Gaps identified in Line 5 protective coating, Enbridge says pipeline remains safe

Mackinac Bridge | Susan J. Demas

Canadian oil company Enbridge is once again defending the integrity of its controversial Line 5 pipeline, which lies beneath the environmentally sensitive Straits of Mackinac and is approaching 70 years old.

Enbridge revealed Tuesday that during seasonal maintenance work on the pipeline this month, workers found four spots on Line 5’s east segment where the protective coating had worn away and exposed the bare metal.

The coating gaps range from .07 to .43 square feet. Enbridge spokesperson Ryan Duffy told the Advance that the four spots were discovered last Wednesday and the repairs will likely take five to 10 days. 

Duffy said the cause of the coating damage has not been determined at this stage, but Enbridge is still reviewing its monitoring data. The company maintains that Line 5 is structurally sound.

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“We immediately inspected the line with remotely operated vehicles and with divers and determined there are no integrity issues and Line 5 remains safe,” Enbridge said in a statement Wednesday.

This is not the first time this has happened.

In March 2017, concerns were raised when an inspection report surfaced from the previous September noting gaps in Line 5’s protective coating. Enbridge assured state officials that the gaps were “limited,” and the pipeline was in “as good of condition as the day it was installed.”

But months later, Enbridge issued another inspection report which revealed more gaps in the coating than the company had previously disclosed. That led to then-Gov. Rick Snyder expressing “significant concern” over Enbridge’s apparent lack of transparency, and remarking that he was “no longer satisfied with the operational activities and public information tactics that have become status quo for Enbridge.”

However, that changed over the coming year as Snyder struck a deal with Enbridge to build a new, tunnel-encased pipeline under the Straits shortly before the term-limited Republican governor left office.

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“We regularly run tools inside the pipeline that scan the steel and confirm the integrity of the Line,” Duffy told the Advance on Wednesday. He added that crews have already installed seven new steel screw anchors to the pipeline this month, as planned, with 13 more supports to be installed.

Environmental advocates and others have long criticized Enbridge for downplaying potential safety issues and withholding certain information from the public.

Sean McBrearty, the legislative and policy director for Michigan Clean Water Action and campaign coordinator for the anti-Line 5 Oil & Water Don’t Mix coalition, described the most recent coating gaps as an indicator of the pipeline’s impending failure.

“For years, Michigan residents, tribal governments, and businesses have been calling on state authorities to decommission Line 5. The recent coating gaps found by Enbridge are unsurprising as coating gaps have been found on Line 5 regularly for years. It is one more sign of a pipeline that is ready to fail,” McBrearty said.

“The only question remaining is how long do we have to wait for a major oil spill from Line 5? This pipeline must no longer be allowed to operate, our Great Lakes are simply not worth the risk.”

Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins covers the environment, civil rights 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.