Last week, we posted our account of the “workshop” meeting between Enbridge representatives and the Brandon Township Board of Trustees. Much of what we touched upon in the post deserves further scrutiny and elaboration and we hope to devote more time and space to those things in the coming days– starting right now. But first, let me just reiterate what may be the most important fact we took away from that meeting:

With its Northern Gateway project in Canada, Enbridge has solicited local input prior to construction and they have responded to public concern by, among other things, pledging to exceed Canadian federal regulatory safety and design standards. With its Line 6B project in Michigan– the home of Marshall!– Enbridge has not done the same.  

Now back to our main topic: among the most serious concerns of those of us in the Line 6B path is what will happen with the old pipe that Enbridge is “replacing” (but leaving in the ground). The Brandon trustees address this question in their resolution, insisting upon

A guarantee that once the original pipeline is deactivated it will not be used for any kind of petroleum, natural gas, propane, or environmentally hazardous product in the future thereby doubling the amount of hazardous material running through Brandon Township.

And the question was once again raised at the Brandon “workshop.” Enbridge, specifically  project manager Thomas Hodge, gave the same answer that we’ve been hearing from Enbridge for months: that Enbridge currently has no plans whatsoever to reactivate the pipeline. By way of assuring the trustees, Hodge went on to say that reactivating the pipe would be a long, involved, and complicated process, conveying the impression that reactivation is a sort of far-fetched scenario. Still, Hodge said, Enbridge could not guarantee that the pipe would never be activated simply because “there are no guarantees in life”– a statement which obviously, as I have already pointed, just isn’t true.

At any rate, it became quite clear at the Brandon workshop that Enbridge had no intention of agreeing to comply with this part of the resolution (or any other part, for that matter). So, by way of seeking some form of assurance, the Brandon trustees asked Enbridge whether they have ever reactivated a pipeline in the past. In answer to this question all four of the Enbridge reps (Hodge, two spokespersons, and attorney Mike Ashton) said very clearly that they knew of no such examples of Enbridge pipeline reactivation.

But I do. It’s called Portal Link.

Back in the 1990s, Enbridge shipped oil along an 85-mile line running from Saskatchewan in Canada across the North Dakota border (near Portal, North Dakota) and on down to Berthold, North Dakota. From there it could connect with other Enbridge systems and ship to refineries. But this “Portal Link” pipeline was idled– deactivated– in 2006. Four years later, in 2010, Enbridge proposed to REACTIVATE the Portal Link line and to reverse its flow to send oil from Bethold back up to Saskatchewan. That plan was approved and by May of 2011, the Portal Link line was once again– after being deactivated for 5 years, then reactivated— shipping oil.

Oh, and there’s more: in 1997, back when Enbridge was called Interprovincial Pipe Line, Inc., Canada’s National Energy Board approved Enbridge’s application to reactivate 130 miles of pipeline running from Sarnia and east toward Toronto. That line (Line 8) was deactivated in 1995 and idle for two years.

And more: in 1994, the NEB approved Interprovincial’s application to reactivate roughly 180 miles of idle pipeline between Regina, Saskatchewan and Romer, Manitoba.

And more: in 1992, Interprovincial was granted permission to reactivate a pipeline running from Sarnia to Montreal, a line that had been idled in 1991.

So here’s what we know: Enbridge reactivated an idle pipeline in the U.S. just last year. And there are several instances in which they have reactivated idle pipelines in Canada in the past. In fact, people we spoke to who know a lot more about the industry than we do tell us that the practice of reactivating mothballed pipelines is not at all unusual.

Maybe the Enbridge representatives who were sent to the Brandon workshop don’t have enough curiosity or interest (or devotion to getting the Brandon trustees clear, precise answers) to go home and Google “Enbridge and reactivation.” But it only took us a couple of hours to locate the examples we’ve cited. The Portal Link project, for example, is right there on the Enbridge website!

What we learned in our research does not help alleviate our concerns.