Line Look Leader: Tech prof heading pipe risk analysis

HOUGHTON — The director of Michigan Technological University’s Great Lakes Research Center will lead the team performing a risk analysis of Enbridge’s Line 5, a crude oil pipeline which runs under the Straits of Mackinac.

Guy Meadows and a team of 41 researchers, including 21 from Tech, will determine the health, environmental and economic impacts of a worst-case scenario involving a spill or release from the two 4.5-mile lines.

Nine other universities, including seven from Michigan, will take part.

The team’s analysis will evaluate:

•The environmental fate and transport of oil or other products released from the Straits pipelines in a worst-case scenario.

•How long it would take to contain and clean up the worst-case release.

•The short- and long-term public health and safety impacts.

•The short- and long-term ecological impacts.

•Potential measures to restore the affected natural resources and mitigate the ecological impacts.

•Estimate the amount of natural resource damages, the governmental costs and all other economic damages — public and private — resulting from a worst-case release.

“They’re gathering all that data and delivering it to the state, so the state can come up with an adequate financial mechanism for Enbridge to have the funds on hand to cover all costs in the event of a worst-case scenario,” said Stefanie Sidortsova, communications and public relations director for Michigan Tech. “They’re looking more at the impact of what the worst-case scenario would be, and the costs of that impact.”

The original 1953 easement set up for Enbridge specifies Enbridge is responsible for covering the costs of damages incurred from a worst-case scenario. The state will require Enbridge to maintain adequate financial resources for such an event.

The continued use of the 65-year-old pipelines has been criticized for posing a high health, environmental and economic risk. In August, Enbridge revealed to the state it had found damage to protective coating on the pipelines in 2014.

According to the state contract for the project, the team will use a range of methods to estimate costs. Those include government settlements from past oil spills in comparable locations and the response roles of various agencies.

Determining the magnitude of a worst-case scenario will be done by looking at qualities such as the structural features of the pipelines, leak detection methods and the schedule of transports across the pipeline.

Last September, the Michigan Pipeline Safety Advisory Board unanimously recommended Tech lead a risk analysis.

Meadows, who had been a member of the board, recommended Tech after the state had terminated the original contract for a risk analysis. Meadows resigned from the board to lead the analysis.

“He brought the proposal and the idea to the board, and the board was sold on the idea and moved forward to recommend to the state that they enter into contract talks with him,” said Nick Assendelft, spokesman for the Michigan Public Service Commission.

The proposed budget for the project is $749,110.

Enbridge will pay the project’s cost through an escrow account maintained by the state but does not have any say in the report.

A public presentation on the analysis is expected in July, followed by a 30-day comment period ending in mid-August.

The final report is expected in September.