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Enbridge: No coating problem on Mackinac pipeline

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

Lansing — Enbridge officials say there are no problems with a protective coating around the oil and natural gas transport Line 5 after a report on the company’s website prompted concern from a Michigan Pipeline Safety Advisory Board member.

A federally required report worried Jennifer McKay, a member of the advisory board, after she stumbled upon it while reviewing Enbridge documents online. It was a “work plan” submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection agency that identified 19 sections of the pipeline the company plans to inspect for potential signs of wear to a coating that protects against corrosion.

The report suggested areas of the pipe could be exposed to Great Lakes water without that protective corrosion coating, McKay said, who prompted the pipeline safety board to request an Enbridge official answer questions about it at a March 13 board meeting.

McKay said any exposed areas could increase the likelihood of an oil spill or leak in the 64-year-old line, which pumps millions of gallons of oil through the Straits of Mackinac every day.

“This is the first time that I have seen that there was a potential issue with the integrity of the pipeline,” she said.

If the EPA accepts Enbridge’s plan, the company will plunge divers into Lake Michigan to take samples and inspect coating at the 19 areas identified in the report as soon as this summer, Enbridge spokesman Ryan Duffy said Monday.

But Duffy and another company official said engineers hired by the company to review underwater video of the pipeline have not found any sections where the coating has worn off. He said the 19 areas were “hypothetical” areas of concern.

A company official said the 19 areas were chosen arbitrarily to comply with a $177 million consent agreement the company signed in July 2016 related to the 2010 Enbridge pipeline rupture that spilled more than 800,000 gallons of crude oil into the Kalamazoo River. It is considered the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history.

“It can be confusing to read it how it’s written, but like I say there’s no known … issues with the coating,” Duffy said of the report. “We’ve gone over that repeatedly, and there’s no gaps or issues that we can see.”

But McKay said Enbridge’s response raises more questions than it answers.

She said she has “a very hard time believing” there aren’t any coating issues with the pipeline because the report “specifically identified the location” of those sections, which the company hopes to sample this summer. McKay said “it seems very confusing” that the company would pinpoint the locations of the areas in question “if they’re just hypothetical.”

EPA officials could not be reached Monday because it was a federal holiday.

McKay said she plans on asking an Enbridge official at the March 13 board meeting about potential coating loss. If there is such loss, McKay said she wants to know the extent of it, how it happened, when it was discovered, how long the company has known about it and whether it has affected the structural integrity of the line.

Enbridge officials confirmed that Brad Shamla, vice president of U.S. operations for Enbridge, will offer a presentation at the meeting and will be available for any questions from board members.

Duffy said the samples are meant to show whether mussels and other aquatic life that attach to the pipe have caused any wear to the coating. He said past samples and review of the video feed, including a 2014 investigation, have shown no such issues.

“That’s a list of places we’re gonna go out and take samples and take a look at those areas,” Duffy said. “I can understand where that report can be confusing in part. We want to answer any questions (McKay) might have or any other advisory board members.”

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Twitter: @MikeGerstein