Enbridge temporarily shuts down Line 5 during storm

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Enbridge Energy is temporarily shutting down the recently damaged Line 5 pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac during a severe storm.

The National Weather Service forecast for the straits Sunday afternoon called for snow and sleet, gusting winds and waves of 7 to 12 feet high — occasionally around 12 feet.

Enbridge temporarily shut down Line 5 due to a power outage at the Enbridge terminal in Superior, Wisconsin, a company spokesman said.

“Out of an abundance of caution, Enbridge will be electing to leave the line down until the weather conditions improve at the Straits,” spokesman Ryan Duffy said Sunday afternoon.

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, had been working with the head of the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to pressure Enbridge to “take the right action” and suspend operation of the pipeline through the storm, he said in a Sunday statement.

“It is simply reckless and irresponsible to operate Line 5 under the current weather conditions in the Straits of Mackinac,” Peters said.

“Not only do we lack a clear understanding of the damage to Line 5, but the on-site response equipment available is completely inadequate to clean a potential oil spill under current conditions, putting the Great Lakes in grave - and unnecessary — danger.”

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

“Enbridge 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,” Duffy said.

“We are continuing to monitor the conditions and provide updates to the State, Coast Guard and PHMSA. We will restart as soon as possible.”

Duffy had said Saturday 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.”

A November 2017 agreement between Michigan and Enbridge 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.

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

Coast Guard officials have said the inspection of three dents in Line 5 and of two damaged power cables must wait until after the bad weather passes because the equipment can’t operate in stormy seas.