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Pipeline board wants Snyder to amend Line 5 agreement

a map shows the straits of mackinac with some satellite imagery
screenshot from Enbridge report to the state

Members of a pipeline advisory board are criticizing a deal Governor Snyder struck with the energy company Enbridge. They are calling for the line to be temporarily shut down.

The Pipeline Safety Advisory Board, created by a governor’s executive order, met Monday. Some members raised concerns over Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline, and the agreement the governor made with the company after the line showed wear on the decades-old protective coating.

The line carries oil and natural gas liquids through the Straits of Mackinac. Snyder and Enbridge agreed it would replace a section of the line, shut down the line when bad weather causes waves higher than eight feet, and conduct a study on building a new pipeline in a tunnel under the straits.

Board Co-Chair Valerie Brader said she’s happy with the deal the governor made with Enbridge, which is one of Michigan Radio's corporate sponsors. She said it allowed the line to be shut down during recent high winds. However, she still has concerns about Enbridge and the pipeline, particularly gaps found in the line between the protective coating and metal pipes.

“Yes, it is concerning that they still do not know what is causing these coating gaps,” she said.

During the meeting, Enbridge said the line is safe and they are complying with the agreement they made with the governor.

But some members of the board said that agreement doesn’t go far enough.

Jennifer McKay is a board member who called for amending the agreement between the governor and Enbridge. Members made multiple recommendations for amending the agreement, one of which is that the line be temporarily shut down until there is an inspection and all protective coating issues are repaired.

“It only makes sense to shut down the pipeline until Enbridge can adequately address and fix the coating issues to ensure that we don’t have any type of rupture or leak in the Straits of Mackinac,” McKay said.

Members also called for a study that looks into Michigan-specific needs when it comes to Line Five. McKay said Michigan shouldn’t have to worry about how Enbridge gets its oil to market.

“That’s Enbridge’s job,” she said. “Our job is to take care of our citizen’s needs and our natural resources.”

Environmental groups that have continually called for the line to be shut down also attended the meeting. Sean McBrearty of Oil and Water Don’t Mix called the agreement between Snyder and Enbridge a “backroom deal.” 

“This undercuts this entire process that the Snyder administration has decided to drag the public through for the last three years,” he said. “There’s been ample evidence that’s only gotten stronger that we need to decommission Line Five.”

There was confusion as to whether the recommendations actually passed. A majority of members abstained from voting saying they didn’t have enough time to read them over. The rest of the members, voted yes. But the board said after the vote that the measures passed and they will go to the governor for his review. The recommendations are not binding and are purely advisory.

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.

Before becoming the newest Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network, Cheyna Roth was an attorney. She spent her days fighting it out in court as an assistant prosecuting attorney for Ionia County. Eventually, Cheyna took her investigative and interview skills and moved on to journalism. She got her masters at Michigan State University and was a documentary filmmaker, podcaster, and freelance writer before finding her home with NPR. Very soon after joining MPRN, Cheyna started covering the 2016 presidential election, chasing after Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and all their surrogates as they duked it out for Michigan. Cheyna also focuses on the Legislature and criminal justice issues for MPRN. Cheyna is obsessively curious, a passionate storyteller, and an occasional backpacker. Follow her on Twitter at @Cheyna_R
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