State officials said Monday that coating gaps on Line 5 have multiplied in Enbridge Energy’s latest report to Michigan officials and require a “full accounting” of the gas pipeline conditions in the next month.
More than a majority of 48 pipeline locations under the Straits of Mackinac had coating gaps when inspected by divers, state officials said.
Enbridge must present information to the Pipeline Safety Advisory Board’s Dec. 11 meeting about the conditions of its pipeline, protective coating and anchors as well as the results of its video inspections and testing, state officials said in a statement.
“This is very troubling and points out exactly why the state has been vigilant about getting information from Enbridge,” said Heidi Grether, director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and co-chair of the PSAB.
Enbridge Energy officials said Monday that repairs of coating issues on Line 5 continue and the company is willing to be more “transparent” about the Straits of Mackinac pipeline after public officials have questioned their safety. Enbridge has repaired six of eight locations where coating damage was discovered, officials said, with repairs on the other sites requiring more time.
Enbridge’s statement came after a spokesman for the Canadian company said last month that Enbridge engineers knew in 2014 that the installation of a support anchor that year damaged coating on the pipeline but the company remained silent because company engineers did not deem it a safety issue.
“We remain confident in the continued safe operation of Line 5 and highlight that no evidence of corrosion on the line was found in any of this work,” said Guy Jarvis, Enbridge’s executive vice president and president of Liquid Pipelines, in a conference call with reporters on repairs requested by state officials.
But Monday’s disclosures contradicted what a company spokesman said in October, when he claimed that all coating issues had been repaired.
“The coating was repaired this year during a scheduled underwater inspection of the line,” Enbridge spokesman Ryan Duffy said in an Oct. 27 email. “We want to emphasize that the safety of the pipeline was never compromised.
Gov. Rick Snyder Enbridge’s announcement is “deeply concerning.”
“I am no longer satisfied with the operational activities and public information tactics that have become status quo for Enbridge,” Snyder said in a Monday statement. “It is vitally important that Enbridge immediately become much more transparent about the condition of Line 5 and their activities to ensure protection of the Great Lakes.”
The company needs to communicate better with the public about Line 5 given the high public interest, especially about safety, Jarvis said.
“They are interested to understand as much as they can about the state of those pipeline in the Straits and how we’re operating them,” Jarvis said. “So I think our approach has been that we need to change the way we communicate, that we understand the public is asking for more, we understand that those questions are going to government officials, and therefore we need to provide the government officials with more as well.”
Although the public update is not required, Jarvis said this is an “indication that we simply believe that we need to be more transparent about all things going on about Line 5, not just ones that we might think represent the highest potential from a risk perspective.”
The exposed gaps never presented a safety issue, company officials have said. But Attorney General Bill Schuette called the lack of disclosure eroded public trust, while U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, called it “disturbing.”
“We’re technical people, we’re scientific people. We focus on the things that are safety driven,” said Walter Kresic, Enbridge vice president of pipeline integrity and liquid pipelines. “But that doesn’t always necessarily translate or is easily understood by the general public and we clearly need to do more to help with that understanding.”
Officials also revealed that:
■The final analysis and report on whether aquatic organisms are hurting the pipelines isn’t expected until early next year.
■A “remote underwater vehicle” has inspected 128 support anchors on the pipeline while divers have inspected 48. They expect all 128 support anchors will be reviewed by divers, but not right away because winter is approaching.
“There are all kinds of conditions that exist under the straits in terms of how murky the water can be,” Jarvis said. “At certain areas of the pipe, there’s sand and sediment that’s up against the pipe. So having that diver inspection is the best opportunity we have to understand fully what is going on.”
They expect a report toward the end of December because “we recognize the public’s interest in the work and we’re committed to providing timely updates to our findings.”
Enbridge staffers have conducted a lot of work on Line 5 this summer and fall. A full interim report and proposed new work plan will be provided to the state in 30 days following the completion of the last of this season’s work, company officials said.
In the past two weeks, members of Michigan’s congressional delegation have criticized the Canadian company for failing to report the problems in a timely way.
“The lack of transparency from Enbridge is completely unacceptable. Michigan deserves better,” said U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, who requested an updated copy of the company’s intergrity management plan that the congressman says it has not provided. “I will continue to hold Enbridge accountable for their inactions when it comes to the Line 5 pipeline.”
Democratic U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow of Lansing and Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township have sent a letter to Enbridge demanding answers to questions about its integrity management plan and asked the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration whether the Calgary-based company violated any federal rules or laws with its lack of reporting.
“It is apparent to us that further changes are needed in the institutional procedures and culture at Enbridge to ensure accurate reporting, transparency, and communication of pipeline integrity management,” Stabenow and Peters wrote in a Nov. 7 letter to Enbridge Chief Executive Al Monaco.
Jarvis said the public will be kept abreast of all the work yet to be completed and working with the state “to evaluate opportunities to further enhance the safe operation of Line 5 and improve the level of engagement and transparency into our operations.”
“A lot of work has been completed and more has to be done,” he said.