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Enbridge officials attended a meeting in Lansing on March 13 to try to assuage fears and concerns about the company’s Line 5 pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac.

Valerie Brader is executive director of the Michigan Agency for Energy and co-chair of the Michigan Pipeline Safety Advisory Board.

She says the board looks at the risks, benefits and alternatives to Line 5. It has representatives from industry, environmental, federal, state, and tribal groups and some outside experts to guide and advise on a whole range of issues dealing with petroleum pipelines in Michigan. It is charged with ensuring the safety, upkeep and transparency of issues related to the state’s network of pipelines. It is also charged with advising state agencies on matters related to pipeline routing, construction, operation and maintenance.

“Under the terms of a consent agreement Enbridge entered with the federal government for the spill that happened in the Kalamazoo River, they were required to do a study of what’s growing on the pipe – the biota – and whether it’s having any effects on the coatings,” says Brader. “So they detailed a work plan for the federal government on detailing what they planned to do.

“That work plan has led to a lot of questions, so the board members requested the presentation that Enbridge gave to the board on March 13. And it led to the DNR, DEQ and attorney general asking Enbridge to give us more information about those coatings.

“We found the preparation document for that report to be pretty confusing. So we’re asking them to clarify what they’re looking at, what they’ve found, and what led to this. What do they know about the spots on the pipeline where the coating might be coming off? What do they know, what do they not know, and what are they looking to know?”

These bare spots on the pipeline are referred to euphemistically as holidays, which is an industry term that means a gap or break in the coating.

Enbridge said at the meeting that while there are areas where the very outermost coating has peeled off, they do not believe that there are areas of the pipe that are unprotected.

“We’ve asked for all information on this issue to be given to contractors who are right now feverishly preparing independent risk analyses and alternatives for the state, which we expect to have drafts of at the end of June.”

Brader says the state is looking forward to a “robust public comment” period from the public once the reports are released to help the state determine what to do about Line 5.

A new website is a one-stop place for citizens to stay informed on the topic.

“We’ve been very open and upfront about all this,” says Enbridge spokesperson Ryan Duffy, who was present at the meeting. “We’re going to conduct a broad investigation of what’s going on with the coating. We hope to do that in June once the EPA approves our plan. I’d like to point out that there are no holidays that we know of anywhere on the Line 5 coating.

“We appreciate all the people who want to be part of this conversation on how to safely and best move energy through Michigan. We need a lot of input and understand the passion. This is where people live; this is their home. Enbridge has been there in the Straits for more than 60 years so we consider Michigan home as well.

“This is a great conversation to have, and we appreciate the work the state is doing on these two studies that are going on right now. And we look forward to seeing the results.”

Jennifer McKay is the policy director for the Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council and a member of the advisory board. She wasn’t satisfied with what Enbridge put forth at the meeting.

She says the board “has questions that are not yet answered, such as what’s the extent of coating loss? Is it the outer layer? Is there an inner layer? What caused it and how can it be prevented? And then what are they going to do about it?

“I would absolutely expect and hope that the state of Michigan would request Enbridge to do a more thorough analysis of the coating system on that pipeline.”

McKay says the public has made its voice “very loud and very clear. And we at the advisory board are working through our legal process that we have to try to make sure we get all their concerns addressed and questions answered and provide a recommendation for the state of Michigan to move forward with the future of Line 5.”

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