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We've got (some) answers to your question on the oil pipeline under Lake Michigan

Oct 9, 2014

Credit NWF / screenshot from YouTube video

Michigan Radio's MI Curious project puts our journalists to work for you: We investigate questions you submit about our state and its people.

One of the MI Curious questions was submitted by listener Justin Cross from Delton, Michigan. He asked: "What's the status of the Enbridge pipeline in the bottom of Lake Michigan running through the Straits of Mackinac?"

Michigan Radio's Mark Brush has been working to find an answer to the question. Brush says what he found is that Enbridge holds all the cards. The company is willing to talk, and they are aware of people's concerns. 

Those concerns were raised by a National Wildlife Federation video, which showed footage of an underwater dive on part of the pipeline.

In sections of the video, there were words that said “broken supports” and “unsupported pipeline covered in debris.” But Enbridge argues they are not broken supports, but simply metal bands that held packing in place. 

"Some of the things you see in the video aren't quite right, but it was a wake-up call for people," says Brush.

Brush says Enbridge claims the pipeline is in good condition, but what we don't know is specific documentation for some of the inspection tools they run to prove the pipeline is indeed safe.

Cross says it's good to learn that Enbridge is running inspection tools, but he is still suspicious the company is withholding information about corrosion inside the pipeline.

"I don't buy the whole story that it's a homeland security issue for the information they won't share with us.... Nothing lasts forever except for time. The pipeline is a ticking time bomb waiting to go off," says Cross.

Brush adds that according to experts, the pipelines can actually last a very long time with good maintenance, and getting the piece of information about the corrosion will tell us if the pipeline has been maintained well or if it needs to be replaced. 

"In Enbridge's defense, they are putting in new anchors to support the pipeline along the way, and they are doing a lot of inspections beyond what the regulations call for ... but they need to be transparent to prove to us," says Brush.

* Listen to our conversation with Mark Brush and Justin Cross above.