Companies to study risks to underwater pipeline

Jim Lynch
The Detroit News

State officials have selected two firms to provide an independent analysis of the risks posed by a pair of pipelines buried underneath the Straits of Mackinac.

Enbridge Energy, the Alberta-based owner of what is called Line 5, will foot the study’s $3.5 million tab. The study will also look at what alternatives the company has to transporting its products via the underwater pipeline.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette announced the selection of the firms Tuesday. They are:

■Det. Norske Veritas, a Norwegian firm with U.S. offices, assesses the risks in pipeline systems, including those located off-shore.

■Dynamic Risk Assessment Systems Inc., based in Alberta, specializes in integrity management.

“Our Great Lakes are the crown jewels of Michigan and we have a duty preserve them for generations to come,” Schuette said in a press release. “We are now taking the next step forward to formally define the environmental and financial risks we face.”

Line 5, which transports oil and liquid natural gas, has had no major mishaps in its 60-plus years of service. But Enbridge’s delivery systems in the Great Lakes region have come under increased scrutiny since another pipeline, the underground Line 6B, ruptured in 2010 near Marshall.

That spill sent a record-setting 800,000 gallons of oil into a local creek and, ultimately, the Kalamazoo River.

Since then, conservation groups and many elected officials have ramped up pressure on the state to shut down the lines. That pressure reached a crescendo last week when several dozen protestors appeared at Schuette’s home in Midland.

That incident came just a week after the attorney general met with Enbridge officials at his Lansing office — a meeting that included Bradley Shamla, vice president of U.S. operations at Enbridge. Shamla is a member of the state’s pipeline safety advisory board, which was formed as a result of a task force inquiry of Line 5 that Schuette led last year.

On Tuesday, the company issued a statement regarding the selection of the two companies that will conduct the review.

“We expect this analysis will help build trust and confidence among Michigan residents in our continued safe and reliable operations of Line 5 in the Straits ...,” the statement reads. “We continuously monitor and inspect Line 5 and, while it's not perfect, we know through our very rigorous inspection process that the line is in very good condition. We believe this additional analysis will reach the same conclusion.”

Not everyone was enthusiastic about the week’s news. Following Schuette’s announcement, several environmental groups questioned a provision in the agreement that gives Enbridge Energy five days to review the report findings before they are released to the public.

“Today’s announced deal with Enbridge not only gives Enbridge a big leg up to publicly shoot down recommendations they don’t like; it also provides them an opportunity to lobby for changes in the report while the public is kept in the dark,” said David Holtz, the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter’s chairman, in a press release. “It’s extremely disappointing that the governor and attorney general are continuing to grant concessions to Enbridge that call into question whether they are truly committed to ending the threat of a catastrophic oil spill in the Great Lakes.”

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