Official: Mich. pipeline doesn’t pose high spill risk

Detroit News staff and wire reports

Traverse City — The federal government’s top pipeline regulator says his agency is keeping tabs on dual lines in a crucial Michigan waterway but believes they have a low risk of failure.

Howard “Skip” Elliott of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration testified Monday in a Traverse City hearing convened by U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township.

The hearing focused on a segment of Enbridge Inc.’s Line 5 that carries oil across the Straits of Mackinac, where Lakes Huron and Michigan meet, a 60-year-old portion that’s worried environmentalists especially after the line was struck by an anchor in April.

Line 5 includes twin 20-inch structures and carries about 23 million gallons of oil and liquid natural gas a day from western Canada to eastern Canada.

The April 1 anchor strike released roughly 600 gallons of dielectric fluid, a type of mineral oil, from utility lines owned by Pewaukee, Wisconsin-based American Transmission Co.

Elliott said the dual pipelines in the straits have walls three times thicker than another Enbridge line that ruptured in 2010 in southern Michigan, leaking around 1 million gallons.

He also said dents and gouges caused by the April anchor strike don’t appear to present a threat after Enbridge fitted the impacted portion with composite sleeves.

After the sleeves were fitted to the pipeline in early August, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration allowed Enbridge to return to its max pressure of 600 pounds per square inch. The pipeline usually operates at 150 to 200 pounds per square inch.

Peters described the anchor strike as a “nightmare scenario” that could have caused a catastrophic spill.

Upon questioning from Peters, Elliot said his agency relies on Enbridge’s own data to assess the reliability of the company’s pipelines and admitted that officials should have gotten better visuals of the dented pipeline earlier than it did.

In a statement prior to the hearing, Enbridge spokesman Ryan Duffy said the company welcomed the dialogue and puts safety and incident prevention at the forefront of operations.

“The Straits of Mackinac is a special place, vital to Michigan residents and the state’s economy, and we fully intend to do our part to keep it that way,” Duffy said.

Staff writer Beth LeBlanc and the Associated Press contributed.