Group says Enbridge is operating Line 5 under Lake Michigan illegally

Apr 13, 2016

Several environmental groups and tribes say Enbridge Energy is operating its oil pipelines under Lake Michigan illegally. They sent a letter to Governor Snyder, Attorney General Bill Schuette, and others calling for the immediate shutdown of the twin pipelines.

The Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign put together a list of what they say are eight violations of the state’s easement with Enbridge.

Back in 1953, the state allowed the pipelines to cross the Straits of Mackinac under this legal contract.

You can read it here.

The groups’ letter says the conditions of the contract have not been maintained. They cite things like failure to maintain supports for the pipelines, problems with corrosion and “mill anomalies” along the pipeline that violate thickness requirements, and a lack of proper insurance for the Straits crossing.

You can read the letter with their list of the eight violations here.

Liz Kirkwood is the Executive Director of the group “For the Love of Water" (FLOW). She says the group sent the letter so the state could take immediate action.

“The intent of this letter is to give the state of Michigan the legal tools to initiate and demand full compliance now, and not wait for an alternative or risk analysis by next summer,” Kirkwood said.

State officials are in the process of hiring outside experts to assess the risks associated with the pipelines under the Straits, and to evaluate alternatives to the crossing. That evaluation could take another year.

Enbridge holds all the information with regard to the condition of the Line 5 pipelines. The state has been corresponding with the company for two years seeking more specific information, but Kirkwood said that process is “unsatisfactory in terms of a quick, rapid, and engaged state government.”

Jim Olsen of FLOW says the state should act now.

"They're making too many false assumptions here and twisting the information that we have provided." - Enbridge spokesman Jason Manshum

“When you have a high risk, and a lack of sufficient information or unknowns, then you must eliminate the risk, and take action immediately. Even if it’s temporary until you understand the full situation,” said Olsen.

Enbridge spokesman Jason Manshum says the company is in full compliance with the easement, and  the letter to Michigan officials is full of misinformation about the condition of the pipelines.

“They’re looking at data. And they’re making assumptions on data. But they don’t have all of the correct information. They’re making too many false assumptions here and twisting the information that we have provided," Manshum said.

Manshum says one of those incorrect assumptions is that the wooden slats around the pipeline at the time of installation were supposed to be in place for the entire life of the pipeline.

Wooden slats placed around the pipeline as its being installed in 1953. The postcard above shows the slats removed.
Credit A Trudgen / Oil and Water Don't Mix

In their report, the Oil & Water Don’t Mix group shows photographs of the pipeline being installed in 1953 where the wooden slats are no longer around the pipeline.

The group maintains that the slats were meant to protect the pipeline underwater.

From the group’s letter:

In other words, Appendix 3 demonstrates that the circumferential wooden slats wrapped around the circumference of the Straits sections of Line 5 were not a temporary measure to aid the pipe laying operation. Rather they are an integral part of the structure and are intended to be in place throughout the pipelines’ entire service life.

Manshum says the wooden slats were simply meant to protect pipeline during delivery. He says the company is in the early stages of releasing more information about the condition of Line 5 to the public.

“We started putting our inspection data online specific to the Straits, because we know that’s where the majority of questions and concerns are at this point,” said Manshum.

Manshum says more information will be released about the condition of the entire length of Line 5.

Ed Timm, an engineer and technical advisor to Oil & Water Don’t Mix, says it’s impossible to assess the true condition of the pipeline until Enbridge releases more specific information.

“Enbridge has simply not released any information that a professional engineer can take and do calculations from,” said Timm. “I’ve done a lot of work based on theory, but the real facts on the ground … [are] just not available.”

The governor’s office sent us this statement via e-mail regarding letter:

Protecting the Great Lakes is vital and the governor takes monitoring of the Straits of Mackinac very seriously, which is why he created the Pipeline Safety Advisory Board. We understand the concerns about safety and protection, and that’s why numerous state departments – including the Attorney General’s office, DEQ and the Michigan Agency for Energy are all engaged and working in coordination to ensure compliance and review possible actions moving forward.

The state Attorney General’s office said it's reviewing the group’s letter, and are working to “get all needed studies done as soon as possible.”