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Protest exposes Line 5 security risk

The recent protest at Enbridge Inc.’s Line 5 pumping station in Michigan’s Thumb appears to have been frivolous — a dozen or so young activists mostly hanging out in a parking lot listening to music — but it exposes serious security risks for the petroleum pipeline.

A group calling itself “Up Hell’s Creek Camp” descended on the pumping station and were left alone there for more than an hour by both the operator, Enbridge, and local authorities in Tuscola County.

One of the group shimmied under a locked, chain-link gate with a pipe wrench, which he applied to a fixture that may or may not have been a shut-off valve — Enbridge isn’t saying — while the rest of the bunch, mostly teens and young adults, watched from the lot. One of them played an electric guitar and sang.

When they arrived, they alerted both Enbridge and the Tuscola County sheriff of their intentions and began a social media live-stream.

Sheriff deputies were initially uncertain where to find the site, while Enbridge temporarily shut down the pipeline and says all appropriate steps were taken to secure the line. The pipeline has an automatic shut-down system in case of tampering.

By the time the Tuscola officers arrived, the protesters were gone. A few apparently were stopped in their vehicles and questioned, but there’s no indication anyone was arrested or charged. The sheriff’s department has not returned phone calls from The Detroit News.

It’s not what actually happened Oct. 19 but what might have happened that is worrisome. Line 5 carries 540,000 barrels of petroleum products a day from Canada through Michigan.

And yet this pumping station was so loosely secured that it was breached by an unsophisticated band of kids.

Imagine the damage that could have been done by a more malicious group intent on disrupting the pipeline’s flow, or even destroying it.

Enbridge is embroiled in a legal fight with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration over the section of Line 5 that runs beneath the Straits of Mackinac. The governor wants to shut it down; Enbridge wants to encase it in a concrete tunnel deep below the lakebed.

The dispute moved to the U.S. State Department after Canada filed a treaty complaint.

Enbridge doesn’t help its case by being so careless with security. It should know Line 5 is a target, and should have better safeguards in place at all of the facilities along the pipeline.

It certainly should respond with more urgency when a threat is telegraphed in advance, as was the case Oct. 19.

Likewise, law enforcement in communities that host Line 5 infrastructure should have emergency response plans in place to deal with threats. Given the animosity toward Line 5, anything can happen at any time.

The Woodstock nature of the Oct. 19 protest may be amusing. But next time, the pipeline attackers might not be so mellow.

— Detroit News

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