MI Governor Won't Shut Down Line 5
Six weeks after members of Michigan’s Pipeline Safety Advisory Board called on Gov. Rick Snyder to temporarily shut down Enbridge Energy’s Line 5 liquids pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac, the governor has rejected the idea, telling the board an immediate and unexpected shutdown isn’t the proper approach to dealing with the controversial pipeline.
In a letter dated Jan. 26, Snyder addressed the PSAB’s request, noting that while gaps in the pipeline’s protective coating have raised safety concerns, the line did recently pass a high-pressure hydrotest with no problems, and a sudden shutdown could create a propane supply crisis during a winter when home heating fuel shortages are already anticipated.
The PSAB met Dec. 11 to discuss Line 5, which has been subject to increased scrutiny over the past year as Enbridge has denied, then later admitted, a number of gaps in the protective coating on the dual pipeline, the only such pipeline that stretches under the Great Lakes. The board, with seven members abstaining, voted to advise an immediate, temporary shutdown of the pipeline; PSAB has the power to advise the governor, but its suggestions are not binding.
Agreement Deadline Extended
Rather than shut down the pipeline, which transports crude oil from Alberta to Sarnia, Ontario, and also moves natural gas liquids including propane throughout Michigan, Snyder opted to keep with the agreement he reached with Enbridge in November, which includes a full risk analysis to be performed on the pipeline. Snyder wrote in his letter last week that the risk analysis may not be finished until mid-September, so he has agreed to extend the deadline for a final decision on the pipeline until Sept. 30; the deadline was originally Aug. 15.
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Citizens, environmentalists and lawmakers have expressed concerns about the condition of the pipeline, the only one that runs under the Great Lakes.
Other provisions of the agreement include replacing Line 5 under the St. Clair River—an action Enbridge says it is working actively toward—and shutting down Line 5 under the Straits anytime sustained waves of over 8 feet are documented. The pipeline was shut down for a period of about four hours on Dec. 5 because of high waves.
Enbridge has been under increasing fire over the past year from citizens, activists and lawmakers in Michigan who are concerned about the condition of the 65-year-old dual pipeline under the Straits. In November, Snyder publicly called on Enbridge to be more transparent about the line after a series of revelations of coating damage on the pipes under the Straits.
In February, Enbridge denied reports of coating loss on the pipeline. In March, the company acknowledged that there were areas of coating loss, but that they only affected the outer layer of the coating system.
More recently, it was revealed that there were areas of bare metal on the line under the Straits, and some Enbridge personnel knew about the gaps soon after they were created in 2014, but the company hadn’t acknowledged their existence for three years. In November, Enbridge revealed that, rather than the three gaps in the coating that the company originally reported, there were dozens of areas of bare metal, some larger than one square foot in area.
Enbridge has held that the pipeline’s integrity has never been compromised, citing the recent pressure test as evidence that the coating gaps have not led to any increased risk at this time.