Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline is not aging gracefully, with a previously-undetected record of at least 29 oil and gas spills totalling more than a million gallons over the last 64 years, the U.S. National Wildlife Federation reports this week.
The “conservative estimate” is “really part of a mounting chain of evidence that this pipeline is aging out poorly,” said Mike Shriberg, executive director of the Federation’s Great Lakes Regional Center.
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“This isn’t the smoking gun-type piece, but it’s mounting evidence that the risk to the Great Lakes and areas (around the pipeline) are extremely high,” he said. “While the past isn’t a perfect predictor of the future, it is an indicator and adds to mounting evidence.”
In a separate interview with InsideClimate News, Shriberg noted that the Great Lakes provide water for 40 million people.
While recent advocacy has focused on the risks Line 5 represents as it crosses the Straits of Mackinac in Michigan, the latest study looks at the pipeline’s performance along its land route from Wisconsin to Sarnia, Ontario. NWF pipeline safety specialist Beth Wallace said she’d been studying the line since 2011, but stressed she might have missed some incidents—due to the complexity of the U.S. Department of Transportation spreadsheets she was working with, or because the pipeline owners were under no obligation to report specific incidents.
“There’s a very high possibility that Enbridge or (former pipeline owner) Lakehead had releases that did not meet certain thresholds and didn’t have to report,” she told Midwest Energy News. “I firmly believe that if there were other releases, that’s important to the overall conversation.”
Enbridge spokesperson Ryan Duffy disputed the NWF figures, claiming the company had recorded three spills totalling 21 barrels (882 gallons) over the last 15 years.
“All of the product released during these three incidents was recovered,” he said. “Any other releases in that time frame would have happened within our facilities. And when that happens, nearly all of that product can be recovered and put back into the system.”
But those releases “very much should be” included in pipeline safety reports, Wallace said.
“Pumping stations and other above-ground equipment along Line 5 would not be in operation without Line 5, and those parts of the system are as much of a risk to the public and our environment as the below-ground equipment,” she said.