The Detroit News reported that Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline, located under the Makinac Straits betweeen Lakes Huron and Michigan, underwent inspection last Thursday. The inspection began a day after the U.S. House of Representatives approved a four-year extension of a federal pipeline safety law. They added an additional rule which requires Enbridge to inspect the internal and external integrity of the Line 5 pipelines at least once a year.
The pipeline inspection is being conducted by a crew from Ballard Marine Construction, a firm based in Washington state. It’s expected to last a week long, and will assess the external integrity of the twin oil pipelines. Now 63 years old, Line 5 has come under increasing scrutiny by public and government alike since Enbridge’s Line 6B pipeline ruptured in the Kalamazoo River in 2010. Line 6B spilled 840 000 gallons of heavy crude during that incident, causing the largest inland oil spill in history. The Line 5 pipelines currently carry 540 000 barrels of oil and liquid natural gas each day.
The crew used an autonomous underwater vehicle and a remote-operated vehicle to take sonar scans and video images of the pipeline’s exterior. Once the images are received, the crew assesses them to see if there are any areas of corrosion, obstructions like rope or wire, or loose anchoring.
According to Chris Bauer, operations manager for Ballard Marine, the images help Enbridge ensure that there’s no more than a 75-foot span between each anchor that supports the pipeline. None of the anchors have ever been replaced. However, he insists the pipeline is in good working order. “From our point of view, that pipe, it’s unbelievable how good of shape that pipe is in,” Bauer told The Detroit News.
Enbridge, a company based out of Alberta, conducts the external inspection every two years and is required to do internal inspections every five years. The company maintains they test the thickness of the pipe walls more frequently than that. However, those commitments may not be enough for public and politicians.
On Wednesday June 8, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a four-year extension of the Protecting Our Infrastructure of Pipelines and Enhancing Safety (PIPES) Act. Included in the approved law was a a rule which would require pipelines under 150 feet of water to be inspected annually. At 290 feet down, Line 5 would have to be inspected internally and externally every year to meet the requirement.
U.S. Representative Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, helped to secure the annual inspection requirement after she introduced a separate bill calling on the U.S. Department of Transportation to perform its own inspection within 18 months. If the department does conduct its own analysis and the federal government finds the pipeline a risk to “life, property, or the environment,” their inspection could be used to shut Line 5 down.
Miller stated her case directly on the House floor. “There is zero room for error in the Great Lakes,” Miller said. “There’s a 62-year-old pipeline that is called Line 5 that runs under the Straits of Mackinac, which is right in between Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. Any rupture there would be very, very difficult, if not impossible, to contain.”