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US Justice Department and Enbridge seek to ease inspection requirements on Line 5

Mark Brush
Michigan Radio

The U.S. Justice Department said it's reached an agreement with pipeline company Enbridge that could soon lift part of a 2017 consent decree, imposed after a massive oil spill into the Kalamazoo River in 2010.

The agreement seeks to modify the consent decree to limit the kinds of inspections Enbridge is required to do on the part of Line 5 that runs under the Straits of Mackinac. If approved, inspections for axial cracks — the kind that run along pipelines, as opposed to circumferential cracks, which slice along the curve of a pipeline — could be suspended.

Sean McBrearty is with Clean Water Action. His group opposes the move.

"This is the company responsible for the Kalamazoo oil spill, 33 oil spills to date on Line 5 — luckily not in the Straits, yet," he said. "This company needs more oversight, not less."

McBrearty says the consent decree should remain in place, especially given recent comments made by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The EPA has asked the corps to consider alternatives to Enbridge's plan to construct a new pipeline under the Straits, and encase it in a tunnel.

In a statement, Enbridge said an axial crack is "a low-risk threat that was appropriately addressed in a 2017 hydrotest."

"Enbridge continues to run inline inspections regularly as part of our maintenance and inspections to ensure safe operations. We run inline inspections several times a year on the Straits section of Line 5 and that is not going to change," the statement continued.

"Our focus is always on safety and protecting the environment, the water of the Great Lakes and the people who use them," the company said. "As far as the consent decree as a whole, Enbridge’s focus all along is the continued safe operations of our pipelines. We have worked very hard to satisfy the conditions set out in the Marshall Consent Decree and believe that we have reached the point that most of the Decree can be terminated."

Enbridge is one of Michigan Radio's corporate sponsors.

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Tracy Samilton covers the auto beat for Michigan Radio. She has worked for the station for 12 years, and started out as an intern before becoming a part-time and, later, a full-time reporter. Tracy's reports on the auto industry can frequently be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered, as well as on Michigan Radio. She considers her coverage of the landmark lawsuit against the University of Michigan for its use of affirmative action a highlight of her reporting career.