Snyder, Enbridge agree to replace Line 5 section

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

Lansing — Gov. Rick Snyder on Monday announced a legal agreement with Enbridge requiring the Canadian company to replace a section of Line 5 among other safety precautions the energy company will be required to enact.

The Snyder administration also is laying the groundwork for the possible replacement of Line 5 under the Straits of Mackinac, although a final decision about whether to shut down or replace the pipeline won’t be made until August.

In the meantime, the agreement between Snyder and Enbridge requires a new study on replacing the entire pipeline with a new one in a tunnel. Line 5 carries about 23 million gallons of oil and liquid natural gas a day underneath the Straits of Mackinac and could cause environmental damage on Great Lakes shorelines if a rupture occurred.

Enbridge will have to replace a section of Line 5 that runs underneath the St. Clair River with a new pipeline, temporarily shut down portions of the line in extreme weather and look into new safety technology, the governor’s office said.

Snyder’s office also urged Enbridge to be more transparent after expressing alarm over revelations the company had not been honest about the extent of damage to the pipe’s exterior enamel coating while failing to disclose that engineers had known about it since 2014.

“Business as usual by Enbridge is not acceptable, and we are going to ensure the highest level of environmental safety standards are implemented to protect one of Michigan’s most valuable natural resources,” Snyder said in a statement.

“The items required in this agreement are good strides forward. The state is evaluating the entire span of Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline and its future, but we cannot wait for the analyses to be completed before taking action to defend our waterways.”

Enbridge realizes “our internal technical studies and understanding haven’t translated well into reassuring the public or Michigan leaders about the ongoing safe operation of Line 5,” company spokesman Ryan Duffy said Monday. “We apologize if our actions sometimes have created confusion.”

Duffy said the company has “a long way to go” but is “committed to doing what it takes to rebuild trust” while working with the state to continue transporting oil.

The Traverse City-based environment group called FLOW, For Love of Water, criticized the Snyder administration’s move.

“While the governor’s agreement with Enbridge imposes some important interim safety measures, these measures should be steps toward the final shutdown — not replacement — of the pipelines,” the group said in a statement. “It makes no sense to trust Enbridge to abide by a new agreement when it has been flagrantly violating its existing commitments and attempting to conceal those violations.”

A risk analysis report released last week extensively detailed alternatives to using the existing Line 5, including construction of a new pipeline that does not snake through the Straits of Mackinac, using underground tunnels or trenches to pump oil, using existing pipelines other than Line 5 or transporting it by rail or truck.

Calgary-based Dynamic Risk suggested that transporting by rail could be the best alternative using existing infrastructure but noted there were advantages to putting the pipeline in a tunnel. If a spill were to happen, a tunnel crossing the straits would mean a negligible environmental impact compared to other options, according to the report.

It said the chances of a Line 5 rupture remain low through 2053.

U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, the St. Joseph Republican who chairs the House Commerce and Energy subcommittee on energy, expressed the gravity of the situation in a statement.

“This issue is not going away until it gets fixed,” Upton said. “Zero tolerance for error is the only thing we will accept along with the highest safety standards in place to ensure the Great Lakes will not be at risk.”

Earlier this month, Snyder called it “deeply concerning” that Enbridge engineers had known about Line 5 sections missing protective enamel coating since 2014, although the company did not disclose it until October.

Enbridge had also downplayed the extent of the coating damage to state officials and who later announced that they would require a “full accounting” of the line’s condition in December.

Valerie Brader, director of the Michigan Agency for Energy, told reporters on a Monday press call that a state-contracted final report outlining potential alternatives to Line 5 and knowledge of the company’s lack of candor helped prompt the latest agreement.

Brader also said Enbridge and Michigan have until Aug. 15 to reach a deal on what will happen to the pipeline. If it doesn’t, the state will make a unilateral decision, she said.

“Any final decision regarding the pipe will be reached in August of 2018, so I just want to make clear this is not a final decision today on what the future of the pipeline is,” said Brader, adding that “shutting the pipeline down is still on the table.”

By June 2018, Enbridge will have evaluated three options for eventually replacing the pipeline, Duffy said. Those alternatives include a new pipeline within a tunnel under the straits, a new pipeline underneath the lake bed or creating a trench with a “containment structure.”

The company will have to shut down Line 5 in weather that leads to higher than 8-foot waves for more than an hour, according to the state-Enbridge agreement. The St. Clair section will be replaced after the project is approved by the federal government.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette welcomed the development.

“Today’s announcement is a good step forward toward fulfilling our responsibilities to protect the Great Lakes and the health of Michigan citizens,” Schuette said in a statement.