Enbridge oil pipelines in Straits, St. Clair River could go in tunnels under new pact

Governor Rick Snyder and the Canadian oil transport company announced a new agreement today, which they say will boost the safety of twin pipelines, known as Line Five.

Canadian oil transport giant Enbridge's underwater pipeline in the St. Clair River would go under the river in a tunnel, and its controversial pipeline at the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac would be studied for the same tunnel treatment, as part of  a new agreement the company reached with the state that was announced Monday.

Enbridge will also be required to shut down transmission of oil through Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac during adverse weather conditions that would limit oil recovery efforts in the event of a spill, according to the agreement. 

“Business as usual by Enbridge is not acceptable and we are going to ensure the highest level of environmental safety standards are implemented to protect one of Michigan’s most valuable natural resources,”  Gov. Rick Snyder said Monday. “The items required in this agreement are good strides forward. The state is evaluating the entire span of Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline and its future, but we cannot wait for the analyses to be completed before taking action to defend our waterways.”

Under stipulations detailed in the agreement announced today, the state is requiring Enbridge to:

  • Replace the portion of Line 5 that crosses beneath the St. Clair River with a new pipe in a tunnel under the river, a site where similar pipeline construction for Line 6B was successfully accomplished a few years ago. The St. Clair River is an important source of drinking water and an environmentally sensitive location along the pipeline. The underground replacement line will significantly lower the risk that oil could reach the river or the Great Lakes.
  • Undertake a study, in conjunction with the state, on the placement of a new pipeline or the existing dual pipelines in a tunnel beneath the Straits of Mackinac. The state’s alternative analysis identified tunneling as an alternative to the current pipelines. This study will examine several possible techniques and allow a much more detailed examination on the technical feasibility of such a tunnel.
  • Temporarily shut down operation of Line 5 in the straits during periods of sustained adverse weather conditions, because those conditions do not allow effective response to potential oil spills. “Sustained adverse weather conditions” are defined in an appendix of the agreement.
  • Assess the possible installation of underwater technologies, including cameras, to better monitor the pipeline beneath the Straits of Mackinac.
  • Implement technologies that improve the safety of Line 5 in the straits by allowing faster detection and a more immediate response in the event of a spill.
  • Implement measures to mitigate a potential vessel anchor strike on Line 5 beneath the straits. A vessel anchor strike was identified in the final alternatives analysis as one of the most serious threats to Line 5 safety in the straits.
  • In partnership with the state, implement additional measures to minimize the likelihood of an oil spill at every Line 5 water crossing in Michigan.
  • Increase transparency by providing the opportunity for the state to fully participate in each of the evaluations required under the agreement; providing all information requested by the state about the operation of Line 5 in Michigan; and meeting regularly with the state to assess and discuss any changes to the pipeline’s operation.

The deal comes as trust has eroded between state officials and Enbridge over the past year. After receiving assurances that there was no protective coating missing on the underwater Straits pipelines from Enbridge last spring, state officials learned in late August of several areas of missing coating. Within weeks, Enbridge disclosed the missing coating areas were more numerous, and larger, than previously disclosed. Then it was revealed that Enbridge knew about coating loss as a result of its installation of anchor supports to hold the pipeline at the lake bottom three years ago. Enbridge attributed the failure to "an internal reporting issue."

Enbridge spokesman Ryan Duffy issued a statement Monday.

"From an engineering and operational perspective, on-going inspections and studies show that Line 5 at the Straits of Mackinac remains in good shape and is fit for service. We realize our internal technical studies and understanding haven’t translated well into reassuring the public or Michigan leaders about the ongoing safe operation of Line 5. We apologize if our actions sometimes have created confusion.  

"Many Michiganders have joined Governor Snyder in expressing, with increasing frequency, concerns regarding the safety of Line 5 in the Straits.  Enbridge not only is hearing those concerns, we are listening. Most important, we are taking actions to address these concerns.

"We hope the agreement is a step in a positive direction to demonstrate our commitment to doing the right thing to serve Michigan and protect the waters of the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes are a treasure that must be preserved now and for future generations.  

"Trust is earned, and while we have a long way to go, we remain committed to doing what it takes to rebuild trust and uphold our pledge to protect the environment while safely meeting Michigan’s energy needs."

Read the agreement: 

 

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