Enbridge’s Safety Violations, Damage to Oil Pipeline Spells Game Over for Line 5

Michigan Governor Whitmer Must Protect our Great Lakes, Drinking Water

On Friday, June 19th, energy transportation company Enbridge disclosed two massive failures in its pipeline operations. The first is their failure to uphold agreements on pipeline safety, resulting in $6.7 million in fines by the Environmental Protection Agency. The second came from Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announcing that Enbridge disclosed undetected damage to its Line 5 pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac, caused by an unknown source, resulting in the voluntary shutdown of the oil and natural gas liquids pipeline, which transports nearly 23 million gallons of product through the heart of the Great Lakes a day.

Here’s what we do know: Enbridge was repairing coating damage on Line 5—which runs along the bottom of Lake Michigan through the Straits of Mackinac—when divers discovered, 150 feet away, that one of the anchor supports holding up Line 5 had moved several feet and damaged more coating, rubbing the pipeline raw. If the anchor has moved several feet, that means the pipeline has been exposed to significant force and movement as well. A rupture of Line 5 could result in a devastating oil spill, threating the wildlife, outdoor recreation economy, and drinking water for millions of people living along the Great Lakes. The state of Michigan has an easement agreement with Enbridge which requires specific safety measures for the operation of Line 5 in the Great Lakes.  

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel need to immediately require a complete shutdown of Line 5, including purging of all product, until a full investigation is carried out by a third party that has no association with Enbridge.

Below are just a few surface-level questions that need to be answered immediately—and communicated to the public:

  • What was the unknown force?  Was there another anchor strike, swift currents, or debris that hit the line?
  • What is the damage to the line and the support anchor?
  • How much has the pipeline moved?
  • Where did this damage occur and where else has this occurred?
  • When did Enbridge discover this damage?  
  • Why do Enbridge’s inspections continue to fail to detect major integrity issues? What else is being missed?
  • Why is the federal oversight agency, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which has already taken Enbridge to task for lax safety, not requiring an independent investigation and review?  
  • If Enbridge had not been near this location, correcting other integrity issues, how else would this have been discovered?
  • Is the previous coating damage related to this damage?

These questions are critical to understand, but the answers will just be the latest in a long line of evidence that Line 5—and Enbridge’s operation of it—pose too much risk to the Great Lakes to continue even one more day. The fact of the matter is that Enbridge’s Line 5 has significant damage from unknown causes and this damage went undetected for an unknown period of time—this is unacceptable. We can no longer wait.

During her election, Governor Whitmer pledged to take swift action to shut down Line 5 and I think Michiganders have heard enough—there is no possible way this company can operate this pipeline with due care in our Great Lakes and the violations continue to stack up. Governor Whitmer has a legal duty to protect the Great Lakes, our drinking water, our communities, and our jobs—and the only possible way to do that is to immediately start the process to revoke the easement.

Call on Governor Whitmer to take action on Line 5.

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Published: June 20, 2020