Enviro groups urge answers from feds on prolonged Line 5 construction in U.P. ⋆

Ten of the state’s leading environmental groups are raising concerns to the federal government about a prolonged construction project on Enbridge’s Line 5 oil pipeline in the Upper Peninsula, while the Canadian company has dismissed fears over “routine maintenance.”

According to climate and environmental groups, including the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter and the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), heavy machinery was on site from roughly Jan. 14 to Jan. 27 at the pipeline segment five miles east of Watersmeet. Watersmeet is located in the southwest portion of the U.P., only about eight miles from the Wisconsin border.

Those 13 days of construction on the pipeline occurred during “freezing conditions and a winter snow storm,” the coalition writes in its Tuesday letter obtained by the Advance, prompting activists to worry that emergency repair work was necessary due to a pipeline leak or other urgent issue.

The letter was sent to U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Tristan Brown, who currently heads the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). PHMSA is an agency within USDOT that Enbridge argues has sole authority over Line 5.

Letter to DOT_PHMSA 2.7.23


Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel are also copied on the letter.

The letter is signed by Mary Brady-Enerson of Clean Water Action, Liz Kirkwood of For Love of Water (FLOW), Zoe Zeerip of Great Lakes Business Network, Denise Keele of Michigan Climate Action Network (MiCAN), Ross Gavin of Michigan Environmental Council, Beth Wallace of the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), Sean McBrearty of Oil & Water Don’t Mix, Sam Inglot of Progress Michigan, Christy McGillivray of Sierra Club Michigan Chapter and Bill Latka of TC350.

The embattled pipeline, which snakes through the U.P. before entering the Straits of Mackinac and downstate toward Sarnia, Ontario, has experienced a number of spills of varying degrees in the U.P. since it was built in 1958.

The pipeline spot in Watersmeet is within roughly 50 miles of six known Line 5 spills that occurred from 1968 to 2017, the largest of which spilled 285,600 gallons near Lake Gogebic in the 1960s.

Fifteen total Line 5 spills of varying degrees have been documented in the Upper Peninsula alone since 1968.

“When members of our coalition asked about the project, we were told that it was ‘routine maintenance’ and it had been properly permitted. The situation brings to mind the 2011 ‘discovery’ of an Enbridge pipeline failure with massive contamination of 825 tons of soil in Hiawatha National Forest in the Upper Peninsula that Enbridge failed to disclose until the news media reported on it 30 years later,” the letter reads.

Similarly, when asked by the Advance, Enbridge spokesperson Ryan Duffy stated that the company “was doing two scheduled maintenance digs in that area which is a remote area within the Ottawa National Forest.”

“This was part of our planned maintenance program,” Duffy said.

When asked about further details of what the January maintenance entailed, Duffy did not provide a response.

Line 5 crosses 23 counties and 360 Michigan waterways on its two-state journey from Wisconsin to Canada.

In the Tuesday letter, the environmental leaders raised concerns that Enbridge could be “adding a sleeve” to the pipeline. A “sleeve” would indicate that a portion of the pipeline had failed an in-line inspection due to an urgent issue like cracking or bending, which would require a bandage-like apparatus to prevent spills.

The groups asked whether a sleeve was added, what the maintenance entailed, whether an emergency operation to add a sleeve is considered routine maintenance, how and when the project was permitted and what the in-line inspection revealed that made the operation necessary.

“For the last decade, the fate of the Line 5 pipeline and the threat that this pipeline poses to our natural resources has been a part of public discourse in Michigan. The public deserves answers to questions detailed in this letter, and we look forward to your prompt and thorough response,” the letter reads.

authored by Laina G. Stebbins
First published at https%3A%2F%2Fmichiganadvance.com%2F2023%2F02%2F09%2Fnew-enviro-groups-urge-answers-from-feds-on-prolonged-line-5-construction-in-u-p%2F

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