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Energy company leaves debris in Michigan, delays report

The Mackinac Bridge that spans the Straits of Mackinac. The oil-transport company Enbridge said on Wednesday that a gap has opened between a section of its Line 5 pipeline and the staits’ bottom. The company now says it's seeking government permits that will allow it to install screw anchors to provide additional support at that spot and others along the underwater line. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)

The Mackinac Bridge that spans the Straits of Mackinac. The oil-transport company Enbridge recently acknowledged that its preparations for digging a tunnel for an oil pipeline had caused debris to get into the waterway.  (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)

PETOSKEY, Mich. (AP) — A Canadian energy-transportation company’s preparation of a proposed tunnel that would house a petroleum pipeline caused a borehole to collapse in Michigan, leaving debris in the waterway.

The incident occurred while Enbridge Energy was collecting rock and soil samples, work it finished on Sept. 12, the Petosky News-Review reported. Despite knowing then that things had gone amiss, the company waited until Nov. 19 to report what had happened to Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, according to documents obtained by the newspaper.

The collapse also caused a long piece of drill rod to become lodged beneath the lake bed, and a piece of the equipment to fall on top of the lake bed.

The tunnel is being built to enclose the Straits of Mackinac’s section of the 66-year-old pipeline, which is also known as Enbridge Line 5. It runs from Superior, Wisconsin to Sarnia, Ontario.

Ryan Duffy, Enbridge spokesman, said the two-months span between the date of the incident and the report were spent deciding the best way forward. And now, the company won’t be able to retrieve the debris until at least spring 2020.

“We were evaluating ways to go down and get it, and looking at the best way to go forward,” Duffy said. “We hoped to do it this season, this year, but it became unsafe with the change in the weather. It would be a dive operation that would be high risk in the cold weather, so we’re just going to retrieve it in the spring.”

Duffy added that the debris does not pose any inherent safety or environmental risks. But the presence of the debris means that Enbridge is in violation of its boring permit, which was issued under the Natural Resources Environmental Protection Act.

“The crew had some difficulties retrieving (the rod), so … the crew and Enbridge made the decision to lean the rod on the lake bottom until it can be retrieved in the spring, and it doesn’t pose a threat of interfering with traffic or anything like that.”

Joseph Haas, Gaylord District Supervisor for EGLE’s Water Division, said the company did not break any rules by waiting to file its initial report. But he adds that the department would have liked to know as soon as it happened.

Studies suggest that the tunnel would prevent threats to the pipeline’s infrastructure and shield the water from oil in the event of a rupture, which opponents of the pipeline contend is imminent.

Jennifer McKay, of Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council, has called for the pipeline to be shutdown. She said the incident reinforces that the Straits is not a suitable location for the pipeline.

“How can the public be confident that there will not be any additional collapses or problems during drilling of a tunnel if Enbridge can’t even bore a hole without it collapsing?” she said in a statement.

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