Letter: A history of failure on Line 5

Re: Trent Wetmore and Kurt Baraneicki’s Sept. 16 column “How we’re keeping Line 5 safe”: On July 25, 2010, Enbridge caused the worst inland oil spill in U.S. history when it failed to detect — for 17 hours — that its pipeline was hemorrhaging oil into the Kalamazoo River watershed. Ten days earlier, Enbridge testified before Congress that it could detect a leak “almost instantaneously.”

Now Enbridge claims that its Line 5 through the Straits of Mackinac is safe. Independent experts and Enbridge’s own track record say we shouldn’t trust these claims.

For example, Enbridge says its inspections show the “incredibly durable enamel coating applied to the pipelines in 1953 prevents rust and other corrosion.” But a 2006 report by Veolia Environmental Services documents heavy zebra mussel growth along the pipeline, making “a detailed analysis of the coating and actual pipe condition impossible.”

Not only is the pipe heavily encrusted with marine growth, its protective enamel coating is missing in numerous areas, according to a review of a 2012 underwater inspection video.

Monitoring shows currents in the Straits sometimes move twice as swiftly as Line 5 was designed to withstand. Lakebed erosion from these powerful currents creates “washouts” under the pipe that have likely caused instability as far back as the early 1970s.

Enbridge was cited recently for failing to meet the minimum pipe support requirements in its 1953 easement with the state of Michigan — hardly a confidence builder. But Enbridge’s failure goes beyond the four missing supports noted in that citation. From 1980 until 1987, there were 17 areas of Line 5 without proper pipeline anchors, and three areas in the Straits with unsupported spans exceeding 140 feet — nearly twice the length allowed in the easement agreement.

Calculations when the pipeline was constructed determined that unsupported spans of over 140 feet in the Straits risked structural damage to Line 5. Therefore, for seven years the pipeline — which still operates in what has been called the “worst possible place” for an oil spill in the Great Lakes — was stressed beyond its stated engineered capabilities.

Enbridge has a history of failure on Line 5. Going back to 1988 when public records are first available, a total of 260,000 gallons of oil leaked from 15 documented failures.

How much longer are Gov. Rick Snyder and Attorney General Bill Schuette willing to put the Great Lakes at risk of a catastrophic oil spill for the benefit of a single Canadian company?

Liz Kirkwood, executive director

For the Love of Water