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Peters Questions U.S. Coast Guard on Line 5 Vessel Damage

Questioning Comes Amid Reports This Week That Vessel Activity Caused Dents into Aging Pipeline in Straits of Mackinac

WASHINGTON, D.C. U.S. Senator Gary Peters (MI), a member of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, today questioned U.S. Coast Guard Deputy Commandant for Operations, Policy, and Capabilities, Rear Admiral Linda Fagan at a committee hearing, following reports of multiple dents in Line 5 caused by vessel activity in the Straits of Mackinac. During the exchange, Peters questioned Fagan on the decision to reopen Line 5 despite incomplete inspections.

Below is text of his hearing remarks and video of the full exchange:

Watch the Video

Below are Peters’ opening remarks, as prepared for delivery:

“Thank you, Chairman Wicker and Ranking Member Nelson for calling this hearing. Your states have weathered too many devastating storms, and you have mourned the pain of too many families who have lost their loved ones, homes and livelihoods in catastrophic events. You've each led efforts to promote improved recovery and resilience, so that our nation is better prepared to withstand the unexpected.  Thank you for that leadership.

“To our witnesses today, I also thank you for your service, and your testimony. 

“While today's hearing appropriately focuses on hurricane preparation given the start of the season, the very same disaster response machinery - from NOAA’s scientific modeling to the Coast Guard’s emergency authorities - all too often must be employed to respond to human caused risks and disasters, such as oil spills.

“Rear Admiral Fagan, I’d like to ask a few questions related to the Coast Guard’s ongoing investigation and leadership of the Unified Command around the Straits of Mackinac spill.

“On April 1st, a suspected vessel anchor drag in the Straits of Mackinac damaged two 138-kilovolt American Transmission Company cables, and dented the was the Line 5 pipeline owned and operated by Enbridge, an aging pipeline that would never be built today. 

“The 65 year old Line 5 is a major oil pipeline, conveying upwards of a half million barrels of oil per day through the Straits.  It is known to be corroded, and it has been previously compromised. 

“From a human health and ecological perspective, a rupture of this line would be absolutely catastrophic.  Modeling from Michigan Tech and the University of Michigan, based on NOAA's data, shows the oil would quickly spread given the swift currents through the Straits.  And the harsh reality is that these waters are currently under a foot and a half of ice, rendering any effort to recover or respond to an oil spill meaningless. These waters in the Great Lakes provide the drinking water for 40 million Americans, and empower billions in economic revenue for the states and the nation.  The sport fishery alone contributes $7 billion in annual revenue to the nation. 

“The threat of an oil spill from Line 5 is exactly why I've worked to pass bipartisan legislation to improve pipeline safety and the federal government’s response capability for freshwater systems. 

“Just three weeks ago I met with Commandant Nominee Admiral Schultz in my office to press upon him that improving our nation's freshwater oil spill response capability was a top priority for me, and one that I asked for his personal commitment on.”

Below are Peters’ closing remarks:

“This has gone on for a number of days and not to have visual inspections – to have any understanding of what happened and to be relying on the state and PHMSA without knowing exactly what they have looked at, I think is irresponsible.

“We need to get to the bottom of it – I’m not saying you haven’t done that – but I want to know whether or not that’s occurred. We need to know. A lot of people in Michigan are asking questions. Folks are very concerned.

“As you know the Straits of Mackinac are vitally important as I mentioned earlier in my comments. The amount of water that goes through there is equal to ten times that of Niagara Falls and it’s right next to our number one tourist attraction: Mackinac Island. The economic and environmental impact would be devastating.

“So I’m going to be seeking another meeting with Admiral Schultz in the next few days. I also hope that we might have an oversight hearing of this. But I would certainly appreciate the Coast Guard get back to my office – as early as possible, by today at some point – so that we can get a full accounting of where we are, I’d appreciate that Admiral.”