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Risk analysis for Enbridge’s aging Line 5 to begin soon

One of the anchors used to hold Line 5 in place under the Straits of Mackinac.
Screen shot of a Ballard Marine inspection video
Enbridge Energy
One of the anchors used to hold Line 5 in place under the Straits of Mackinac.

Monday's meeting of the Michigan Pipeline Safety Advisory Board was filled with worry about the condition of Line 5, the two 64-year-old Enbridge pipelines carrying oil and natural gas liquids under the Straits of Mackinac.

Enbridge recently revealed there are areas of the pipeline where the protective coating has worn off. At first, the company said the areas were "Band-Aid" sized. But then, the story changed.

Michigan Radio's Lansing reporter Cheyna Roth has been covering Line 5 developments, and she said seven of the eight areas in question are seven inches in diameter or more. Some, she said, could be as large as a foot in diameter.

“It does seem clear that the trust that [state officials] had in Enbridge has been broken to some extent," Roth said. "And that it is going to take some time for Enbridge to rebuild that trust with the board.”

The Michigan Pipeline Safety Advisory Board now wants a risk assessment analysis for a Line 5 spill. Roth said it's an analysis the board tried to do a little over a year ago now, but a conflict of interest with the original group conducting the study stopped it from going forward.

This time Guy Meadows, director of the Great Lakes Research Center at Michigan Technological University, will head an independent study alongside researchers from other state universities.

Meadows has previously worked for Enbridge, and has said Michigan Tech has an existing contract to measure environmental data for the company, but Roth said board members are largely unconcerned about a conflict of interest.

In a recent interview with Roth, Meadows echoed that sentiment:

“Michigan Tech, you know, we have worked for Enbridge, but I think we have a better understanding of the dynamics of what happens in the Straits – the strengths of the currents, their impact on the bottom, and infrastructure associated with the bottom than any other group would have," Meadows said. "So if it’s a conflict, that’s for you to decide.”

In full disclosure, Enbridge Energy is a financial supporter of Michigan Radio.

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

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