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Enbridge says pipeline portion ‘fit for service’

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

Lansing — Canadian energy company Enbridge said the west leg of Line 5 running underneath the Straits of Mackinac is “fit for service,” after completing half of a pressure test Saturday.

The oil transport company announced the results Monday morning and will conduct a federally required safety review of the east leg in the coming week before releasing its overall verdict about Line 5’s overall fitness.

The tests come amid concern and intense scrutiny about pipeline integrity from environmentalists and lawmakers.

Enbridge is required to conduct the pressure tests by the federal government after signing a consent decree with the Department of Justice. They are being overseen by the federal pipeline safety agency, state officials, the Department of Justice and an independent contractor hired by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, according to Enbridge.

“Enbridge safely and successfully completed the test” for the west leg and confirmed “it’s fit for service,” said Ryan Duffy, a company spokesman.

Duffy said safety “is Enbridge’s top priority.”

Enbridge said weather delayed pressure tests of Line 5’s east leg, which are to be completed within the next week.

The east leg test is being delayed by weather but Enbridge officials expect to complete the second portion sometime within the next week. It was originally planned for Friday.

U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, urged for more safety tests in a statement Monday.

“A spill on our Great Lakes would be catastrophic with immediate and long-term harm,” Upton said. “This test is a step forward but we must remain vigilant as this is high stakes for our Great Lakes. It is of the utmost importance that Enbridge fully complies with the tough standards we mandated under law.”

Upton continued, “While this specific test was successful, we must continue to probe Line 5 for any vulnerabilities. I look forward to seeing these additional tests move forward this year for the betterment and safety of the entire Great Lakes region.”

The “hydro test” involves cooling water to match that of the icy Mackinac Straits, draining the line of oil and filling it with water pressurized at 1,200 PSI for four hours before reducing pressure to 700 PSI for another four hours to check for leaks.

Such a test shows the line can withstand the original pressure the pipeline was meant to when installed in 1953. This is the only time since installation that Enbridge has conducted a hydro test of that segment of Line 5.

The company tested other segments a second time in the 1990s and in 2011, according to Enbridge.

Line 5 carries 23 million gallons of mostly oil and some natural gas a day underneath the Straits of Mackinac and splits off into two segments before merging again past the straits into one single line.

The split allows the company to continue pumping oil through the Great Lakes if there’s an issue with one leg and reduce damage if there’s a spill, Enbridge says.

Critics say they don’t trust Enbridge and urge Michigan officials to shut down Line 5 until an independent safety review is completed. Some environmentalists want it permanently shuttered.

mgerstein@detroitnews.com