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Heightened scrutiny over the safety of its oil and liquid natural gas pipelines beneath the Straits of Mackinac has Enbridge Energy touting a new $7 million investment in spill control and recovery equipment.

The Alberta-based energy company will station new high-tech equipment in the area that marks the boundary of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron as a precaution against a potential rupture in the 63-year-old twin lines known as Line 5. Despite decades in place, the lines are facing increased debate and opposition due, in part, to the 2010 rupture of another Enbridge line near Kalamazoo.

That line, Line 6B, eventually released 840,000 gallons of heavy crude oil into a creek, with much of it reaching the Kalamazoo River. With lessons in-hand from that experience, Enbridge is now touting its efforts to prepare for the possibility of another disaster.

At the heart of the company’s efforts is the addition to two new types of booms — both designed to capture oil released into the open-water environment of the Great Lakes:

■High-speed skimmers: V-shaped floating booms can operate in heavier currents of open water and can be towed by boats.

■Bucket skimmers: Placed atop a barge like vessel, a bucket skimmer is moved into place by a mechanical arm such as an excavator. It allows recovery teams to work up against an ice edge, or in the midst of broken or pack ice.

“Obviously, the Straits of Mackinac is a very special area,” said Stephen Lloyd, a senior manager of emergency response for Enbridge.

“It’s important to the folks who live there, the business owners, the recreational boaters. ... And we really wanted to make sure we stepped up our game in regard to open water responses. And in the unlikely event something was to occur, that we had the right equipment to mitigate a response in open water and prevent it from actually impacting shoreline, which is when things get complicated.”

Opposition to the pipelines’ continued operation has come from several sides.

“While we welcome Enbridge bringing its response equipment more up-to-date, this investment pales in comparison to what is at risk from an oil spill from this aging pipeline,” said Mike Shriberg, National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes regional executive director. “There is very little hope of effectively cleaning up an oil spill in the Straits of Mackinac. That’s why decision makers are turning their attention to stopping the flow of oil on the bottom of the straits by finding an alternative that protects our Great Lakes, public health, communities and economy.”

In February, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said that in today’s world, a proposal to place pipelines under the Straits of Mackinac would never be approved. Groups such as Oil & Water Don’t Mix have called for the lines to be shut down.

To help combat such concerns, up to eight high-speed skimmers and two bucket skimmers would be brought to the region over the next two years and kept there on a permanent basis.

The high-speed skimmers would likely be located in the immediate area of the Straits, giving emergency responders the best chance to reach a spill site quickly. Due to the size of the bucket skimmers and their reliance on a larger vessel for positioning, they would likely be kept at a port in one of the nearby communities.

Their presence would allow Enbridge personnel and contractors, to take more of an offensive role in responding to an spill on open water.

“What the equipment really does for us is it shifts a bit of the focus,” Lloyd said. “Whereas response in tributaries and lakes ... you typically contain and protect. And you pick up recovered product on shorelines.”

Part of Enbridge’s strategy is to have employees located nearby on a permanent basis to be part of any quick response. In addition, contractors are identified and lined up ahead of time to be available should the worst occur.

“We have an office now in St. Ignace (the response) would be quick,” said Ryan Duffy, an Enbridge spokesman.

Beginning Tuesday, Enbridge officials will be on a three-day tour through Michigan’s northern reaches, holding open houses to discuss Line 5. Stops include Manistique, Mackinaw City, Cheboygan, Petoskey, Gaylord and Traverse City.

“Preventing all spills or leaks is our ultimate goal,” Lloyd said in a press release. “Still, we want to go above and beyond to be prepared for any incident.”

jlynch@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2034

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