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Enbridge begins staging for the new Line 5 pipeline under the St. Clair River

One of two staging areas off River Road in Marysville for the oil and gas new pipeline under the St. Clair River.
One of two staging areas off River Road in Marysville for the oil and gas new pipeline under the St. Clair River.

By Jim Bloch

Enbridge Energy, the giant oil and natural gas transportation company based in Alberta, Canada, has begun staging for the new Line 5 pipeline under the St. Clair River.

“We’re in the preconstruction phase, getting the sites ready on both sides of the river,” said Ryan Duffy, a spokesperson for the firm.

On two lots on the upper section of River Road in Marysville, crews have been erecting safety fences and laying down wood mats that will provide a temporary driving surface for heavy equipment.

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“We’ll start drilling next month,” Duffy said. “We’ll drill the boreholes, assemble the pipe, pull it through and have the sites cleaned up and remediated by June.”

The firm will use a process known as horizontal directional drilling to excavate a borehole that will arc 30 feet below the floor of the St. Clair River.

The current Line 5 pipe sits in a silt-filled trench cut four to five into the riverbed.

The bore hole will be drilled from the U.S. and Canadian sides of the river, said Duffy.

The 30-inch pipeline itself will be assembled on the Canadian side and pulled through to the U.S. side.

“We do these all over the country for waterbody crossings,” said Duffy. “It’s the safest, least intrusive method.”

Enbridge's new Line 5 pipeline will cross the St. Clair River to Canada, seen on the far side of the river.
Enbridge’s new Line 5 pipeline will cross the St. Clair River to Canada, seen on the far side of the river.

The firm’s experience extends to the St. Clair River, where it used the horizontal directional drilling process to replace Line 6B under the river in 2011 and to install the Vector natural gas line, in which Enbridge is a partner.

“So we’ve had quite a bit of experience,” said Duffy.

Line 6B ruptured near Talmadge Creek in 2010, pouring more than 800,000 barrels of crude oil into the creek and surrounding wetland. The spill reached the Kalamazoo River on its way to becoming the largest inland oil spill in American history.

Enbridge subsequently rebuilt the line all the way through Marysville in 2014.

Line 5

Line 5 runs 645 miles between Superior, WI and Marysville, crossing the Upper Peninsula with its cargo of light crude oil and natural gas, and dipping under the Straits of Mackinac, where the 30-inch pipeline divides into two 20-inch pipes that sit on the bottom of the straits, and combine again into a 30-inch pipe in the Lower Peninsula.

The replacing of Line 5 under the St. Clair River was part of a controversial deal Enbridge struck with lame-duck Governor Rick Snyder in late in 2017 to build a tunnel encasing a new Line 5 under the Straits of Mackinac.

The straits crossing has been the focus protests and demands to shut it down for years.

Hydrologists have modeled a rupture in the Straits of Line 5 and found that it could create an oil spill from Beaver Island in northern Lake Michigan to Rogers City in northern Lake Huron — largely due to the fact that the current in the Straits frequently changes direction.

But no one had mentioned, let alone protested against the pipeline in the St. Clair River, which will not be encased in a hardened tunnel.

Many of opponents of Line 5 want all energy pipelines removed from the Great Lakes, which represent 20 percent of the world’s surface freshwater, a resource that will skyrocket in value as the climate crisis deepens and droughts become more common.

There have been problems Up North.

Line 5 experienced an anchor strike by a tug boat April 1, 2018 that dented both pipelines and knocked off some of their protective coating.

Enbridge wrapped up sediment and rock sampling for the Straits tunnel late fall of last year. The Associated Press reported in December that Enbridge had retrieved a steel rod 45 feet in length perched against one the pipelines at the bottom of the Straits, following a borehole collapse in September. The company didn’t report the collapse for two months.

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