Our Editorial: State must monitor Line 5 carefully

The Detroit News

New information regarding Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline is alarming and has brought to light previously unknown weaknesses in the infrastructure running under the Straits of Mackinac. Gov. Rick Snyder hasn’t wasted time in working out a legal agreement with the Canadian company, and that’s the right approach.

In July, we said the facts should determine how to proceed with the decades-old pipeline. An independent initial report from Dynamic Risk on the safety of Line 5 at that time showed there was no cause for worry and that the line could operate indefinitely without environmental risk. But some of the facts have changed.

This week Snyder announced an agreement with Enbridge, which will require the company to replace a section of the pipeline and enact other safety measures, including shutting down the pipeline in bad weather. The pipeline carries 23 million gallons of oil and liquid natural gas daily, and environmental activists and others have long raised alarms about the potential damage if leakage occurred.

Attorney General Bill Schuette has also advocated for replacing the pipeline with a new one in a tunnel, given the age of Line 5. He proposed that over the summer, while maintaining his overall support for pipelines.

It this latest agreement, the Snyder administration has required Enbridge to study the feasibility of tunneling as an alternative to the current pipeline.

Michigan officials were very displeased that Enbridge engineers had known for three years that there was damage to the exterior enamel coating on the pipe, yet didn’t disclose that information until this fall. That is outrageous and damages the company’s credibility.

“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 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.”

Valerie Brader, director of the Michigan Agency for Energy, said Enbridge and the state have until August 2018 to reach a deal on the pipeline’s future. If there isn’t an agreement by that time, the state will make the final call.

The extensive final analysis from Dynamic Risk, released in November, didn’t differ much from its draft months ago, so that should quell some fears of an impending pipeline failure. Plus, the 645-mile pipeline benefits the state’s economy, along with its Midwest neighbors. The report had found shutting down Line 5 would lead to increasing propane and gasoline prices.

The report found that “time is not a significant factor on the failure probability estimates for the Straits pipelines.”

Snyder and other state and federal officials are holding Enbridge accountable, and as long as the company follows through with safety precautions in the short-term, the timeline in place for finding alternatives to Line 5 seems sufficient.