​Michigan appoints contractors to study Enbridge Line 5 Straits Of Mackinac pipelines

Michigan attorney general Bill Schuette. Image: Flickr/Joe Ross

Enbridge Energy Company Inc. has agreed to fully fund two independent analyses of the Line 5 Straits of Mackinac pipelines to help inform decisions by the State of Michigan about the future of the underwater pipelines, the state said Tuesday.

“These studies are an essential element to determining what risks we face, what resources we need, and what alternatives exist for these pipelines,” Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, said in a news release. “Our priority for the next year will be ensuring these studies can be completed quickly and well, with ample opportunities for public input.”

The company will contribute $3.6 million for the two studies, said Enbridge Inc. spokesman Graham White. The agreement between Enbridge and the state also provides for a process to ensure data requests by contractors can be met quickly and completely, according to the state.

Enbridge's Line 5 is a 645-mile, 30-inch diameter pipeline that travels through Michigan's Upper and Lower Peninsulas, originating in Superior, Wisconsin, and terminating in Sarnia, Ontario. As it travels under the Straits of Mackinac, Line 5 splits into two 20-inch-diameter, parallel pipelines that are buried onshore and taper off deep underwater, crossing the Straits west of the Mackinac Bridge for a distance of 4.5 miles.

Enbridge currently has a formal agreement with the State of Michigan to not transport heavy crude oil through these pipelines due to the perceived risk, which Enbridge refutes.

The state said it has selected Dynamic Risk Assessment Systems, Inc. as the successful bidder for the newly announced alternatives analysis, which will comprehensively evaluate the current pipelines and the alternatives to them, including a wide range of potential impacts (both positive and negative) of various alternatives.

Det Norske Veritas (U.S.A.), Inc. is to conduct the independent risk analysis that will be used to determine the potential financial risk of a worst-case spill in order to determine what resources would be necessary to clean up and pay for damages from such a spill.

The analyses are expected to be complete in the summer of 2017.

“This announcement ensures the State will get the information it needs to best protect the Great Lakes and the citizens of Michigan,” Valerie Brader, executive director of the Michigan Agency for Energy, said in a news release. “Moreover, these experts, who will work solely for the people of Michigan, will come at no cost to the State.”

Requests for proposals for the studies were developed as a response to two recommendations in the Michigan Petroleum Pipeline Task Force Report released in July 2015. Implementing the recommendations of the task force continues to be a priority of the state of Michigan and the Pipeline Safety Advisory Board as they work toward ensuring the safety, upkeep and transparency of issues related to Michigan’s network of pipelines, said the state.

On its website, Enbridge says that the Line 5 Straits of Mackinac crossing was built in 1953 by the Bechtel Corporation to meet extraordinary design and construction standards, remains in excellent condition, and has never experienced a leak. The company says it monitors the Line 5 Straits crossing 24/7, using both human and automated resources and also carries out regular inspections of the line, using inline tools, expert divers, and remote operating vehicles (ROVs), going above and beyond regulatory requirements.

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