Enbridge: Remaining drill rod debris in Straits measures 200 feet, not 40 feet

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

A drill rod left buried in the Straits of Mackinac lake bed by Enbridge Energy measures more than 200 feet, not the 40 feet initially cited by the state in a Dec. 3 letter to Enbridge. 

In the letter, the state noted that Enbridge had waited two months to notify officials of a bore hole collapse in Straits of Mackinac and described the debris left behind as a 45-foot segment dropped on the bottom lands and a 40-foot segment still lodged in the lake bed. 

Enbridge Energy has retrieved a 45-foot rod it left at the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac a few months earlier than expected thanks to mild weather.

In subsequent media reports on the collapse, Enbridge failed to correct the measurements offered by the state, until Jan. 14, when the company told the Department of Environment Great Lakes and Energy that the segment still buried in the lake bed was more than 200 feet in length. 

The discrepancy was first reported by the Detroit Free Press.  

An Enbridge spokesman told The News he “didn’t have the exact length of the piece in the ground” when he spoke to media in December.

The company is “not sure where the 40-, 45-foot number came from,” Enbridge spokesman Ryan Duffy said. “It’s not a number Enbridge used or a number we shared.”

The state based its Dec. 3 letter and the 40-foot measurement on a Nov. 19 phone call, in which Enbridge's Paul Turner notified the state of the September bore hole collapse and described the embedded segment as 40 feet long. 

A state spokesman said the environmental agency was "disappointed" by Enbridge's communication and expects more "proactive and complete" information in the future.

"Taking more than 60 days to report the initial incident and not providing the necessary drilling log data needed to accurately calculate the length of pipe left underneath the lake bed is unacceptable," said Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy spokesman Scott Dean.

The discrepancy prompted criticism from environmental groups, which have criticized the company for failing repeatedly to disclose important information to the state regarding the 67-year-old pipeline.

“We know there have been multiple safety violations for the pipeline in recent years, yet these incidents keep happening,” said Bob Allison, deputy director of Michigan League of Conservation Voters. 

“Our Great Lakes are far too valuable to our state and our economy. Enbridge's dangerous track record speaks for itself, and it’s time for the state to hold Enbridge accountable for these threats to our water.”

A Michigan Enbridge pipeline ruptured near Marshall in 2010, creating the largest inland oil spill in American history.

Other issues have arisen on Line 5, including the need for Enbridge last year to install supports or screw anchors to an exposed 81-foot section of the pipeline that doesn’t lie on the lake bed. 

Enbridge had been boring holes in the lake bed throughout the summer as part of a geotechnical analysis for the $500 million construction of a tunnel that would house the company’s Line 5 oil pipeline through the Straits.

A borehole collapsed in September during the drilling, trapping the rod in place and forcing crews to break the segment in two. The 45-foot segment that broke off was left on the lake bed for more than three months before the company retrieved it on Dec. 28. 

The rod had shifted location in that time until it came to lie along a span of Line 5. 

In early December, Enbridge told The News that it had no intention of retrieving the piece still lodged in the lake bed and maintained that it posed no safety risk. Duffy did not at that time refute the segment’s length as outlined by the state. 

The company also failed to correct the state’s reported measurement in a Dec. 30 interview and press release regarding Enbridge’s retrieval of the 45-foot rod that had fallen on the lake bottom. 

The state would like more information on the embedded portion that remains in the Straits, Dean said. 

"Although leaving the rod in place may be the best solution to protect the lake bed from further disturbance, EGLE needs more details on the incident before it agrees to that course of action," he said.