08.20.18

MLive/Grand Rapids Press: U.S. senator gives Line 5 operator failing grade in public trust

TRAVERSE CITY, MI -- U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Michigan, says the Canadian company operating the Line 5 oil and gas pipeline underneath the Straits of Mackinac has and deserves a failing grade in public trust.

"It's a well deserved deficit of trust, given the pipeline disaster in Kalamazoo and the fact that we tend to find information from Enbridge Energy after it's happened, and when it should've been reported we don't find out about it for a few months after," Peters told reporters Monday, Aug. 20, after a U.S. Senate committee field hearing in Traverse City.

"That doesn't endear any kind of trust with the people in Michigan."

The field hearing at the Milliken Auditorium on Northwestern Michigan Community College's campus brought together top-level federal emergency-responders and regulators, along with area stakeholders, to speak on Line 5 spill preparedness and response.

The format of the hearing was question and answer, with Peters, the sole U.S. senator present, asking the questions.

Peters questioned hearing panelist and Enbridge Energy Vice President of Operations David Bryson on what he says was pushback to temporarily shutting down Line 5 during a high-wave event about two weeks after the twin pipelines were dented in three places and "gouged" it in a fourth by an anchor strike on April 1.

"When they are not even willing to be proactive in shutting down a pipeline temporarily when there's a severe storm hitting at the time we have a damaged pipeline and no way to clean up, it speaks volumes," Peters said.

A November 2017 agreement between Enbridge and the state requires the company to shut down operations if waves exceed 8 feet. The first such temporary shutdown occurred on Dec. 5.

Bryson contended there was no pushback on his company's part to the April 15 shutdown.

Peters pressed officials from the U.S. Coast Guard and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the federal agency which oversees pipeline safety, on the timeline of the April 1 anchor strike.

Howard Elliott, administrator of the Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, said it wasn't until two days after the anchor strike that Enbridge Energy officials concluded their lines were dented in three places.

A visual inspection of the lines did not occur until more than two weeks after the strike. It revealed "gauging" on one of the lines, Elliot said.

In a statement released for the hearing, Enbridge Energy officials wrote that they have 24-hour monitoring of all their pipelines and can initiate shutdown in minutes.

Elliot said that, with data provided by Enbridge, his department concluded line integrity was not compromised by the strike. Peters questioned if regulators accepted whatever pipeline operators gave them.

Nunan contended there was, that Enbridge's analysis and visual inspections above the water gave enough confidence to turn attention to the ruptured cables owned by American Transmission Company.

Those cables spilled an estimated 550 gallons of toxic coolant oil into the Straits.

Nunan said the primary equipment to clean up an oil spill in the Straits wouldn't be on scene until probably 12 hours after. Peters, after the hearing, said while he respected the Coast Guard, he wasn't pleased with its preparedness to a spill.

The 645-mile-long Line 5 pipeline, built in 1953, runs from Superior, Wisconsin, to Sarnia, Canada, and transports up to 540,000 barrels of light crude oil and natural gas liquids per day.

Composite sleeves were wrapped about the dented portions to strengthen the lines. That work finished the week of July 30, according to Enbridge officials.

In a worst-case scenario Straits rupture, Line 5 would gush 2,436,000 gallons of oil, slick 437 miles of Great Lakes shoreline and cost $1.86 billion in damages, according to a study spearheaded by Michigan Technological University.

The study, released in July, is the last of five analyses requested by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder as he deliberates decommissioning and possible alternatives for the twin oil and gas pipelines under the Straits of Mackinac.

Snyder has set a deadline of Sept. 30 to formalize an agreement with Enbridge on the future of Line 5.

The full U.S. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee field hearing can be viewed here.


By:  Michael Kransz
Source: MLive/Grand Rapids Press