Enbridge: Pipeline had coating gaps for years

Michael Gerstein, and Jonathan Oosting

Lansing — Engineers at Enbridge knew about damage to a pipeline running through the Straits of Mackinac for years while the company remained silent about the issue, a company spokesman said Friday.

Enbridge spokesman Ryan Duffy said company engineers realized in 2014 that Line 5’s coating was damaged by the installation of a support anchor that year, but they did not inform other company staffers that there was a problem because they did not deem it a safety issue.

The news spread after others at the company reviewed documents that were sent to the state on Friday, Duffy said. State officials demanded more detailed information about sections missing coating after learning about the gaps in August.

He said the pipe has since been repaired and never presented a safety issue, but Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said Enbridge’s disclosure erodes trust in the company, and U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell called it “disturbing.”

“This latest revelation by Enbridge means that the faith and trust Michigan has placed in Enbridge has reached an even lower level,” Schuette said in a Friday statement. “Enbridge needs to do more than apologize, Enbridge owes the citizens of Michigan a full and complete explanation of why they failed to truthfully report the status of the pipeline.”

Schuette has called for an eventual discontinuation of the twin 65-year-old pipelines that run under the Straits of Mackinac.

The Canadian energy company came under fire in August after Gov. Rick Snyder ordered an “aggressive” review of its Line 5 maintenance following revelations that multiple areas of the pipeline were missing enamel coating. State officials later accused the company of lying to them when they learned that the sections where bare metal was exposed to lake water were much larger than Enbridge had originally said.

At first, the company said in February that there were no coating problems. But in late August, the company revealed that at least two areas — and possibly a third — with gaps in the enamel coating, including one spot Duffy described as a “Band-Aid size” flaw.

In a Sept. 8 letter to Schuette and two other top state department officials, Enbridge confirmed it had identified three areas of the pipeline with a combined eight coating gaps. In one area, two gaps were a combined 1.7-square feet, the company said. Another gap was nearly a square foot as well.

Duffy said that when Enbridge previously claimed sections were not missing coating, “these statements were accurate to the best of their awareness.”

“However, information from our integrity department has surfaced as a result of the State’s information request, and we are sharing this information publicly,” he said. “Again, the safety of the pipeline was never compromised; this was an internal reporting issue.”

The 645-mile pipeline carries 23 million gallons of light crude oil and some liquid natural gas through the straits each day, a major cause of concern among environmentalists who worry about the potential for a spill.

U.S. Reps. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, and Dave Trott, R-Birmingham, have introduced federal legislation seeking a comprehensive study of the twin pipelines.

“Enbridge has repeatedly failed to disclose damage and potential vulnerabilities to Line 5 in a timely manner, Dingell said in a Friday statement, calling it “unacceptable.”

“If Line 5 is found to be unsafe, it should be shut down.”