State demands Enbridge fix Mackinac pipe coating gaps

Michael Gerstein and Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing – Gov. Rick Snyder on Wednesday ordered an accelerated and “aggressive” review of Enbridge Energy operations and maintenance procedures after the company revealed that at least two areas on twin pipelines running under the Straits of Mackinac are missing enamel coating.

A third spot also may be missing protective coating, the Canada-based energy firm said, promising repairs as it disclosed preliminary results of a federally required pipeline inspection. The 645-mile Line 5 pipeline carries 23 million gallons of light crude oil and some liquid natural gas through the straits each day, according to the company.

The new revelation drew criticism throughout state government. The Michigan departments of Environmental Quality, Natural Resources, State Police and the Michigan Agency for Energy called on the company to quickly fix any coating issues. Attorney General Bill Schuette joined them in calling for immediate anchor-area inspections.

“Protection of Michigan’s natural resources is of utmost importance,” Snyder said in a statement, “and I am greatly concerned by the new information regarding Line 5.”

The sections display raw metal directly touching Great Lakes water without the original protective coating, said Enbridge spokesman Ryan Duffy.

One section has a spot measuring three-inches-by-one-half-inch or what Duffy called a “Band-Aid size” flaw. Enbridge did not disclose the size of the second section and said it is still investigating the third possible section where metal might be exposed.

“There’s no safety or integrity issue or damage to the pipe but we take this seriously,” Duffy said.

The state’s DEQ Director Heidi Grether called the coating wear “completely unacceptable” and said at least one section rubbed off while the company was installing anchor supports. She said it should have been addressed immediately, but the department will continue monitoring the situation.

“I want greater assurance that the integrity of all aspects meant to protect the Great Lakes is the company’s utmost priority,” Grether said in a statement.

Schuette said he was “greatly concerned” by the gaps in the outer protective coating and renewed his desire for “a time line to close Line 5, with a defined plan to ensure that Michigan residents in the UP have reliable access to propane and protect our lakes with sound science and modern regulatory policy.”

Enbridge plans to notify the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, state Department of Environmental Quality and the federal pipeline safety agency about the coating problems and make repairs after the study is completed in the next several days.

The company “will repair these sections of coating immediately following the completion of all sampling and coating inspections, and after obtaining any necessary permits,” Duffy said.

Enbridge’s Line 5 has been the subject of intense scrutiny. Many environmentalists have sharply criticized the company and the state for not requiring an independent safety review, and others have called on the state to shut down the line for good.

“This recent finding raises concerns about the actions Enbridge is taking to protect the waters of the Great Lakes,” said Department of Natural Resources Director Keith Creigh. “We need to ensure that all appropriate risk mitigation measures have been put in place by Enbridge. Until that happens, we as a state will not be satisfied.”

A state press release said it’s not yet clear whether the gaps pose an immediate safety concern, but they could “point to larger issues.”

A recent hydro-test the company performed under the supervision of the DEQ and EPA showed the line could withstand the pressure it did when originally installed 64 years ago. But the coating issues raise “real concern,” said Valerie Brader, executive director of the Michigan Agency for Energy.

“Human error was a major factor in Enbridge’s spill into the Kalamazoo River,” she said, referring to the 2010 leak outside of Marshall that was the largest inland oil spill in American history and resulted in $177 million in fines in a federal settlement. “These coating gaps point to other areas where human error, not the environment, are creating problems.”

“Enbridge should quickly repair the damaged pipeline covering to provide the extra protection,” said Capt. Chris Kelenske, deputy state director of emergency management and homeland security and a commander of the Michigan State Police.

Besides the coating issue, Enbridge’s Duffy said no damage to the pipeline was found during its latest safety review.

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