Michigan Tech expert to lead new Line 5 risk analysis

LANSING, MI — The state pipeline advisory board is taking another stab at getting an independent risk analysis on the threat posed by an oil spill from Enbridge Line 5 after the first effort was derailed by a conflicted contractor this year.

On Monday, Sept. 18, the board voted unanimously to recommend that Great Lakes researcher Guy Meadows of Michigan Tech University convene a panel of academic experts from around Michigan to develop a risk analysis for the controversial dual pipeline that crosses underneath the Straits of Mackinac.

Meadows, director of the Great Lakes Research Center at Michigan Tech, will resign his seat on the Michigan Pipeline Safety Advisory Board to lead the risk review.

Meadows said the panel would include experts from a variety of Michigan schools, including the University of Michigan and Western Michigan University.

Mike Shriberg, regional director of the National Wildlife Federation, who sits on the state pipeline board, said engaging top academic minds will ensure that Michigan residents and resources will be prioritized” in the risk analysis.

“This is a positive step in getting the state the actionable information it needs to decommission Line 5,” Shriberg said.

The pipeline board was supposed to have a risk analysis in hand by now, but the report was scrapped at the last minute in June when it was revealed that contractor Det Norske Veritas Inc (DNV GL) was doing similar work for Enbridge on another project.

Michigan abruptly fired contractor DNV, saying the work the company had been doing since last summer was tainted by a conflict of interest.

The state hired DNV and Dynamic Risk Assesments of Calgary last summer to develop two studies, a risk analysis and alternatives report, on Line 5.

Dynamic Risk delivered its report in June, but the analysis was roundly panned by all sides, including state agencies, who criticized the report for failing to assess a worst-case scenario from an oil spill on Line 5 under the straits.

Meadows was among critics of the Dynamic Risk report on the pipeline board who said it relied on flawed methods to systematically underestimate the probability, size and impact of a spill, and took an approach “that assumes that the citizens of Michigan are responsible for ensuring that Enbridge Energy can deliver its products.”

That report is bring revised and a final draft is expected this fall.

The state never received the DNV report, but board members said the raw data provided to the company would be available to Meadows.

Meadows called the effort a “fresh start” and said he’s hoping to deliver the academic analysis within six months.

Enbridge did not immediately return messages seeking comment. Representatives of the Michigan Oil & Gas Association, which began pushing back against calls for shutting down the pipeline this summer, also did not immediately return messages.

Enbridge is presently planning repairs to damaged coating on the pipeline it says were caused by mishaps during past installation of anchor supports.

Inspection reports sent to the state this month show the gaps in external anti-corrosion protective coating Enbridge disclosed in August are larger than the company initially characterized them. The state has reacted angrily to the coating gaps, demanding information on their origins and that they be repaired as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, a permit to install more anchors on the pipeline is still under review by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

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