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DEQ: Enbridge leak fixed with no environmental damage

Mark Brush
Michigan Radio

UPDATE: This story was updated on 12/17/14 at 3:36 pm

State officials are reporting what they say is a small natural gas leak in a pipeline in the Upper Peninsula that’s owned by Enbridge Energy.

Brad Wurfel of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality says the leak near Manistique was discovered, reported, and fixed by Enbridge. He says there was a small amount of natural gas liquids released, but it quickly evaporated.

“The good news is there’s no lingering environmental damage to discuss with this incident,” he said.

Enbridge Line 5 is 645 miles long and runs from Superior, Wisconsin, across Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and under the Straits of Mackinac to the Lower Peninsula, where it runs to Sarnia Ontario. Environmental groups have targeted the 60-year-old pipeline for criticism, especially the portion that runs under the Straits of Mackinac.

“Enbridge Line 5 carries oil products over many sensitive areas of Michigan and it deserves an environmental review to protect the Great Lakes,” says David Holtz of the Sierra Club.

The DEQ’s Brad Wurfel says the leak near Manistique is not a signal there are potential problems with the underwater portions of the pipeline.

He says the above-ground and below-water portions of the line are built very differently. He says, unlike the above-ground pipes, the pipes under the straits don’t have welded seams.

“The reason this pipeline had a leak, as I understand it, is it there was a leak in a weld seam. There aren’t weld seams in the segment that runs under the lake," Wurful says. "So it’s kind of apples to oranges from a regulatory perspective.”

Wurfel says the underwater pipes are welded where the sections are joined.

A state commission is looking into the safety of the Enbridge pipeline. Environmental groups say it should be subjected to a full review by state and federal authorities.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story made it seem that the underwater pipes operated by Enbridge had no seams at all. The difference is that the above ground pipes have a long seam that runs the length of the pipe. The underwater pipes only have welded seams where they pipe sections are joined. The reporter who wrote the story did not make this clear.

Correction: An earlier version of this story reported Enbridge line 5 transports liquid natural gas. That is not correct. It transports light crude and natural gas liquids.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.