Gaps in pipe­line coat­ing raises ‘sign­f­i­cant’ con­cern

The Observer (Sarnia) - - FRONT PAGE -

LANSING, Mich. — Michi­gan Gov. Rick Sny­der says he has “sig­nif­i­cant” con­cerns after the com­pany that op­er­ates twin oil pipe­lines in a Great Lakes wa­ter­way told state of­fi­cials it had found ad­di­tional gaps in pipe­line coat­ing.

The Repub­li­can gov­er­nor crit­i­cized En­bridge Inc. after the Cana­dian com­pany is­sued an up­date on in­spec­tions and re­pairs of Line 5, which car­ries about 87 mil­lion litres of oil and nat­u­ral gas across north­ern Wis­con­sin and Michi­gan to re­finer­ies in On­tario each day.

“I am no longer sat­is­fied with the op­er­a­tional ac­tiv­i­ties and public in­for­ma­tion tac­tics that have be­come sta­tus quo for En­bridge,” Sny­der said in a state­ment. “It is vi­tally im­por­tant that En­bridge im­me­di­ately be­come much more trans­par­ent about the con­di­tion of Line 5 and their ac­tiv­i­ties to en­sure pro­tec­tion of the Great Lakes.”

A nearly eight-kilo­me­tre seg­ment of the line runs along the bot­tom of the Straits of Mack­inac, which con­nects Lakes Huron and Michi­gan. That sec­tion is di­vided into two pipes that have been in place since 1953. En­bridge says they are in good con­di­tion and mon­i­tored closely, but en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists con­tend they are at risk of leak­ing and want them de­com­mis­sioned.

The com­pany, based in Calgary, has dis­closed in re­cent months that gaps have formed in pro­tec­tive enamel coat­ing on the out­side of the pipes. En­bridge ac­knowl­edged in Oc­to­ber some of its per­son­nel knew about the prob­lem for years but only re­cently in­formed the state.

En­bridge said then that eight ar­eas had been found to have coat­ing gaps or cal­cium car­bon­ate de­posits, which in­di­cate places where coat­ing could be thin or miss­ing.

Six have been re­paired, said Guy Jarvis, ex­ec­u­tive vi­cepres­i­dent of liq­uid pipe­lines and ma­jor projects. But he said ad­di­tional gaps and cal­care­ous de­posits had turned up dur­ing in­spec­tions of 128 places where an­chors have been in­stalled to sup­port the pipe­lines. All have been ex­am­ined with a re­mote un­der­wa­ter ve­hi­cle, and divers have looked at 48 of them.

They found three spots of bare steel, plus cal­care­ous de­posits at “many of the lo­ca­tions,” Jarvis told re­porters. He did not say how many, but state of­fi­cials briefed sep­a­rately by the com­pany said a ma­jor­ity of the 48 diver-in­spected lo­ca­tions had gaps.

“A year ago, En­bridge said there were no coat­ing gaps in the Straits pipe­line,” said Va­lerie Brader, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Michi­gan Agency for En­ergy.

“When will we know the full ac­count­ing of what En­bridge knows about Line 5?”

Work­ers re­moved cal­care­ous de­posit sam­ples from 11 places, leav­ing bare steel that also will need to be fixed, En­bridge said.

“The ex­act cause of these de­posits at these lo­ca­tions will be fur­ther as­sessed in con­junc­tion with the state in the com­ing weeks,” Jarvis said. “We re­main con­fi­dent in the con­tin­ued safe op­er­a­tion of Line 5 and high­light that no ev­i­dence of cor­ro­sion on the line was found in any of this work.”

En­bridge is sched­uled to out­line its find­ings about the pipe­lines’ sta­tus, in­clud­ing the con­di­tion of pro­tec­tive coat­ing and an­chors, dur­ing a Dec. 11 ap­pear­ance be­fore the Michi­gan Pipe­line Safety Ad­vi­sory Board. State of­fi­cials said they would bring on “ad­di­tional tech­ni­cal ex­per­tise” to eval­u­ate the com­pany’s pre­sen­ta­tion.

The state plans to re­lease a fi­nal re­port Nov. 20 on options for trans­port­ing the oil and nat­u­ral gas car­ried by Line 5. A pre­lim­i­nary ver­sion listed a num­ber of al­ter­na­tives, in­clud­ing shut­ting down the line, keep­ing it go­ing or re­plac­ing it.

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