2018-08-24 / News

Senator Gary Peters Raises Concerns About Line 5 at Senate Hearing

By Stephanie Fortino

“It doesn’t matter where I travel in the state, people are always concerned about Line 5.”

That was among U.S. Senator Gary Peters’s opening statements during a Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee field hearing Monday, August 20, in Traverse City. The 2.5-hour-long meeting included two panels of witness testimony, questions from the senator, and answers from the panelists. As a vocal opponent of Line 5, Mr. Peters identified concerns, including a ship anchor that was dragged along the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac April 1, denting the pipeline and severing two electric cables. The incident was “everyone’s worst nightmare scenario,” he said, highlighting where plans could be improved.

Serving on the first panel were Howard Elliot, the administrator for the Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), Rear Admiral Joanna Nunan, the Ninth District Commander of the United States Coast Guard, and Scott Lundgren, the Emergency Response Division Chief for the Office of Response and Restoration at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The Commerce Committee has jurisdiction over PHMSA, which is the federal agency that oversees pipeline safety, the U.S. Coast Guard, and NOAA.

Many of Mr. Peters’s concerns were also prompted by the 2010 oil spill near Marshall, when almost one million gallons of oil were dumped into the Kalamazoo River.

“Michiganders know better than anyone else what happens when a pipeline fails,” Sen. Peters said.

During his opening statements, Mr. Elliot said PHSMA is committed to public safety and the safe transportation of products through the country’s pipeline networks. Pipeline safety has also greatly improved in the last 20 years, he said, and pipelines are safe 99.97% of the time. Mr. Elliot agreed that the 2010 oil spill raised concerns about Line 5, which has had some issues that Enbridge has tried to address. Following the April 1 incident, PHMSA participated in the emergency command center that was set up by the Coast Guard and worked closely with Enbridge as it evaluated the damage done to Line 5. He also noted the underwater portion of Line 5 has pipes that are about three times thicker than other pipes.

PHMSA has worked more than 140 days specifically on the Line 5 system, Mr. Elliot said, working closely with Enbridge and the State of Michigan.

The Coast Guard served as the federal on-site coordinator for the April 1 dielectric fluid leak and oversaw the emergency response effort, Rear Admiral Nunan said. Recently, the Coast Guard completed its first response drill for oil and ice conditions and is looking to address the unique conditions at the Straits of Mackinac during winter. The incident provided “a fine example” of how the Northern Michigan Emergency Response plan is supposed to work, she said, as more than 50 representatives from federal, tribal, state, and local governments worked together.

NOAA scientists help during the response to an oil spill, Mr. Lundgren said, and experts can be on site to help provide information on weather and wave conditions. After a spill has occurred, NOAA teams work on assessing the damage caused by a spill and works on the restoration plan to restore the area. The administration also relies on all of its departments during such an event, from ecological concerns to the effects on shipwreck and other marine sanctuaries. NOAA scientists help develop computer models, tools, maps, data, and data systems which are given to regional emergency response coordinators.

Mr. Lundgren announced that the environmental sensitivity index maps for the Straits of Mackinac will be updated; the maps summarize which coastal resources could be affected by an oil spill.

NOAA also held a three-day training course that taught emergency responders how to assess oiled shorelines in Mackinaw City, which is one of many examples of how NOAA can assist emergency responders, Mr. Lundgren said. The April 1 Emergency Response and the Dented Line 5

While Sen. Peters understood that the Coast Guard’s primary goal following the April 1 incident was to clean up the spilled dielectric fluid from the American Transmission Company cables, he was greatly concerned that Line 5 kept pumping even though it was damaged.

The Coast Guard looked for oil sheens in the water and along shorelines, Ms. Nunan said, adding that representatives from Enbridge and PHMSA were part of the unified command post.

The biggest concern for Mr. Peters was that the visual inspections of the dents in the Line 5 pipes were delayed, happening about 2.5 weeks after the damage was done. He wondered to what extent the damage to Line 5 was considered in the emergency response plan.

Since initial diagnostic testing of the Line 5 pipelines indicated there was not a break in the pipeline, visual inspections were not needed for the emergency response to continue, Ms. Nunan said.

“That’s not typically critical for the early response efforts,” she said of visual inspections to a dented pipeline, especially when a different utility line was leaking.

While Mr. Peters said he was not criticizing the work of the Coast Guard, he did say, “The strike on the pipeline could have been a ticking time bomb.”

Ms. Nunan was confident in the emergency response and said the group was in a “very good position” to respond to any emergency situation.

PHMSA was made aware of the damage to the line by about April 3, Mr. Elliot said, two days after the anchor was dragged. The line was shut down temporarily so in-line inspection tools could analyze whether the pipe was damaged. About 2.5 weeks after the damage was done, an ROV surveyed the pipeline and divers followed for more closer inspections.

The data collected by Enbridge was then verified by PHMSA engineering staff. At the hearing, this revelation was met with loud groans of protest from the audience.

The public has a hard time trusting Enbridge, Mr. Peters said, and he inquired whether PHMSA could collect its own data. Since PHSMA oversees all the pipelines in the country, it relies on analyzing data from the pipeline operators, Mr. Elliot said.

Mr. Peters also questioned why two different underwater vehicles were required for the visual inspections of the pipelines and electric cables. Ms. Nunan said the company that caused an oil spill, ATC for the April 1 incident, is responsible for arranging an underwater remote-operated vehicle (ROV) inspection. Such equipment is only located in certain areas of the country, she continued, and it takes time to be sent to Michigan. The equipment used to inspect the ATC cables was from Texas. She added that such equipment is not required when initially responding to an oil spill.

While the equipment took over two weeks to arrive in the Straits of Mackinac, Ms. Nunan said the Coast Guard’s emergency response would not have changed if the equipment had arrived sooner. The ROVs were helpful to verify the information the unified command already knew, she said, and to complete repairs once the response effort was done. Mr. Elliot said he would have liked to see the equipment on site sooner, noting the PHMSA could look into requiring visual inspections of such dented pipelines sooner during other incidents, a suggestion that was met with applause.

“The delay in getting a visual inspection is completely unacceptable,” Mr. Peters said.

The maximum allowable pressure for the Mackinac Straits crossing of Line 5 is 600 pounds per square inch, but Enbridge has historically operated at lower pressures of 150 to 200 pounds per square inch, Mr. Elliot said. When the damage occurred, PHMSA required the products to be pumped at a lower pressure, but once the sleeves were installed it was raised back to the original 600 pounds per square inch limit. The line was pressure tested to 1,200 pounds per square inch.

Once the visual inspection of Line 5 was completed, it was learned that Line 5 had actually sustained gouging, which is different than denting because some metal was removed from the exterior of the pipe. Mr. Elliot said three basic types of damage to pipelines are denting, scoring, and gouging. Denting would be similar to a hammer or blunt object making a depression in the surface. He likened scoring to a warm knife going through butter, where there is displacement of metal, but no removal. Gouging is similar to a wood chisel, where downward force is applied and metal is removed. Gouging is more concerning than denting, Mr. Elliot said, because the likelihood of a crack in the pipeline is much greater.

The composite sleeves to repair the gouges caused by the anchor have been installed, Mr. Elliot said, noting that other gaps in the pipeline coating caused by the installation of anchor screw supports have not been completed. He didn’t know how long it would take for the other coating gaps to be repaired.

Mr. Peters was concerned that the repairs were done with verbal approval, rather than written permission.

Emergency Response and a

Possible Oil Spill at the Straits

Mr. Peters also asked Ms. Nunan to clarify how far away emergency response equipment is from the Straits of Mackinac. Booming equipment, absorbing equipment, and other primary materials needed for the initial oil spill containment and clean-up are anywhere from one to eight hours away, she said. Most of the needed equipment would be on site 12 hours after an oil spill is reported, at the longest, she added.

An oil spill in ice conditions was another concern for Sen. Peters. Ice cover and cold conditions add another layer of complexity to an oil spill response, Ms. Nunan said, noting the Coast Guard is working with academic and international partners to plan and train for oil spills in ice conditions. Identifying and collecting oil in ice conditions can be challenging, she said, as is protecting first responders.

Mr. Peters also asked the panel, “If Line 5 had been ruptured, could we have done an effective response?”

Mr. Elliot said the plans currently in place would have been adequate if Line 5 had leaked. Ms. Nunan agreed the Coast Guard could have responded to such an incident, but also noted that the agency and entire Northern Michigan Response team will continue to develop strategies for what she called “our primary worst-case scenario.”

The effectiveness of oil spill response equipment in bad weather conditions was another concern for Mr. Peters, who also raised issues with how Enbridge responded to the storm that followed the April 1 oil spill. Oil skimmers can be used in waves up to 6.5 feet high, Ms. Nunan said, noting “significant wave height does make it more difficult.”

“It is a very frightening situation,” Mr. Peters said. If conditions are bad enough for oil spill cleanup equipment not to be used, then the spread of oil could be catastrophic, he added.

Enbridge also has an agreement with the state to temporarily shut down the pipeline if waves exceed eight feet, and Mr. Peters said it took some convincing to get Enbridge to shut down the line, noting he worked closely with Mr. Elliot to get the pipelines turned off. Mr. Elliot agreed that it took “a discussion to get them to shut down the line until the storm had passed.”

David Bryson, Senior Vice President of Liquid Pipeline Operations at Enbridge, sat on the second panel during the Senate hearing.

Mr. Bryson said that Enbridge understands the unique environment in which it operates and is working to protect those waterways.

Since the 2010 oil spill, the company has tried to create a culture of safety, he continued, focused on ensuring no more oil spills occur. Enbridge conducts inspections inside and outside the pipelines, he continued, and works with many partners on emergency response plans, exercises, and drills. The company also purchased $7 million worth of emergency response equipment that is available near the Straits of Mackinac.

Enbridge does not hesitate to shut its system down, Mr. Bryson said, noting the company does so routinely for a variety or reasons and inspections.

“As soon as we heard about the anchor strike from ATC, we shut down,” he said.

Inline inspection tools were sent through the line and determined the pipes had sustained some dents, but the structural integrity was not compromised. After being shut down for a day, the pipelines started pumping at reduced pressure, and the company was aware of the impending bad weather that followed the anchor drag.

Enbridge then shut down the pipelines during the storm because of an unrelated power outage, Mr. Bryson said, and pumping resumed Sunday night.

Mr. Peters raised issues with Enbridge shutting down because of an unrelated outage, noting the company should have been willing to stop the flow of oil and gas because of the weather. He was “frustrated” that the company “pushed back” on the agreement to stop pumping during bad weather.

“I wouldn’t say we pushed back on it,” Mr. Bryson said, reiterating that the company often shuts down the line and participated in the emergency response.

Mr. Peters also had concerns that the company was operating the pipeline without having done a visual inspection of the damage, questioning why it took so long for an underwater vessel to inspect the pipes.

Mr. Bryson said the inspection had to be coordinated with the overall emergency response effort, noting the company called for the equipment soon.

If the Unified Command did in fact delay a visual inspection of Line 5, Sen. Peters advocated that Unified Command procedures be changed, or regulations for Enbridge be amended to require a visual inspection as soon as possible if the pipeline suffers another anchor strike or more damage.

He told Mr. Bryson he wants to ensure, “that your priority is always, always Line 5.”

Mr. Peters also asked that Enbridge provide full documentation and videos on Line 5 to the public, to which Mr. Bryson agreed.

“It was an investigation, and we believe we’ve been providing the information we’re required,” Mr. Bryson said.

Also serving on the second panel was Michael Shriberg, Executive Director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes Regional Center. Mr. Shriberg said Enbridge’s commitment to provide more information to the public is promising.

“That should be standard practice,” Mr. Shriberg said, “not something that should have to come through a special hearing.”

PHSMA Has Authority, But

Lacks Process, for Shutting

Down Pipelines

PHMSA does have the legal authority to compel Enbridge to shut down a pipeline if needed, Mr. Elliot said, although PHMSA has never ordered a pipeline to be decommissioned and removed in the country. Such emergency powers were given to PHMSA a few years ago, he continued, noting PHMSA would force a shutdown, if needed. Many pipelines are being built throughout the country, he added, noting the PHMSA has a good record of not letting operators to start using pipelines until they are safely operational.

Mr. Peters questioned how PHMSA and the state can be confident that Enbridge is accurately reporting problems, since it has had a history of failing to report them in the past.

PHMSA does have the ability to take action against pipeline operators who fail to report. While PHMSA can’t constantly monitor every mile of pipeline in the country, Mr. Elliot said the administration does focus on operators they are most concerned about.

“You will not find a more sensitive place anywhere than the Straits of Mackinac,” Mr. Peters said, calling for PHMSA’s commitment to look at Line 5 closely.

Mr. Elliot said he is committed to making sure every pipeline operator works safely.

While Mr. Shriberg serves on the Michigan Pipeline Safety Advisory Board, he offered comments and concerns from his role with the National Wildlife Federation (NWF). He characterized Line 5 as a shortcut that delivers most of its products to Canada while putting the Great Lakes at a huge risk of an oil spill. He identified several main points the NWF would like to see implemented, including more transparency from Enbridge, specific plans for freshwater systems, clear leadership and authority for shutting down the pipeline, and a required end-of-life assessment for the pipeline, which was built to last for 50 years and is now in its 65th year of operation. The NWF is ready to work with Congress and PHMSA on end-of-life surveys on pipelines throughout the country, not just on Line 5, Mr. Shriberg said. There currently is no system for how to decommission and remove pipelines at the end of their lifespans, he said, which should be added to federal law.

“Surely we can’t have gone through our whole history and never had [a pipeline] that needed to be shut down,” he said. “That is a new part of our regulatory structure, which is what I’m advocating for.”

Mr. Peters also asked Mr. Bryson about how much of the oil carried by Line 5 is used in Michigan, which he noted has been difficult to verify. About 30% of the product comes off Line 5 at Rapid River for propane extraction and distribution, which also occurs at Superior, Wisconsin, Mr. Bryson said. At Lewiston, local Michigan oil is injected into the pipeline destined for refineries in the Detroit area. The products then continue to Sarnia, Ontario, and some of it is piped to refineries in New York. Mr. Bryson agreed to provide this information in writing and submitted as testimony in the hearing.

Mr. Shriberg also talked about the NWF-commissioned study completed by London Economics, which said propane rates would not increase a noticeable amount to consumers if Line 5 were shut down. Mr. Bryson did not comment on the NWF study.

Research Is Key to Planning for

Possible Line 5 Spill

Mr. Peters is also working with PHMSA to have the entire Great Lakes region defined as an area highly sensitive to the effects of an oil spill, which was done during the last congress. PHMSA held its first meeting to understand how to implement the new definition of a “high consequence area,” incorporating that into rule making. Mr. Elliot said that information will be shared with the state before it’s approved, noting it is a priority for PHMSA.

The lack of knowledge about oil spills in freshwater environments was another topic of concern for Sen. Peters. Mr. Lundgren said less than 5% of oil spill studies focus on freshwater environments. Most oil spills have occurred in salt water marine environments, he said, although he noted there is growing interest in understanding how oil behaves in fresh water.

“Research is prudent,” Mr. Lundgren of NOAA said, with the differing water density, salinity (salt content), microorganisms living in the water, and potential impacts on drinking water intakes.

Mr. Peters agreed that there should be more research into freshwater oil spills, which is in part why he wrote provisions to improve the Coast Guard’s and NOAA’s oil spill preparedness, including increasing funding for a new Coast Guard Center of Expertise that will research the impacts of oil spills in freshwater systems. The increased funding for research was welcomed by Ms. Nunan, who said the lack of understanding about freshwater oil spills cannot be ignored.

“I am committed to doing everything that we can do,” she said.

“We’ve been thinking about an oil spill response for an unthinkable act,” Sen. Peters said. “We don’t ever want to get to the point of where we have to clean up.”

An Oil Spill Would Further Damage Michigan’s Reputation,

Bell Says

Larry Bell, owner of Bells Brewery, also provided testimony. Mr. Bell is an outspoken opponent to Line 5 and gave testimony about the potential economic and public awareness impacts of what an oil spill at the Straits of Mackinac could do to the state as a whole. He and other business owners believe the pipeline represents an undue liability risk to their businesses, beyond the negative environmental and human health impacts. Brewing beer depends on clean water, he said, noting the Upper Hand Brewery in Escanaba uses municipal water that is drawn from Lake Michigan.

“The perception of making beer with contaminated water” would be terrible for business, he said.

The company is already receiving concerns from customers about the PFAS contamination that has occurred near the Bell’s Brewery in Comstock. Costumers have also been concerned over the widespread negative publicity from the lead in Flint water. And brewers from across the state are concerned with a potential Line 5 oil spill, and the resulting negative publicity.

“A rupture of Line 5 would cement Michigan’s reputation of having the worst water in the United States,” Mr. Bell said.

Much of Michigan’s economy would be negatively impacted if a spill were to occur, and the tourists and residents of northern Michigan represent an important customer base for many businesses, not just Bell’s, he said. Property values would be negatively impacted and recreation would be affected.

“It would be best for this pipeline to be shut down,” he said.

Mr. Bell also discussed the impli- cations to the sailboat race he sponsors, the Bell’s Bayview Mackinac Race, in which participants race from Port Huron to Mackinac Island. The event is the biggest weekend for business in Port Huron, he said. The Great Lakes are essential to local economies, which an oil spill would risk.

“Mackinac Island would be toast right away,” he said, adding that tourism would be affected for generations.

“This is such an important part of our economy, to take the risk of having a spill is just an untenable position,” he said.

Senator Peters Demands

More Transparency

While the hearing answered some questions, it also raised many more, Sen. Peters said in his closing remarks.

“Enbridge must be more transparent,” he told Mr. Bryson. “You must be truthful, and you must be quick in response.”

Mr. Peters also thanked the many people who gathered for the hearing, noting, “The only way we get action in this country is by showing up and making sure our voices get heard.”

Perspectives: Industry for

Pipeline Installation and

Maintenance Speaks Up

The American Petroleum Institute works to develop smart pig inline detection tools for pipeline operators to evaluate their systems and emergency response training courses. David Murk, manager of pipelines for Midstream and Industry Operations at the American Petroleum Institute, participated in the hearing.

“The primary goal is preventing incidents before they occur,” Mr. Murk said.

The Michigan Laborers-Employers Cooperation and Education Trust (LECET) was founded in 1972, said representative Chris Hennsey. LECET trains workers to install and maintain pipelines and other infrastructure at four locations in Iron Mountain, Wayne, Perry, and St. Joseph. The pipeline technology class includes 80 hours of instruction, where students learn about the proper coatings for pipelines and how to prevent leaks and other incidents. They also have a good understanding of many environmental concerns, including erosion, species stewardship, and protecting water.

The pipeline installation and maintenance industry is important to providing many good jobs to Michigan workers, Mr. Hennsey said, adding, “We feel strongly about Michigan and its health.”

He advocated for evidence-based research to guide the pipeline installation and maintenance processes.

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