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Michigan drops part of Great Lakes Line 5 oil pipeline study

Enbridge's Line 5 petroleum pipeline
Enbridge's Line 5 petroleum pipeline

Michigan officials have terminated a contract with a firm analyzing a controversial petroleum pipeline that runs through the Great Lakes, due to an employee's alleged conflict of interest.

Enbridge's Line 5 petroleum pipeline
Enbridge's Line 5 petroleum pipeline

Enbridge's Line 5 pipeline, which runs under the Straits of Mackinac, has been the target of criticism for months. Det Norske Veritas Inc. (DNV GL) was one of two firms hired to conduct a risk analysis of the pipeline.

Environmentalists fear the pipeline, which is more than 60 years old, will rupture and contaminate the Great Lakes. But Enbridge officials say the pipeline remains stable.  

The risk analysis was designed to address issues raised by critics. In 2016, Michigan hired two firms to handle the work: Det Norske Veritas and Dynamic Risk Assessment System.

Michigan officials said that an employee involved in the Det Norske Veritas' analysis worked on a project for Enbridge while the risk analysis was being completed. Officials said that violated conflict of interest prohibitions in the contract.

The contract was terminated before the draft report was delivered to Michigan's project team.

“We took the initiative to terminate the contract based on our commitment to the complete integrity and transparency of this report.  Ultimately the state will have to decide how to proceed with Line 5 and we can’t do that if there is any doubt regarding the nature of the information,” C. Heidi Grether, director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, said in a statement.

The contract termination leaves Michigan “without a key piece needed to fully evaluate the financial risks associated with the pipeline that runs through our Great Lakes,” added Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette.  “Terminating the contract is the only option we have to maintain the integrity of the risk analysis.”

A spokesperson for Det Norske Veritas was not immediately available for comment.

Chris Kolb, president of the Michigan Environmental Council, called for state officials to release more details about the Det Norske Veritas report. 

"In the interest of transparency, the state must disclose when and how they learned about this conflict of interest," Kolb said. "We also call on state leaders to make public any documents or drafts of the risk analysis. This will enable Michigan residents to trust that the contract was terminated only because of the conflict of interest, and not because of anything in the report."

Lisa Wozniak, executive director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, said in a statement that her organization "is glad the State is holding the line against conflicts of interest in this essential report, but too much is riding on this to go back to square one. The prudent course of action is to shut Line 5 down until it is proven safe."

Dynamic Risk Assessment's analysis will be delivered to the state project team by the end of this month, state officials said.

It will be posted on the Michigan Petroleum Pipeline website, www.mipetroleumpipelines.com, for public review and comment by the end of the month.

Copyright 2017 Great Lakes Today

Dave Rosenthal
Dave Rosenthal is Managing Editor of Great Lakes Today, a collaboration of public media stations that is led by WBFO, ideastream in Cleveland in WXXI in Rochester, and includes other stations in the region.
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