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Line 5

Mackinac Bridge
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Enbridge Energy’s Line 5 goes right under Lake Michigan at the Straits of Mackinac.

At the Straits, it splits into two pipelines. Both pipelines are 63 years old (they were installed in 1953).

Right now, we don’t have all the information about the condition of those pipelines. As we’ve reported many times, Enbridge holds all the cards. The company has shared some information with the public, but not a lot.

Gary Peters
User: Gary Peters / Facebook

U.S. Senator Gary Peters (D) has two big projects on his plate in an effort to strengthen protections for the Great Lakes and provide funding for the city of Flint in the wake of the water crisis.

The U.S. Senate recently gave unanimous approval to a funding bill that includes important protections for the Great Lakes. The bill re-authorizes the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), which is the federal agency that oversees pipelines.

mdprovost/flickr / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

There's been an ever-increasing drumbeat of alarm over the more than 62-year-old Enbridge Line 5 running under the Straits of Mackinac carrying some half a million barrels of oil or liquid natural gas.

Well, if pipelines built in 1953 have you worried, how about pipelines built in 1918?

The owner of the 98-year old pipelines has asked the State Department to update usage permits on the pipes that run under the St. Clair River between Marysville and Sarnia, Ontario. 

A dive team works on Line 5 under the Straits of Mackinac.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Recently released information about the condition of Enbridge’s Line 5 oil pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac shows some signs of corrosion. But company officials continue to say the twin pipelines running under Lake Michigan are safe.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

An environmental group says oil pipelines running beneath the Mackinac Straits could be shut down without disrupting oil and propane supplies in Michigan.

Environmentalists say there is enough capacity on other pipelines skirting the Great Lakes to reroute the crude oil currently flowing through Line 5. 

The report says at least 90% of Line 5's oil goes to Canadian refineries, so it's not essential for the Marathon refinery in Detroit.

Enbridge

There are many Michiganders feeling uneasy about the idea of those 62-year-old twin oil pipelines running along the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac.

The aging Line 5 can carry 540,000 barrels of oil and natural gas liquids each day.

Enbridge has made promises to keep the pipeline maintained and said it’s got an emergency response team in place, but there’s a complicating factor that no one can control: big, turbulent waves.

Part of the new line 6B pipeline in central Michigan.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

The two oil pipelines that run under the Straits of Mackinac are not unique.

The National Wildlife Federation says there are 5,110 locations across the United States where oil pipelines run through or under navigable waters.

Enbridge

There's been a lot of concern expressed about Enbridge's oil and liquid natural gas pipelines running under Lake Michigan at the Straits of Mackinac.

But Keith Matheny of the Detroit Free Press reports that an oil spill contingency specialist with the U.S. Coast Guard is more worried about the above-ground section of Line 5 running across the Upper Peninsula.

From Matheny's piece:

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

Enbridge Energy’s Line 5 oil pipeline has lain deep under the water in the choppy Straits of Mackinac for more than 60 years. 

Over the decades, Line 5 has fed billions of barrels of light crude oil and liquefied natural gas into the lower peninsula of Michigan. 

Yet there has never been a drill to test the region’s readiness for a spill from a leak or rupture of the pipe. 

Until now, that is.

Researchers from the University of Michigan looked at how far oil might travel with a 12-hour release in the Straits of Mackinac.
UM Water Center

The scenario: Someone has spotted oil on Lake Michigan in the Straits of Mackinac. They place a call to an emergency response center.

What happens next?

Today, Enbridge and other emergency response officials will test whether their emergency oil spill response plan is effective.

A diver inspects Enbridge's Line 5 pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac for a possible dent.
Enbridge inspection video shared with the state of Michigan

Both U.S. senators from Michigan are spearheading legislation meant to protect the Great Lakes from an oil spill.

Senators Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow say the measures would ban shipping of crude oil on the lakes. That’s something that’s not happening now, the senators admit.

A diver inspects Enbridge's Line 5 pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac for a possible dent.
Enbridge inspection video shared with the state of Michigan

The state of Michigan has signed a deal with Enbridge Energy that heavy crude oil will not be shipped through a pipeline that runs beneath the Straits of Mackinac.

But the agreement doesn’t change anything as far as protecting the Great Lakes.

Enbridge Line 5 wasn’t built to carry heavy crude oil and never has. 

screenshot from Enbridge report to the state

In 2010, we were given a pretty good reason to care about how companies maintain the 3,280 miles of hazardous liquid pipelines crisscrossing our state.

Being the state that suffered through the worst inland oil spill in U.S. history has that effect.

So people perked up when they found out that Enbridge, the company responsible for the Kalamazoo River oil spill, owns another pipeline that travels under Lake Michigan at the Straits of Mackinac.

If Michigan has a “crown jewel,” this area might be it.

The Mackinac Bridge
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

The National Wildlife Federation says it’s making plans to sue the federal government.

The environmental group says the U.S. Department of Transportation is not enforcing a law that requires “worst-case” disaster plans for underwater pipelines to be on file.

A diver inspects Enbridge's Line 5 pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac for a possible dent.
Enbridge inspection video shared with the state of Michigan

People in Michigan are naturally concerned about the thousands of miles of pipelines crisscrossing the state. After all, Michigan suffered through the worst inland oil spill in U.S. history.  

And there's one pipeline in particular that people are quite concerned about: Enbridge's Line 5 moves more than 500,000 barrels of oil and other liquid petroleum products (like propane) a day under Lake Michigan at the Straits of Mackinac.

Attorney General Bill Schuette
Courtesy of Bill Schuette

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says the days of an energy pipeline running beneath the Straits of Mackinac are numbered. But, a task force led by Schuette does not recommend that day should come anytime soon.

“You wouldn’t site, and you wouldn’t build and construct pipelines underneath the straits today,” Schuette said at a news conference to roll out the Michigan Petroleum Pipeline Task Force report. “And so, if you wouldn’t do it today, how many more tomorrows will the pipelines be operational?”

A diver inspects Enbridge's Line 5 pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac for a possible dent.
Enbridge inspection video shared with the state of Michigan

Environmental advocates are calling for Enbridge to shut down its Line 5 pipeline which runs beneath the Mackinac Straits.

The Traverse City-based environmental group For the Love of Water (FLOW) issued a report today questioning the safety of the 62-year-old line.

The report says structural concerns and possible corrosion put the line at risk for leaks and ruptures.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

UPDATE: This story was updated on 12/17/14 at 3:36 pm

State officials are reporting what they say is a small natural gas leak in a pipeline in the Upper Peninsula that’s owned by Enbridge Energy.

Brad Wurfel of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality says the leak near Manistique was discovered, reported, and fixed by Enbridge. He says there was a small amount of liquid natural gas released, but it quickly evaporated.

“The good news is there’s no lingering environmental damage to discuss with this incident,” he said.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

LANSING (AP) - Democratic lawmakers are proposing increased state oversight of Michigan's oil and gas pipelines.

  The four-bill package announced this week would require the state Department of Environmental Quality to regularly inspect pipelines under the Great Lakes and mandate that pipeline operators submit emergency response plans to state regulators.

  Rep. Jeff Irwin of Ann Arbor says he's thankful aging lines beneath the Straits of Mackinac haven't leaked. But he says more oversight is needed to "ensure Michigan's economy and natural resources are protected."

A diver inspects Enbridge's Line 5 pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac for a possible dent.
Enbridge inspection video shared with the state of Michigan

We've been working to find an answer to the question, "What's the status of the aged Enbridge oil pipeline running through Lake Michigan at the Straits of Mackinac?"

It was posed by Justin Cross for our M I Curious project.

One of the first things we discovered was that the company holds all the cards.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

A lot of us are curious about the oil pipeline running through the Straits of Mackinac.

Michigan Radio's M I Curious is a news experiment where we investigate questions submitted by the public about our state and its people.

As part of our M I Curious project, Justin Cross asked Michigan Radio this question:

What is the status of the aged Enbridge oil pipeline running through Lake Michigan at the Straits of Mackinac?  

Chris Bauer, a project manager for Ballard Marine Construction, points out the crew that supports the diver.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Over the last month, Enbridge has been working to secure their two 20-inch pipelines to the lake bottom, and weather permitting, officials say they should finish their work over the next few days.

Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline runs 645 miles from Superior, Wisconsin to Sarnia, Ontario. At the Straits, the single 30-inch pipeline splits into two 20-inch pipelines.

Enbridge says Line 5 carries natural gas liquids and light crude oils. They say it does not carry the heavy dilbit crude that proved so difficult to clean up in the Kalamazoo River oil spill.

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