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285 miles of new oil pipeline being installed across Michigan, neighbors in the path

Enbridge Energy has begun the next phase of replacing an oil pipeline that crosses Michigan. They hope to have 285 miles of new pipeline online sometime next year.

Seventy-five miles of new pipeline were installed during "phase 1" of Enbridge's maintenance and repair project. During this next phase, they're putting in the remaining 210 miles of pipeline. They started last month and they've got around 25 to 30 miles of pipeline in the ground. Their goal is to get around 2.5 miles of new pipeline installed each day.

The company says this pipeline will be safer than the one that ruptured three years ago. That break caused the largest inland oil spill in the country's history. The heavy tar sands crude oil has proven difficult to clean up. The company recently started dredging the bottom of the Kalamazoo River in an attempt to retrieve more spilled oil.

The new pipeline will be bigger (36 inches wide instead of 30 inches) and will move more oil.

Enbridge says the new pipeline is being built to meet growing demand, and to decrease the risk of another spill.

Tom Hodge is the project director for Enbridge. He says they're installing more devices that will allow them to detect a leak, and he says the new pipe is much stronger.

“This pipe is being put in with a heavier wall, a better coating. It’s higher grade steel. The welding process is an automated process; they were using manual welding back when the original line was installed,” said Hodge.

But an aging pipe was just part of the problem that led to the massive 2010 oil spill. A government report found that human error at Enbridge’s control center was also to blame.

Hodge says many control center procedures have been revised at Enbridge as well.

Some neighbors too close for comfort

The new Enbridge pipeline is a major engineering project that’s cutting through farm fields, going under highways, and in many cases going right through people’s backyards. Enbridge says all told, around 2,500 homeowners in Michigan will be affected by the construction.

Dave Gallagher of Ceresco, Michigan knows what that’s like. The new pipeline is going in twelve feet from his back porch.

“This is certainly a shocker. Like I said, I do construction for a living. I’ve seen heavy construction before, but not to this magnitude. Nobody wants this. Nobody wants this this close to their home.”

Gallagher says he and some of his neighbors feel that Enbridge has not negotiated fairly with them – and have even felt intimidated at times.

It's a common story along the pipeline. You can read about other people's experiences hereand here.

The company says they’ve been working closely with landowners, and that the overwhelming majority of them have been supportive of the construction process.

The new Enbridge pipeline will be capable of pumping twice the amount of oil compared to the old pipeline.

*We'll have more on this for next Tuesday's Environment Report.

Mark Brush was the station's Digital Media Director. He succumbed to a year-long battle with glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer, in March 2018. He was 49 years old.
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