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article imageSpills on Enbridge's old Line 5 pipeline tops one million gallons

By Karen Graham     Apr 26, 2017 in Environment
An aging oil and gas pipeline passing through an environmentally sensitive stretch of the Great Lakes has had at least 29 leaks in its 64-year-old history, spilling more than one million gallons of oil and gas, according to a report released this week.
Calgary, Alberta-based Enbridge Inc has been taken to task again over its 64-year-old Line 5 pipeline, part of the company's Enbridge Lakehead System, which conveys petroleum from western Canada to eastern Canada via the Great Lakes states.
Just last month, Enbridge officials faced an angry crowd at the Michigan pipeline safety advisory board meeting who wanted to know more about the alleged report Enbridge filed with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in September 2016 that identified 19 "holidays" on Line 5—an oil and gas industry term that refers to areas on a pipeline where anti-corrosive coating is missing.
Two Enbridge pipelines cross the Straits of Mackinac under our lakes  just west of the Bridge.
Two Enbridge pipelines cross the Straits of Mackinac,under our lakes, just west of the Bridge.
Michigan Department of Transportation
The new report on the number of spills
On Monday, The Great Lakes Region of the National Wildlife Federation released a report they say uncovers data showing Enbridge's Line 5 has had more oil and gas spills than previously thought. They say the spills are almost double the number of spills they had been led to believe.
The report also points out that most of the 29 spills were discovered by public and local government officials rather than by the company’s remote pipeline detection system. The spills cover a period between 1968 and 2015 and ranged in size from a mere eight gallons on up to 285,000 gallons.
The 29 spills found are “really part of a mounting chain of evidence that this pipeline is aging out poorly,” said Mike Shriberg, the executive director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes Regional Center. He added that the number used was a "conservative estimate."
“This isn’t the smoking gun-type piece, but it’s mounting evidence that the risk to the Great Lakes and areas (around the pipeline) are extremely high,” he said. “While the past isn’t a perfect predictor of the future, it is an indicator and adds to the mounting evidence.”
Line 5 carries as much as 540,000 barrels of fossil fuels each day from Superior, Wisconsin, through Michigan to Sarnia, Ontario, passing under the Straits of Mackinac, where Lake Michigan and Lake Huron meet. The pipeline also passes through tribal lands of the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians in Northern Michigan.
The Bad River band voted in January this year to not renew Enbridge's easements that allowed the pipelines to pass through their lands. Robert Blanchard, chairman of the Bad River Band, said he hadn't known there were so many spills along the line but he wasn't too surprised.
"A line that's 64 years old, you're going to have some questions about that. Is it really as good as they say it is? I don't think so," Blanchard said. He added that the tribe had no intention of renewing the easement and they might end up in federal court over the issue.
In a brochure issued by Enbridge detailing the Line 5 pipeline  they say:  The twin pipelines under ...
In a brochure issued by Enbridge detailing the Line 5 pipeline, they say: "The twin pipelines under the Straits have not experienced any leaks in six decades of operation—a testament to their design, construction, and maintenance regimen."
Enbridge fights back over the allegations
Enbridge immediately pointed out that the information gleaned from the federal data was always available to the public through the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. They are the government agency that has regulatory control over all pipelines in the U.S.
The agency now tracks oil and gas spills on a spreadsheet format, making individual incidents easier to locate. The spreadsheets cover all types of spills that have occurred, from manufacturing or construction defects to more incidental issues at pumping stations.
The types of incidents recorded as spills was disputed by Enbridge spokesperson Ryan Duffy, who said that in the last 15 years, “three incidents on Line 5 that have resulted in a total of approximately 21 barrels (882 gallons) of product being released off the mainline. All of the product released during these three incidents was recovered. There has never been an incident along Line 5 at the Straits.”
National Wildlife Federation
As for the figures that indicated 14 incidents since 2002 totaling about 27,000 gallons being released, Duffy said, "Any other releases in that time frame would have happened within our facilities. And when that happens nearly all of that product can be recovered and put back into the system.”
In Enbridge's defense, Carl Weimer, the executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust, said there was one positive note based on the report - "It appears the size of the spills has decreased dramatically since the late '60s, early '70s," he said. "That is what we would hope to see as basic regulations, more inspection requirements, and better materials and technology are employed."
But looking at the overall picture, environmentalists and concerned citizens are not happy with the aging pipeline and the record of spills in its 64-year history. It has been said before that "it is better to be safe than sorry," and how much longer can that pipeline go on before a major spill occurs, perhaps into the Great Lakes?
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