Enbridge, Michigan reach deal to boost pipelines safety, protect the Great Lakes

Image: Enbridge Energy.

Enbridge (TSX, NYSE:ENB), Canada’s largest pipeline company, has reached an agreement with the State of Michigan on its Line 5 pipelines, which run in a tunnel under the St. Clair River, between Lakes Huron and Michigan.

The more than 1,000 km-long (645-mile) twin pipelines begin in Superior, Wisconsin before ending in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada. They were laid in 1953 and currently transport around 540,000 barrels a day of light crude oil and natural gas liquids. Its age and transport capacity have recently sparked concerns about the potential impacts on the Great Lakes if it were to leak.

Enbridge has committed to replace a section of Line 5 that runs underneath the St. Clair River with a new pipeline, temporarily shut down portions of the line in extreme weather and look into new safety technology.

For that reason, the deal calls for a study to allow faster detection of and quicker response to a potential spill.

Enbridge sees the agreements as an effort to protect the Great Lakes and other Michigan waterways. Under it, the Calgary-based energy company will replace the portion of Line 5 that crosses beneath the St. Clair River with a new pipe in a tunnel under the water.

The company says the pipeline is still in “good shape” and “fit for service,” noting it operates at less than 25% of maximum pressure capacity for enhanced safety, so it shouldn’t be shutdown, as some opponents have demanded.

However, the deal announced today includes a requirement that Line 5 be shut down temporarily during storms that cause high waves in the Straits of Mackinac for an hour or longer.

Enbridge has disclosed in recent months that gaps have formed in protective enamel coating on the outside of the pipes. In October, it acknowledged that some of its staff knew about the problem for years but only recently informed the state of Michigan.

“We hope the agreement is a step in a positive direction to demonstrate our commitment to doing the right thing to serve Michigan and protect the waters of the Great Lakes,” Enbridge said in the statement. “The Great Lakes are a treasure that must be preserved now and for future generations,” it added.

The parties have set a deadline of Aug. 15, 2018, to determine the future of the twin pipelines.

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