Sides Clash at Line 5 Hearing


A hearing held Monday (Aug. 20) by U.S. Sen. Gary Peters examined the controversy around Enbridge Energy’s Line 5 pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac, calling into question recent action by the energy firm even as pipeline-safety officials reassured citizens that the twin liquids pipelines are at a “low risk” for failure.

The hearing, in Traverse City, Michigan, was intended to get to the bottom of the ongoing debate over the safety of the 65-year-old pipeline, which has never experienced a release and which Enbridge says is structurally sound. While Line 5 passed a high-pressure hydrotest in June 2017, concerns over coating delamination and April’s anchor strike by a passing tug have led to calls for its shutdown.

One of the notable takeaways from the hearing was that, according to a spokesperson for the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, a division of the Department of Transportation, Line 5 suffered “gouges” in addition to dents in the April incident. Enbridge had previously said publicly that the pipelines suffered only dents, and described the damage in similar terms in a suit filed last month against VanEnkevort, the company that operated the tug.

When the incident first occurred, Enbridge denied that Line 5 was damaged, but days later the company said an inspection turned up evidence of damage. Under questioning at Monday’s hearing, a company official said Enbridge would release video from the inspections that took place after the anchor drag.

Peters suggested that because of the nature of the location—the water of the Straits roil in every direction, with the potential to spread spilled oil for miles into both Lake Michigan and Lake Huron—the line should be subject to special regulations and procedures. “You will not find a more sensitive area anywhere in the United States,” the Senator said.

At the same time, the PHMSA’s Howard “Skip” Elliott testified that the pipelines have a low risk of failure because of their construction: The two 20-inch lines are composed of X35 Grade, Schedule 60 pipe with a nominal wall thickness of 0.82 inches, far thicker than most other pipelines.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is expected to reach an agreement with Enbridge this fall on the future of the pipeline; after a series of studies and analyses of the line and possible alternatives, public comment on the pipeline’s future continues through September.


Tagged categories: Government; NA; North America; Oil and Gas; Pipelines; Quality Control

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