delaying action to decommission Line 5 in the Straits. Attorney General Schuette has the legal duty to protect our Great Lakes.”
An Enbridge spokesman declined to comment on the DNR statements.