Enbridge defends Line 5 safety amid protest

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing – Enbridge Energy on Monday defended the safety of its aging dual oil and natural gas pipelines beneath the Straits of Mackinac, telling state officials that coating issues it identified in a recent report are limited to an external fiber wrap, not the actual coal tar enamel used to protect against corrosion.

Enbridge officials testified before the Michigan Pipeline Safety Advisory Board in Lansing, where protesters repeatedly yelled “shut it down” during a company presentation on the 64-year-old Line 5, which splits in two as it runs beneath important and turbulent waterways connecting Lake Huron and Lake Michigan.

“I believe this pipeline is in as good of condition as the day it was installed,” Enbridge pipeline integrity programs Director Kurt Baraniecki said to a chorus of boos.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, Department of Natural Resources Director Keith Creagh and Department of Environmental Quality Director Heidi Grether -- who are each represented on the state advisory board -- last week demanded Enbridge explain its own description of “holidays” in external coating on the underwater steel pipelines.

A“biota investigation work plan” submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in September proposed visual surveys and biotic sample collection of so-called holidays, which the company described as “limited numbers of areas of the pipeline where there is a loss of coating around the pipe.”

But that was “not an appropriate use of the word holiday,” said Enbridge Vice President of U.S. Operations Brad Shamla. “It was a generic use of the word holiday where there was a pipe coating anomaly, if you will, so we’re looking at correcting that terminology.”

Shamla is an industry representative on the state’s 16-member pipeline advisory board but spoke to reporters ahead of the meeting in his capacity as an Enbridge official. The work plan identified areas of deterioration in a fiber wrap surrounding the pipelines that was used during installation of a stronger coal tar enamel coating and inner fiber wrap, he said.

“We’re not aware of any instances where the enamel coating has failed. We are aware of instances where the outer wrap has come loose,” Shamla said.

The company does not have immediate plans to repair the wrap, which officials say was most important during the installation process. But it is studying 18 identified spots as part of an investigation focused on the impact zebra or quagga mussels may have on the pipelines.

Shamla said Enbridge uses a “redundant” cathodic protection system that discourages corrosion by sending electrical currents through the metal pipeline, providing a backup in case the enamel coating itself were damaged.

“On our internal inspection runs, when we look for metal loss, we’re seeing virtually no loss across the entirety of the straits piping, and so that’s telling us the combined coating and cathodic protection system is working as it was designed to on this pipe.”

In addition to underwater and in-pipe inspection studies, Shamla said Enbridge will “hydrostatically” test the pipelines in June. It will displace oil with water and then ramp up pressure to 1,200 pounds per square inch, double the recommended capability and well above the 100 to 150 psi pressure the pipelines usually operate at.

Enbridge is “very confident in the fitness for service for this pipeline, that it is fit for service, that it is safe to operate,” Shamla said. “The pipeline is very integral to our business, and pipeline safety and reliability is something we take very, very seriously.”

But the company’s explanation of coating issues “raised more questions than answers,” said David Holtz, chairman of the Michigan Chapter of the Sierra Club.

He questioned claims made by Enbridge officials, including arguments the outer wrap was important to protect the pipeline during installation but is no longer critical for safety of the pipelines subjected to strong currents in the straits.

“I know it was their intent to reassure people, but I don’t think it was reassuring,” Holtz said. “Clearly if coatings are falling off the pipeline, it’s not in as good of condition as the day it was installed, and that goes to the issue of integrity and credibility.”

Protesters call for ‘shutdown’

Dozens of protesters gathered outside the Michigan Agency for Energy ahead of Monday’s meeting, arguing a Line 5 rupture would devastate the environment. Some activists, including a group of Native Americans, traveled by bus from northern Michigan.

“Get rid of it, because our water is a heck of a lot more precious than what’s under there,” said Ann Rogers of Traverse City. “This is our economy and our life.”

Rogers traveled with David Petrove of Interlochen, who carried a “Lie 5” sign and argued Enbridge cannot be trusted to assess the safety of its own pipeline.

Two shirtless protesters covered themselves in a syrup that resembled oil, and others chanted “remember Kalamazoo,” a reference to Enbridge’s 2010 pipeline rupture in Calhoun County that saw 20,082 barrels of oil pour into the Kalamazoo River, requiring two years of cleanup work.

As part of a Kalamazoo River settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice, Enbridge is negotiating a consent decree that will require additional measures to assess and ensure the structural integrity of Line 5.

Enbridge is funding two state-managed studies to explore risks and potential alternatives to Line 5, which the company says provides more than half of the propane used to heat homes in the Upper Peninsula and other parts of Michigan.

The manufacturing industry relies on petroleum, and the pipelines are the safest way to move petroleum, said Andy Such of the Michigan Manufacturers. A handful of statewide business groups defended Line 5 at Monday’s meeting during a public comment period that was otherwise dominated by critics.

The results from the state studies, expected later this summer, are expected to inform future recommendations by the Michigan Pipeline Safety Advisory Board, created by Gov. Rick Snyder in September of 2015.

But critics say the state should be acting more aggressively.

“We know Attorney General Schuette has the power to shut down this pipeline right now, which is what everyone asks for,” said Jessica Fujan, Midwest director for Food & Water Watch, which helped organize Monday’s protest.

State action

Schuette and other state officials last week demanded Enbridge explain the pipeline “holidays” and requested inspection videos, reports and other details. In addition, they asked the company to provide future reports, inspection documentation or test results within 10 days of them becoming available to Enbridge.

Line 5 runs 645 miles through Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula before splitting in two for a 4.5 mile stretch between the straits, which connect Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. It then continues through the Lower Peninsula before reaching refineries on Ontario.

The Sierra Club’s Michigan chapter, in a March 7 letter to the advisory board, questioned whether the Line 5 safety and alternative studies ordered by the state have already been “compromised by conflicts of interest and bias.”

Holtz noted that officials with both Enbridge and Marathon Pipe Line LLC have seats on the advisory board, which includes representatives from the National Wildlife Federation and Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council. Enbridge also agreed to pay for the state studies.

The advisory board is co-chaired by Michigan Agency for Energy Director Valerie Brader and Grether, who heads up the state environmental department.

Draft versions of the pipeline risk and alternative assessments are due in late June, said Brader, who outlined plans for public feedback. The state is planning at least two public meetings on the draft reports, a 30-day comment period and an additional 15 days for public and stakeholder responses.

“Obviously our goal is to make sure that we get as many folks as possible able to participate and that we get the best feedback we can,” Brader said, explaining that all public comments will be sent to contractors preparing the final drafts of the reports.

The Pipeline Safety Advisory Board recently reviewed an independent technical report examining the effect of “near bottom currents on the structural stability of Enbridge Line 5” prepared by Edward Timm, a retired Dow Chemical engineer.

The report concluded that “the complexities of construction and intensity of currents under the Straits of Mackinac may well have resulted in” metal fatigue that could theoretically lead to pipeline failure.

Enbridge has reviewed Timm’s report, Shamla said, but the company remains confident in the structural integrity of Line 5. He noted the dual pipelines were constructed by the Bechtel Corp., which also designed the Mackinac Bridge.