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MI Lawmaker Targets Underwater Pipeline

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

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A liquid pipeline under Michigan’s Straits of Mackinac is again under fire, this time from a state legislator whose new bill would require a third-party evaluation of lines running under the Great Lakes.

The legislation, introduced by State Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge), could lead to the shutdown of Enbridge Energy’s Line 5, a 60-year-old pipeline that has been in the news in recent weeks due to reports that seem to indicate areas of coating delamination.

'Targetting' Line 5

A press release issued by Jones’ office Thursday (March 30) says that the new bill “targets Line 5,” which the senator notes runs from Alberta to Sarnia, Ontario, crossing through the Straits, and parts of Wisconsin and Michigan, to get there.

Line 5 map
Enbridge Energy

Enbridge's Line 5, which moves liquid crude and natural gas liquids under the Straits of Mackinac, is the main target of a Michigan lawmaker's new bill.

“Roughly 40 million people drink water from the Great Lakes every day, and the lakes support thousands of Michigan jobs and families,” Jones said. “It is simply too much to risk so that Canada can have a shortcut for their oil.”

According to Enbridge, while much of the crude coming from Alberta does go to refineries in Sandia, some is also refined in Michigan and Ohio. And it’s not all Canadian oil moving through the pipeline: At points, sweet crude produced in Michigan is pumped into Line 5 to make its way to refineries as well.

Natural gas liquids used to make propane are supplied to Michigan through the pipeline as well. Line 5 itself supplies 65 percent of the propane used in the Upper Peninsula, according to the company.

Sen. Rick Jones
Office of Sen. Rick Jones

“I do not believe that it is a question of if the line will fail, but when,” said state Sen. Rick Jones in introducing the new bill.

According to Jones’ legislation, new pipelines under the Great Lakes would be prohibited, and any existing pipelines—meaning Line 5—would have to undergo a third-party risk analysis, and would be subject to shutdown if inspectors deemed the risk to be too great.

Enbridge did not immediately reply to a requeset for comment Monday (April 3).

Coating Concerns

Earlier this year, a local newspaper brought to light a document that seemed to show areas of coating failure on Line 5. Enbridge officials said that the document is a draft, and that there are no holidays on the pipeline’s coating.

The company later said, however, that there are 18 areas of coating delamination on the pipeline; only the outermost coating layer is affected, though, according to Enbridge. The company said such defects on the outer coating would not normally be repaired, because the base coating is still intact and protecting the pipeline.

Straits of Mackinac
© / Dough4537

Line 5 runs from Alberta to Sarnia, Ontario, crossing through the Straits of Mackinac and parts of Wisconsin and Michigan to get there.

At the same time, an independent analysis by engineer Edward Timm argued that based on the type of coating most likely used on the pipeline, and on the dynamics of the water flowing around Line 5 in the Straits, areas of the pipeline “may only be one peak current event away from catastrophic failure.”

In 2013, Enbridge performed upgrades to pumps along Line 5 to increase its capacity to 540,000 barrels per day, but the pipeline itself was not upgraded. In 2014, the company says it added anchors so that no span was longer than 75 feet.

According to the company, Line 5, with pipe walls of at least 0.812 inches, is the thickest pipeline in its North American network. Line 5 has never experienced a leak.

Past Legislation

Jones’ new bill isn’t the first attempt by lawmakers to get Line 5 shut down. Last year, Rep. Candice Miller (R-Michigan) introduced the Great Lakes Pipeline Safety Act of 2016 in U.S. Congress, directing the U.S. Department of Transportation to study the risks associated with pipelines under the Great Lakes, and shut down any pipeline that might threaten the environment in the region.

That bill was referred to the Subcommittee on Energy and Power, and did not make it to a full vote.

Jones’ bill in the Michigan legislature has reportedly been referred to the state Senate’s natural resources committee.

“I do not believe that it is a question of if the line will fail, but when,” Jones said (emphasis in original). “A leak from the pipeline under the straits would devastate the state’s thriving boating, fishing and tourism industries and wreak havoc on the health of the world’s largest collection of fresh water."


Tagged categories: Environmental Protection; Government; Infrastructure; Oil and Gas; Pipeline

Comment from M. Halliwell, (4/4/2017, 11:09 AM)

Ok, I know pipelines and what they carry are "evil" in today's world...but I just wonder how many of the "shut them down" folks are aware of and willing to give up the products that rely on what's in the pipelines. I look forward to the day we don't need pipelines or what's in them....but we're a long way from that day yet.

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