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New Enbridge Straits Maritime Operations Center unveiled

MACKINAW CITY — As Enbridge continues to progress on its long-term Line 5 tunnel project through the Straits of Mackinac, the Canadian-based company gave a behind-the-scenes look into its Enbridge Straits Maritime Operations Center this week.

The operations center, which went into service last October and became fully operational this past summer, has crews working around the clock 24 hours, seven days a week and 365 days a year to ensure the safety and protection of the waterway, which serves as a busy passage for marine shipping on the Great Lakes.

“The ESMOC is another example of Enbridge implementing extraordinary measures to help ensure the safety and protection of the Straits of Mackinac, particularly as the Great Lakes Tunnel Project progresses,” the company stated in a release.

Line 5 spans 645 miles from Superior, Wisconsin, to Sarnia, Ontario, and splits into dual pipelines that run parallel to each other stretching 4 1/2 miles through the Straits area.

Commissioned in 1953, the 67-year old pipeline has raised concerns in recent years regarding its long-term viability in the Straits, and the devastating effects on the Great Lakes and state of Michigan if an oil spill were to occur. The pipeline transports nearly 23 million gallons, or 540,000 barrels of crude oil and petroleum products per day.

Enbridge’s long-term solution for eliminating any potential incident is to build a tunnel to house the pipeline up to 100 feet deep beneath the lakebed by 2024.

Deemed the “Great Lakes Tunnel Project,” an agreement for the plan was reached with the Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority (MSCA) on Dec. 19, 2018. Enbridge is pledging a $500 million private investment to fund the project and hopes to begin construction next year, with the tunnel slated to be complete by 2024.

Enbridge has partnered with Jay Dee Contractors Inc. of downstate Livonia and Obayashi Corporation, a Japanese tunnel construction firm to lead the project.

Enbridge claims the tunnel will virtually eliminate any chance of a pipeline incident in the Straits, according to its website. While completion of the project is still an estimated four years away, ESMOC will help monitor the potential for any incidents or anchor strikes in a variety of ways.

The center, located in Mackinaw City, allows Enbridge to closely monitor the pipeline with patrol boats, radio communication, surveillance and more.

Patrol boats can be found on the waters of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron 24/7, which keep a close eye on Line 5 and can also monitor passing vessels to perform visual inspections of anchor positions. At least one patrol boat is always stationed over Line 5 weather permitting.

Enbridge has also implemented what’s called the ‘Guardian Protect’ system, which allows the company to identify approaching vessels in the Straits area and issue those vessels a safety notification of the ‘no anchor zone.’

Radio contact can be made to passing ships to confirm anchor position when necessary, and six high-definition cameras are also in the process of being installed at both ends of the Straits for vessel surveillance. Enbridge also has high-tech weather monitoring tools for tracking wind speed and wave heights.

The around-the-clock staff have the ability to monitor the Guardian Protect system, coordinate patrol boats and keep an eye on weather data. Staff also has access to immediate communication with the pipeline maintenance teams, the U.S. Coast Guard and local authorities if necessary.

ESMOC also has a 34-foot fast response boat for Enbridge’s emergency response capabilities. While Enbridge will be the primary user of the response boat, which has the ability to spray up to 1,250 gallons of water per minute to battle water or land based fires, the company also said it’ll be available to first responders in the area if necessary.

Enbridge operations manager for northern Michigan Bob Lehto said in the release that ESMOC is a world-class safety system for protecting Michigan’s waterways.

“It’s unprecedented for a company like Enbridge to have a (marine) system like this in place to protect our assets,” he said. “It’s analogous to what government agencies do at ports and waterways throughout the world.”

If a problem with a passing vessel persists that ESMOC can’t resolve on its own, Enbridge says it has the ability to immediately contact the Coast Guard or local authorities and can shut the dual pipelines down immediately in case of an emergency.

Enbridge described the ESMOC system as a short-term solution, but the company’s long-term solution continues to be the Great Lakes Tunnel Project.

“The ESMOC and all the safety measures in place are immediate, near-term solutions for making the Straits of Mackinac safer,” the release said. “A long-term solution is housing the pipeline in a tunnel deep under the lakebed. This would eliminate the chance of an anchor strike. Enbridge has made a commitment to the State and its residents that we will pay for and build the tunnel project. We believe it’s the best way to protect the environment while still keeping energy flowing safely to the state and region.”

For more information on Enbridge, ESMOC and Line 5, visit www.enbridge.com.

Ryan Spitza can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. His email address is rspitza@miningjournal.net.

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