Tests show west leg of Line 5 pipeline isn’t damaged

East line remains shut down for federal investigation

Laina G. Stebbins
Updated with comment from Oil & Water Don’t Mix, 3:49 p.m., 7/9/20

A court-ordered investigation on one of the dual Line 5 oil pipeline’s underwater segments found no indication of metal loss or deformation on an area of interest, according to court documents obtained by the Advance.

Canadian oil company Enbridge had restarted the west leg of Line 5, which runs under the Straits of Mackinac, on July 1 under orders from circuit court Judge James Jamo. Jamo had requested that an in-line inspection (ILI) be completed on a 50-square-inch area toward the middle of the pipeline and that Enbridge provide those results to the state within seven days.

The west segment remains in operation while the east segment remains shut down.

“The inspection results conclude that there are zero metal loss and zero dent anomalies in this area. These results are consistent with past ILI inspection results and demonstrate the pipeline is safe and fit for continued operation,” Enbridge’s notice of the west line investigation report reads.

Anti-Line 5 activists buoyed by national pipeline victories

Enbridge spokesperson Ryan Duffy said the test “reconfirms that the west leg of the pipeline is safe to operate” and emphasized that the state of Michigan will continue to be advised of further investigations.

Enbridge has not been able to conclude definitively what caused the damage to either line, but says the discolored patch and disturbed aquatic biota on the west line’s area of interest was likely caused by a thin, lightweight cable being dragged perpendicular across it by a boat.

Sean McBrearty, campaign coordinator to the anti-Line 5 Oil & Water Don’t Mix coalition, said in a statement Thursday afternoon that the July 1 investigation results should not reassure Michiganders about the pipeline’s risk to the Great Lakes.

“While Enbridge wants us to be reassured by a report they issued today on the damage to one of two Line 5 pipelines, this is just another finger holding back a breach in the proverbial overflowing dam,” McBrearty said. “Only luck is keeping Michigan and the Great Lakes being hit with a catastrophic Line 5 rupture.

“…Michigan shouldn’t be relying on Enbridge to keep the Great Lakes safe. The fact that Gov. Whitmer is content with simply keeping a finger poised to plug the next immediate Line 5 threat is disappointing and unacceptable.  The solution is obvious:  we need all hands on deck to shut down Line 5 and that includes Michigan’s governor,” McBrearty continued.*

Enbridge received an expedited ILI report late Tuesday and provided it to Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office late Wednesday afternoon. The ILI results and other relevant data were also given to the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE), the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and federal regulators at the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).

Further results related to the west line from a mapping inspection tool will be provided to all parties by Friday, in addition to prior inspection results for both dual pipelines. A full ILI for the remainder of the west line will be provided “as soon as practicable once those results are available.”

Judge opens part of Line 5, orders investigation

PHMSA is currently undertaking a separate investigation of the east leg of Line 5. That segment has been shut down since June 18 following the discovery of a significantly damaged anchor support.

So far, the company believes the east line support anchor was likely bent by a boat anchor from a medium-sized vessel traveling parallel along that pipeline segment.

Enbridge says it plans to complete its response to PHMSA’s requests regarding the east line by next week.

An initial interim root cause analysis on what caused the pipeline features is expected to be provided on or before July 22. Written communications between Enbridge and PHMSA regarding both lines must be provided to Nessel’s office no later than July 28. 

Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins covers the environment, immigration 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.