National Wildlife Federation
In 2013, the National Wildlife Federation sent divers to look at Enbridge, Inc.'s aging straits pipelines, finding wide spans of unsupported structures encrusted with exotic zebra mussels and quagga mussels.
Enbridge Energy informed the state of Michigan Tuesday that its Line 5 oil and gas pipeline was damaged by a vessel's anchor — believed to be the same vessel that caused recent damage to power cables
located at the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac, causing hundreds of gallons of coolant to leak.
According to a statement from Gov. Rick Snyder sent Wednesday, Enbridge informed the governor late Tuesday night that the pipeline had been damaged with three small dents. Snyder has since sent a letter to Attorney General Bill Schuette asking him to initiate legal proceedings against the operators of the vessel, along with any other responsible parties, "to protect Michigan's critical natural resources and hold those organizations accountable for potential environmental harm."
"There is no excuse for the ship’s actions, which risked devastating environmental harm as well as the loss of vital infrastructure for communications, electrical power, and heat for residents of the Upper Peninsula," Lt. Gov. Brian Calley said in the statement. "I have asked the Attorney General to begin legal action against the ship's owners immediately to ensure every member of the maritime community understands the no-anchor zone is vital."
According to Enbridge, the dents pose no threats to the pipeline, but Snyder has called for an independent investigation. "It is possible that infrastructure lines owned by those private entities may also have been damaged," Snyder said in the statement. "The investigations are ongoing."
It's worth noting that Enbridge hasn't always been viewed as forthcoming when it comes to reporting on the status of its pipelines. Last year, it was discovered that damage to the pipe's coating was more extensive
than the company initially reported, prompting Snyder to declare he was, "no longer satisfied with the operational activities and public information tactics that have become status quo for Enbridge."
Before that, the pipeline was found to not be in compliance in 2013 when it was discovered that stretches of the pipeline exceeding 75 were unsupported by anchors — a violation of the pipeline's original 1953 easement with the state
. Enbridge has since reinforced the pipeline with new anchors, blaming the unsupported sections on shifting sands at the bottom of the straits.
Before that, Enbridge was responsible for the 2010 spill of 840,000 gallons of heavy crude oil near Marshall, Mich. — one of the the largest U.S. inland oil spills ever. It took the company more than 18 hours to learn of spill.
Snyder also called to accelerate studies on a plan to replace the 65-year-old Line 5 pipeline. Per a previous agreement with the state, Enbridge was asked to conduct a feasibility study to determine if the pipeline could be decommissioned and moved to an underground tunnel.
In a previous risk analysis study, a vessel anchor strike had been identified as the biggest risk facing the pipeline.
"We need to accelerate these studies so they are completed as soon as feasibly and responsibly possible," Snyder said in the statement. “We need the right answers, but we need them as soon as we can get them so that we can take action faster to protect the Great Lakes.”
Experts have warned that a Line 5 leak could pose equal threat to Lakes Michigan and Huron due to currents in the straits, potentially jeopardizing much of the country's freshwater supply.
Snyder's letter to Schuette is below.
See related PDF
Stay on top of Detroit news and views. Sign up for our weekly issue newsletter delivered each Wednesday.