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Enbridge sues tugboat company over anchor strike to Mich. liquids pipeline

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Enbridge sues tugboat company over anchor strike to Mich. liquids pipeline

Enbridge Inc. sued a tugboat operator that allegedly dented the Line 5 oil and liquids pipeline in Michigan's Straits of Mackinac for an unspecified amount of damages.

The pipeline company's July 3 suit in federal court accused VanEnkevort Tug & Barge Inc. of operating a vessel in an unseaworthy matter, ignoring posted signs and advisories warning sailors that pipelines run along the lake floor, and hitting the pipeline with an anchor in an April 1 incident.

SNL Image

In this July 19, 2002, file photo, the Mackinac Bridge that spans the Straits of Mackinac is shown from Mackinaw City, Mich. Enbridge operates twin oil pipelines under the waterway linking lakes Huron and Michigan, and it is suing a tugboat operator over an April 1 anchor strike to the line.

Source: The Associated Press

Enbridge said the VanEnkevort vessel dragged its anchor across the bottom for several miles. Enbridge and American Transmission Co. LLC, which runs a power cable across the strait, both reported anchor strikes. VanEnkevort has already been sued by American Transmission and the state of Michigan over the incident. American Transmission's power cables leaked a mineral-based insulating fluid after the strike.

VanEnkevort has made no comment regarding the incident or litigation.

Enbridge spokesman Ryan Duffy said the anchor strike did not hurt the pipeline's operations. He said the firm would probably repair the damage by wrapping a composite material around the site of the strike.

The anchor strike came at a time when Enbridge was studying methods to further protect Line 5 and an academic group was examining the possible impacts of a leak from the 1950s-era set of twin 20-inch pipelines. Enbridge's June 30 study showed that the line's protection could be improved by installing a vessel warning system at the strait, automatically warning approaching vessels to haul in their anchors, and by piling rocks on top of the pipeline. Enbridge estimated the warning system's cost at $500,000. It is already testing such a system at the straits. Covering Line 5 with rocks would cost an estimated $150 million, according to the 108-page study, which was put together as part of a November 2017 agreement between Enbridge and Michigan.

In May, a study funded by the environmental group For Love of Water and conducted by Michigan State University, concluded that a spill of more than 50,000 gallons from Line 5 would cause $5.6 billion in damage to tourism, coastal property and commercial fishing. The study assumed that automatic shutoff systems would fail and human response would be delayed.

Enbridge, whose own studies assume the largest leak would be 5,000 gallons before automatic cutoffs engage, said the MSU study was "fundamentally flawed" for assuming the system's failure.