Enbridge: Why Michiganders should trust us with pipeline

Photo by Anne-Marie Oomen: Kayakers protest the Mackinac Straits pipeline on Labor Day weekend.

Canadian company that owns Mackinac Straits oil pipeline responds to “shut down Line 5” campaign

By Jacob Wheeler
Sun editor

The Canadian oil company that owns the Mackinac Straits pipelines — and was responsible for the 2010 Kalamazoo River spill — believes Line 5 is safe. Ryan Duffy, Enbridge’s regional communications and media relations manager in the company’s Minneapolis office, sought out the Glen Arbor Sun for an interview after we published a Q&A last edition with local advocate Jim Lively, who is a key player in the “Oil and Water Don’t Mix” campaign to shut down the underwater pipelines.

Glen Arbor Sun: What are Enbridge’s long-term plans for the Line 5 pipelines under the Straits of Mackinac — given that Michigan attorney general Bill Schuette has said its “days are numbered”?

Enbridge: Enbridge plans to continue to operate Line 5 safely as we have done for more than 60 years. The Line 5 pipeline was constructed in 1953 to supply needed energy to Michigan residents and to protect the Straits by minimizing Great Lakes oil tanker traffic. And since that time there has never been an incident or any disruption with the Line in the Straits.

Sun: What does Enbridge’s energy portfolio look like in the future? That is, will the Canadian company continue to focus on fossil fuels or also expand to include renewables such as wind and solar? If so, how much of your portfolio?

Enbridge: Since our initial investment in a wind farm in 2002, we’ve invested approximately $5 billion in wind, solar, geothermal, power transmission, waste heat recovery, and a host of other emerging technology projects. Together, these projects — either operating, planned or under construction — have the capacity to generate more than 2,700 megawatts (MW) gross of zero-emission energy (nearly 2,000 MW net). Today, Enbridge is one of the largest renewable energy companies in Canada, and our portfolio of renewable energy projects is diversified and growing.

To date, we’ve invested in: 16 wind farms (more than 2,500 MW gross capacity, either in operation, planned or under construction); four solar energy operations (150 MW gross capacity); five waste heat recovery facilities (34 MW gross capacity); a geothermal project (23 MW capacity); a hydroelectric facility (2 MW capacity).

Sun: Regarding oil currently pumped through Line 5, where does it originate? How much is Bakken crude from North Dakota, and how much is Tar Sands from Alberta? What percentage is traditional crude; what percentage is synthetic crude; and what percentage is heavy diluted bitumen?

Enbridge: Line 5 transports up to 540,000 barrels per day (bpd) of light crude oil, light synthetic crude oil, and natural gas liquids (NGLs), which are refined into propane. These products heat homes and businesses, fuel vehicles, and power industry in the state of Michigan.

Line 5 has never transported heavy crude and we have signed an agreement with the state that it never will.

Roughly 80 percent of what the line carries is oil and 20 percent is natural gas liquids.

Sun: Are there mechanisms in place so that workers at Enbridge facilities, municipal elected leaders along the route, and the public at large, know what kind of oil is being pumped through the pipeline?

Enbridge: We have always been transparent about what the line carries. And every year we hold training sessions and emergency response exercises with local emergency responders and other officials and members of the public.

Sun: As the market changes, and as the supply changes, what type of oil do you expect Line 5 to transport 5 or 10 years from now?

Enbridge: As it does now, Line 5 will continue to play a crucial role in delivering the energy that people in Michigan rely on every day.

Michigan uses more propane than any other state. As of June 2016, Line 5 supplies 65 percent of propane demand in the Upper Peninsula, and 55 percent of Michigan’s statewide propane needs.

The light and synthetic crude oil transported on Line 5 meets increasing demand from refineries in Michigan and Ohio for Bakken light crude. About 30 percent of that light crude stays in the region, where it’s processed by refineries in the greater Detroit area, used to power industry, and turned into the gas, diesel and jet fuel that keep our economy running.

Taking Line 5 out of service would result in the loss of about 56,000 barrels per day of available crude supply, and 15,000 barrels per day of available propane, from the Michigan economy. That’s the energy equivalent of: enough gas to fill 120,000 passenger cars and light-duty vehicles per day; enough jet fuel to move 92 commercial planes, or 18,500 passengers, per day; enough diesel to fill up 900 freight-carrying semi trucks per day; and enough propane to heat 240,000 homes with about 1,100 square feet of living space each.

Sun: Are you surprised by the breadth of the campaign calling for a shutdown of Line 5 — from environmental circles, key local businessmen, and also from lawmakers in Lansing (and Washington, D.C.)?

Enbridge: We all want what’s best for the safety of the Straits of Mackinac, the Great Lakes, and the people whose lives and livelihoods are connected to these waters.

Enbridge is committed to protecting the Straits, and Great Lakes, through the continued safe operation of line 5, which was built to protect the Straits.

The residents of Michigan — and their elected officials — deserve factual information on Line 5 and the steps that Enbridge takes every day to protect the Straits of Mackinac, the Great Lakes and local communities.

And the facts show Enbridge takes very seriously its commitment to safety and environmental protection. We have a responsibility to operate our facilities safely, while continuing to provide a vital service to the residents and economy of Michigan.

Sun: How does Enbridge respond to attorney general Schuette’s claim (last month) that the company is in violation of the pipeline agreement?

Enbridge: Our integrity program worked well, not only identifying spans that — due to naturally occurring conditions at the Straits — need attention, but also others that may need attention in the future.

The lakes are a dynamic environment — especially at the Straits where the two Great Lakes meet — and conditions change frequently, including on the lake bed. This results in sediments washing away and increasing the distance between support anchors. Our frequent inspection of Line 5 allows us to properly monitor the Straits Crossing and add new supports as necessary under the terms of the easement, which allows for repairs as needed.

The safety or integrity of Line 5 and the Straits Crossing is not and has never been compromised. The original engineering analysis for the crossing — which underwent a peer review by the engineering departments of the University of Michigan department of Naval Studies and Columbia University — and PHMSA oversight concluded that a span distance up to 140 feet would be safe.

Sun: How has the Flint water crisis (and the 2010 Kalamazoo River spill) changed the political and regulatory climate between Lansing and energy companies such as Enbridge?

Enbridge: Enbridge is continuing to work closely with the State of Michigan to make sure state officials have the information they need regarding Line 5 and its continued safe operations under the Straits of Mackinac.

Enbridge has a representative on the Pipeline Safety Advisory Board and we have provided the board with the information it has requested.

Enbridge is pleased to do this to show Line 5 is safe to continue operating, supporting Michigan’s economy and its citizens with vital supplies of petroleum products to fuel Michigan’s quality of life.

Sun: The 2010 Kalamazoo River spill on Enbridge’s Line 6B — the largest online oil spill in U.S. history — eroded public trust in Enbridge, and probably fueled the campaign to shut down Line 5. Not to be crass here, but why should Michiganders trust Enbridge? What have you done to regain or deserve that trust, with respect to the Mackinac Straits pipeline?

Enbridge: We regret the spill in the summer of 2010 that caused oil to flow into the Kalamazoo River. As a company, we will never forget. Since then, Enbridge has transformed its approach to safety, investing nearly $5 billion in maintenance, inspection and leak detection across our crude oil pipeline system. This is the largest, most comprehensive and sophisticated maintenance and inspection program of any pipeline system in the world.

There are also differences in the way Line 6B was engineered and how Line 5 is engineered that precludes such an accident happening again. If there is a change in pressure on the Straits crossing, automatic shut off valves will be activated closing flow into the twin lines. Also, the Line 6B failure occurred due to a crack. Due to the Straits seamless construction, low operating pressures, high performance coating, and low susceptible environment, the Straits pipelines are not susceptible to cracking.

Enbridge thoroughly cleaned the Kalamazoo River. It was reopened for recreational use in 2014. In July 2016, reached a settlement with the DOJ and the EPA as the culmination of six years of work to amend for the spill and sharpen our focus on safety. Today, we’re stronger and safer, wholly committed to safety and being good stewards of the environments and communities where we operate.

Sun: Many environmental advocates pit the campaign to retire Line 5 as part of a movement against man-made climate change? Are they right?

Enbridge: I can’t speak to what their motivations are. But as long as people in Michigan are depending on us to deliver energy they need we will continue to do that safely and reliably.

And the Department of Transportation has said that the safest way to transport oil and natural gas is by pipeline.

Sun: In the event of an oil spill from the pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac, how many resources and how much money has Enbridge set aside to deal with the disaster? Both in terms of containment, cleanup, and support for the local business/tourism community?

Enbridge: Carefully crafted response plans are in place should something happen along Line 5 in the Straits. That said, in the past four years, we have invested billions of dollars in safety and integrity to make preventing leaks and spills is our highest priority. Line 5 is monitored 24/7 by a dedicated team. If there is a change in pressure or flow, Enbridge can remotely shut off flow in 2 to 3 minutes and activate trained responders.

A response plan specific to the Straits pipelines provides detailed response strategies for emergency responders. It serves as a supplement to Enbridge’s Integrated Contingency Plan that was drafted and approved in 2013 following an extensive, PHMSA-coordinated peer review, which incorporated input from the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. EPA, an independent industry expert, and Canada’s National Energy Board.

In September 2015, Enbridge completed a full-scale response preparedness drill with the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. EPA, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and local emergency responders.

Sun: If an oil spill happened during the winter with ice covering parts of the Great Lakes, or during a storm that exacerbates weather conditions, how is Enbridge prepared to clean up a spill?

Enbridge: The changing properties of the oil and the access obstacles created by ice are all taken into consideration in Enbridge’s emergency response plans for oil spill containment and recovery in the Straits of Mackinac. We have the training, the people and resources to respond quickly to a winter spill in the Straits of Mackinac. Equipment like ice augers and drills, specialized ROVs, arctic boom and fire boom, as well as arctic-specific skimming equipment positioned near the Straits to enable access, containment and removal of oil.

Sun: Scientists from the University of Michigan’s Graham Institute have concluded that, in a worst case scenario, an oil spill could deposit oil as far west as Beaver Island in Lake Michigan and throughout the northern half of Lake Huron? What is the worst-case scenario according to Enbridge?

Enbridge: The study delivered by the University of Michigan’s David Schwab and funded by the National Wildlife Federation is not representative of anything more than how water moves. This model is based on an outrageous volume of oil spilled. It looks as a scenario five times worse than the worst case spill scenario. Even more outlandish, it assumes there is no response to contain and collect the oil. In reality, Enbridge has equipment and people staged all along the water front to respond immediately if there was an accident. We don’t anticipate a spill based on the excellent condition of the pipe. But we are well prepared regardless.