Enbridge retrieves drill debris from Straits after bore hole collapse

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Enbridge Energy has retrieved a 45-foot rod it left at the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac a few months earlier than expected thanks to unseasonably warm weather. 

The Canadian company brought in a remote-operated vehicle from Louisiana to retrieve the drill debris on Saturday from the lake bed, where the debris had shifted position to lie along a span of the pipeline, according to a spokesman. A second 40-foot-long piece lodged and buried in the lake bed will remain in place. 

The segments were left in the lake after a Sept. 12 bore hole collapse while Enbridge was completing rock sampling for a planned $500 million tunnel to house the controversial Line 5 oil segment. 

Enbridge Energy has retrieved a 45-foot rod it left at the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac a few months earlier than expected thanks to mild weather.

The two segments were one piece until the bore hole collapsed, trapping the rod in place and forcing crews to break the segment in two.

Enbridge waited to notify the state until two months after the incident on Nov. 19, prompting frustration from officials with the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy.

The state in early December told Enbridge the debris violated its permit for the Straits. But Enbridge officials told the state they would be unable to retrieve the 45-foot segment until the spring because of inclement weather. 

Because of mild weather in recent weeks, the company was able to deploy a remote-operated vehicle from a work barge Saturday after two weeks of preparation. The ROV was sent to Michigan from Louisiana on six semi-truck trailers, Enbridge spokesman Ryan Duffy said.

“The rod had moved from its original position near the pipeline and was found resting on the west leg of the pipeline,” the company said in a statement. “The rod never posed any safety or environmental risk to Line 5, the water, nor ship traffic in the Straits." 

The 66-year-old pipeline has been a source of concern for environmentalists who fear a potential oil spill in the Great Lakes. 

Enbridge entered into agreements with Michigan last year that would require the company to pay up to $500 million to build a tunnel below the Straits of Mackinac lake bed to house Line 5.

The agreements made under Republican former Gov. Rick Snyder were challenged by Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel, both Democrats who opined the agreements were unconstitutional.

The company expects to apply for its next permit for the tunnel project in the early part of 2020. It’s not clear how that request will be handled by state agencies, who were directed by Whitmer earlier this year to stop processing permits related to the tunnel project.