Enbridge: We’ll shut down Line 5 if severe weather hits

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Facing pressure from Michigan’s U.S. senators, Enbridge Energy said Friday night said that if severe weather hits this weekend, it would temporarily shut down the recently damaged Line 5 pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac.

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, said he had pushed the head of federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to work with Enbridge.

“... I am pleased that Enbridge has indicated Line 5 will be temporarily shut down in the event of severe weather this weekend,” he said. “It is critical that Enbridge, PHMSA and the U.S. Coast Guard work together to fully assess the damage to Line 5 with a visual inspection as soon as is practical.”

“The Great Lakes are too precious to risk an oil spill, especially when bad weather conditions would render ineffective response equipment onsite,” Peters said.

Enbridge spokesman Ryan Duffy said the Canadian company was monitoring the situation and “should the weather deteriorate to a point where we are concerned about the ability for our personnel to respond to an incident, we will temporarily shut down.”

On Saturday, Duffy released a statement from Enbridge that said the company "takes the safety of the environment and our pipelines very seriously.  We understand the sensitive environment in which Line 5 operates. The Great Lakes are a treasure that must be protected. We are closely monitoring weather conditions and forecasts in and around the Straits.

"Should the weather deteriorate to a point where we are concerned about the ability for our personnel to respond to an incident, we will temporarily shut down," the statement said.

A prolonged winter storm is forecast for northern Michigan from Saturday through Monday, with gusty winds and heavy wet snow and ice, according to the National Weather Service. Following a Thursday briefing by the U.S. Coast Guard, Peters said swells from the storm could render on-site cleanup equipment such as skimmers ineffective in the event of an oil spill from the pipeline, which was reportedly dented by an anchor strike.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, also had called Friday for the temporary shutdown of the pipeline.

“The reported damage to Line 5 in the Straits is very disturbing. A visual inspection must be completed to confirm that the safety and integrity of the line was not compromised,” she said. “Line 5 should not operate until we know it’s safe.”

The Detroit News has reported that a ship anchor dented Line 5 and caused a separate leak of 600 gallons of insulation fluid from damaged power cables, according to two sources with knowledge of an ongoing Coast Guard investigation.

Enbridge Energy informed state officials Tuesday that “three small dents” exist in the company’s pipeline but pose no threat to causing a leak. Enbridge confirmed dents to the east and west segments of Line 5 Tuesday with multiple tools that inspected the inside of the pipelines, company spokesman Ryan Duffy said.

Peters said at least two segments of the pipeline will require repairs in the short term, but a visual inspection is still needed to assess the full extent of the damage.

Coast Guard officials have said the inspection of three dents in the Line 5 oil and liquid natural gas pipeline and of two damaged power cables must wait until after the bad weather passes because the equipment can’t operate in stormy seas. The guard has also said it’s waiting on equipment coming from out of state to help.

Both the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration have the authority to temporarily shut down the pipeline, according to Peters’ office.

A November 2017 agreement between Michigan and the owner of Line 5 empowers the state to require Enbridge to temporarily cease pipeline operations in the straits during “sustained adverse weather conditions” that would disrupt an effective response to potential oil spills.

Adverse conditions would include median wave heights in the Straits of Mackinac greater than 8 feet in height over a continuous period of an hour, according to the agreement.

The forecast for this weekend’s storm doesn’t include swells that large, but Peters is concerned in part because the the skimmers on site to clean up a potential oil spill can’t function of swells of even 3 or 4 feet in height — which are expected during the storm.

The same 2017 agreement also called on Enbridge to implement measures to mitigate the potential for the anchor of a vessel striking line 5 beneath the Straits, which had previously been identified among the most serious threats to the pipeline’s safety.

Gov. Rick Snyder has said he wants to decommission Line 5 if studies prove that a tunnel could be built for a replacement pipeline underneath the straits to carry the 23 million gallons of oil and liquid natural gas without damaging the environment.

The Associated Press contributed.