Report details largely 'self-regulated' oil pipelines, including Line 5 at Straits

Aug 31, 2015

Enbridge officials deploy boom during a mock oil spill along the Indian River in September 2014.Credit David Cassleman
Credit David Cassleman

A new report in Bridge Magazine this month questions how much state and federal officials know about the condition of an oil pipeline that crosses the Straits of Mackinac.

Reporter Ted Roelofs also details the inspection process governing oil and gas pipelines in the United States.

“The pipeline network in this country, which is about 2.5 million miles, it’s essentially self-regulated by the industry," Roelofs says.

"The federal agency that oversees it [Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, or PHMSA] essentially outsources the inspection to the industry itself.”

Roelofs says PHMSA has between 110 and 120 inspectors to oversee millions of miles of pipeline.

“The inspectors don’t actually do a whole lot of field work inspection," Roelofs says. "A lot of this consists of visiting the offices of where this data is kept and reviewing it.”

Last month, state officials published a long-awaited taskforce report on Enbridge's Line 5, after months of investigation and testimony.

During the course of the investigation, the state task force received inspection reports from Enbridge. But Roelofs says the state admits that it currently does not have anybody that can interpret the highly technical data.

Enbridge insists Line 5 is in excellent condition and notes the segment under the Straits has never had a leak.