Enviros want Enbridge permits pulled after delayed report of equipment collapse in Straits of Mackinac

Mackinac Bridge | Image by Jason Gillman from Pixabay

Oil pipeline company Enbridge is once again in hot water with environmental groups over transparency concerns.

Since June, the Canadian company has been collecting geological samples in the Straits of Mackinac as part of its preparation to build a tunnel around the aging Line 5. When that sampling work was completed in mid-November, Enbridge reported to the state that an incident in the Straits had occurred two months earlier, on Sept. 12.

That two-month delay in reporting a Sept. 12 equipment failure to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) has prompted outcry from environmental groups, who continue to argue that Enbridge has a problem with transparency and cannot be trusted with the safety of the Great Lakes.

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“Enbridge lies and Enbridge’s pattern and practice of hiding Line 5 oil spills, Line 5 damage and Line 5 corrosion must stop today,” Sean McBrearty, campaign coordinator for the Oil & Water Don’t Mix coalition, said in a statement.

According to Enbridge spokesman Ryan Duffy, Enbridge spent those two months “assessing the situation and gathering information, including sending down a remote vehicle to get a picture of the rod and mapping its coordinates.

“They also conducted a risk assessment of the rod on the bottom,” Duffy wrote in an email.

The equipment failure occurred while crew onboard a ship called the Highland Eagle was drilling into the lakebed to collect rock and soil samples for Enbridge. During that work, a bore hole collapsed and one of the steel rods used to fill the hole could not be retrieved.

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In addition to the 40-feet long piece of drill rod lodged in the lakebed, another 45-feet long piece equipment was also lost to the bottom of the Straits. Environmental groups worry that these large pieces of mechanical debris could have caused damage to the Line 5 pipeline, potentially endangering the Great Lakes, especially since Enbridge does not plan to retrieve the fallen equipment from the lakebed until spring.

“The state should put a halt to all Enbridge activities in the Straits until there is an independent evaluation by the state of any damage or the potential for future damage resulting from Enbridge failures,” McBrearty said.

Duffy said that since the borehole “was not near the pipelines,” it “could not have interfered with Line 5.” He also denied that there is any potential for environmental harm from the incident.

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“There is no safety or environmental risk, as the three-inch rod is lying flat on the lake bottom and does not, nor did it ever, pose any threat of interfering with Line 5 or ship traffic,” Duffy wrote. 

He added that waiting until spring to retrieve the rod is the safest course of action.

Enbridge maintains that it is in full compliance with the permit issued for the geological work.

Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins covers the environment, civil rights, health care/safety net and criminal justice. She is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service. When Laina is not writing or listening to podcasts, she loves art and design, discovering new music, being out in nature and spending time with her two very special cats.