Inspections show Line 5 coating gaps larger than disclosed

LANSING, MI — Patches of bare metal larger than dinner plates are visible in photos of protective coating gaps on Enbridge Line 5 submitted to the state of Michigan this weekend.

The photos are part of an initial report demanded by state officials who have noticeably soured on the controversial oil pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac.

According to our media partners at Mlive.com, seven pipeline “holidays,” or areas of external anti-corrosion coating loss, are detailed in inspection documents sent to the state on Friday, Sept. 8, and obtained by MLive.

Several holidays are larger than the “Band-Aid”-sized areas Enbridge initially described when the gaps were revealed. The largest patch of exposed pipeline metal is 16 inches long and 10 inches wide. Others are narrower but also exceed a foot in length.

Also detailed in the reports is a “disturbed” coating area that’s more than 3 feet long, a “dislodged” coating area that’s 13 feet long and a mysterious 8-inch “white deposit” of unknown origin that Enbridge says “remains under investigation.”

The coating damage is the latest tough news for Line 5 this year, and some pipeline opponents think the angry response from Michigan officials signals intent to finally force the line’s closure, a move that fossil fuel industry groups would likely oppose.

“It signals the state may be moving from rhetoric to action,” said David Holtz, chair of the Michiagn Sierra Club and coordinator of the Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign.

Michigan officials were quick to demand repairs when the coating gaps were disclosed — another surprise for regulators conducting a high-profile Line 5 public review that has thus far culminated in a roundly criticized independent report on feasible alternatives to Enbridge’s continued operation of an unpopular pipeline.

The news follows revelations that Enbridge was previously violating its easement for years by failing to properly support long spans on the line with anchors, which the company is presently seeking a state permit to install 22 more of this fall. Some of those anchors are in an area where inspections show the pipeline is bent and deformed.

The extent of coating failures, according to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, is troubling to the state, which was assured by Enbridge this spring that no areas of bare metal exposed to lake water existed on the pipeline after a federal work plan to investigate holidays surfaced in Chicago.

When the external coating gaps were confirmed in August, Enbridge said there were only “two, possibly three” spots that were about 3 inches or so.

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