June 25, 2014 - Things are humming right along with regard to Enbridge's replacement of a crude oil pipeline that runs through Oxford and Addison townships.
Project Director Thomas Hodge anticipates the Line 6B project will be completed "on time and on schedule."
"We expect the pipe to be welded up, tested and completed by the end of August," he said. "And then we hope to get it tied in and placed in service by the end of September."
Last week, Enbridge, a Canada-based energy distribution company, hosted a media tour to help keep the public informed about the project. The Oxford Leader went on this tour along with Oxford Community Television (OCTV).
Enbridge is currently in the process of replacing 50 miles of Line 6B with new 30-inch diameter pipe – the same size as the existing line – between Ortonville in Brandon Township and the St. Clair River in Marysville.
The main staging area for the entire project, which involves approximately 750 workers, is located on the Koenig Sand & Gravel property off Lakeville Rd.
Line 6B, which is nearly 300 miles long, transports crude oil from Griffith, Indiana across Michigan to Sarnia, Ontario.
It serves refineries in Michigan, Ohio and eastern Canada. The line is 36 inches in diameter between Griffith and Stockbridge, Michigan, then goes down to 30 inches between Stockbridge and Marysville.
The crude oil transported through Line 6B typically comes from either western Canada or North Dakota, according to Enbridge Spokesman Jason Manshum.
"What you're seeing is a movement in this country to become more energy independent, relying on secure sources right here (in) our own country or from our neighbors to the north in Canada," he said.
Enbridge reported that 235 miles of the pipeline has already been replaced since 2012. The 50 miles between Ortonville and Marysville represents the final phase. The entire project is costing Enbridge an estimated $1.6 billion.
The portion that runs through Oxford Township is approximately 6.5 miles in length, while Addison's portion is approximately 6 miles long.
Last fall, Enbridge cleared the pipeline right-of-way. The actual replacement of the pipeline started in May.
In a nutshell, the process involves stringing the steel pipe along the easement, bending it to fit the terrain, then welding it. After welding, a ditch is dug and the pipe is lowered into the ground, then covered with earth.
"So far, they're getting close to having half of the pipe welded up," Hodge said. "The welding process is almost at 50 percent."
A pipeline is ready for use after it's been filled with water and tested to ensure there are no leaks.
The benefits of replacing Line 6B are numerous, according to Manshum.
Having a new pipeline will "reduce the level of future maintenance activities," he said.
The previous Line 6B had been in place since the late 1960s. "We have had a lot of repair or maintenance activities (involving) the line over the years," Manshum said.
Ultimately, Enbridge had to decide whether it wanted to continue the repair/maintenance program or replace the entire line with new pipe.
The company chose to do the latter.
"At the end of the day, the real benefit (is) those people who live and work along the right-of-way won't have to see Enbridge, quite frankly, for a while because we will not have to come back to do maintenance work and maintenance digs with brand new steel (in the ground)," Manshum said. "The real payoff here is less disruption to landowners in the future."
Another benefit, according to Manshum, is it "increases this country's access to reliable and secure North American crude oil."
"Some of the oil that we have received in this country over the years has been from less reliable, unsecure nations, whether it's Saudi Arabia, other places in the Middle East (or) Venezuela," he explained. "Now, we're looking at nationally, making sure we get our energy (from) here within our own continent. It's safer, more reliable and more efficient to move it across the border that way than bring it over the ocean via barges."
Replacing Line 6B will also allow Enbridge to deliver much more oil to refineries.
Manshum explained that when Line 6B was brand new in the late 1960s, it had the capacity to transport approximately 450,000 barrels of crude oil per day.
A barrel equals about 42 gallons.
However, these days, Enbridge has been running the pipeline at a reduced capacity of approximately 240,000 barrels per day.
One of the reasons Line 6B is operating at 47 percent below capacity is "the incident we had in Marshall," according to Manshum.
"We've been operating under some (pumping) pressure restrictions," he explained. "With the new line, those restrictions will be lifted."
In July 2010, Enbridge was responsible for an oil spill that resulted from a rupture in Line 6B near Marshall, Michigan. The oil spilled into a creek connected to the Kalamazoo River. According to the National Transportation Safety Board, the spill prompted the costliest onshore cleanup in U.S. history at more than $800 million. It was widely considered one of the worst oil spills ever in the Midwest.
"We are in the ninth inning, or the final stages, of cleanup right now," Manshum said. "We have dredging that's being done right now in one final area. That will be done by the end of the summer . . . In many, many cases, the river is cleaner now than it was in 2010."
Hodge noted the other reason Line 6B hasn't been running at full capacity is the previously lower demand for crude oil from North America.
"There were some loops in (the line) that had been deactivated over the years just because the demand had fallen off," Hodge said. "It's all a function of demand by the refiners, where they want to get their crude (from). Supplies have (now) shifted from offshore, the Middle East, to North America. So, the need is there to move more North American oil to the refiners."
When the Line 6B replacement is complete, Manshum said it will have the capacity to transport up to 500,000 barrels per day.
"It gets us back (to) the capacity we were originally at with a little bit in addition to meet the growing demand," Manshum said.
Manshum noted the Marathon refinery in Detroit, which Line 6B feeds, recently expanded its capabilities because of increased demand.
"All of us are using more and more petroleum in our daily lives, from fuel for our cars to asphalt for roads, smartphones, computers, medical equipment, the list goes on," he said.
As a result, Enbridge customers, like Marathon, have told the company "we need you to deliver more product to our refineries."
"The existing Line 6B could not deliver more than it was doing," Manshum said. "That's another reason why we're replacing the line – to meet that demand and our customers' need to get more product through to them."
Line 6B's increased capacity will result from the ability to pump crude through the pipe at a higher pressure and the previous replacement of the 30-inch line between Griffith and Stockbridge with 36-inch pipe.
Local economies are also benefiting from the Line 6B replacement in that the project's approximately 750 employees are spending lots of money in the areas in which they're working.
"It's in the millions (of dollars)," Hodge said. "Half of these people are coming in from out of town. They all (need) housing. They're buying their food, their fuel (locally). Contractors hire local vendors . . . It pumps a tremendous amount of money into the local economy."
Enbridge officials emphasized the importance of safety and avoiding any repeat of incidents like the 2010 oil spill near Marshall.
"We have a path to zero, which means zero incidents," Manshum said. "No incident, regardless of how large or how small, is acceptable to this company. So, there are many practices, policies and procedures that we're putting forward to make the lines as secure as possible."
For example, the new Line 6B will have a "thicker wall than the original" and be made of a "higher grade steel."
Enbridge is also utilizing "enhanced leak detection systems."
"I can tell you that since 2012, we have invested almost $4.5 billion in improvements on security and safety initiatives," Manshum noted. "We don't want to ever see another incident like what happened in the Kalamazoo River and so, we are investing dollars and time and technology into improving our systems across the board . . . The idea is to catch something small before it becomes a large issue."
Manshum noted the pipeline's interior and exterior are both closely monitored.
"It's a very robust, state-of-the-art maintenance program on the inside as well as on the outside of the pipe," he said.
The exterior of the pipeline is monitored via both aerial and foot patrols. The aerial patrols happen "at least 26 times a year," he said.
Enbridge also uses inspection tools that closely examine the pipe's interior.
"They take thousands of computer images of the inside of the pipe," Manshum said. "They're looking for any sort of abnormality that we may need to address. Things such as dents, cracks, corrosion."
Once the new Line 6B is tied in, the old pipeline will be deactivated, cut into segments and left in place.
Each segment will be purged of any remaining oil, flushed with a cleaning solution, capped and filled with inert gas (nitrogen).
The gas pressure will then be monitored for as long as the old line exists.
Enbridge will maintain the cathodic protection on the old line's exterior to ensure there's no external corrosion.
It's a federal requirement that the company must maintain the line as if it was still in operation.
Manshum explained Enbridge can't simple remove the old line, then install the new one because the company's customers, the refineries, "would be without product for months – possibly up to a year or more."
"If you know anything about refineries, you know they can't go without product for that long," he said.
He also explained that Enbridge doesn't want to come back to dig up and remove the old line because the company doesn't wish to disturb local landowners' properties a second time.
"It's much more intrusive to landowners to come back the following year," Manshum said. "So, you leave it in place."
Manshum stressed "there are no plans to reuse the existing, or the original, Line 6B."
When asked what the life expectancy of the new Line 6B is, Hodge explained, "It's all a function of the quality of the (pipe's) coating (and) how the line is maintained."
"There are pipelines that were laid back in the 1920s that are still in service today," Hodge said. "You dig them up and the coating looks as good as the day they were installed. This coating that we're putting on today has been in use since the mid-to-late 1970s . . . It's a fusion-bonded epoxy applied at the factory."
Fusion-bonded epoxy is widely used to protect steel pipe from corrosion.
"It's a very high quality coating," Hodge said. "Between the coating and the cathodic protection system that's on the pipeline to eliminate the corrosion, the life expectancy (of Line 6B) is indefinite."
"Age does not equal life expectancy," Manshum added. "There are a lot of other factors that go into the longevity of a pipe, but age, in and of itself, is not one of them."
"The Brooklyn Bridge was built back in the 1800s," Hodge noted. "It's been maintained over the years and is still a viable structure today."
The same holds true for pipelines. It's just a matter of "how they're maintained and how they're operated," Hodge said.
OCTV will air a 30-minute special featuring the Enbridge project beginning Monday, June 30. The program will air from 1-1:30 p.m. Monday through Friday that week. OCTV is Channel 191 for Charter subscribers and Channel 99 for AT&T U-verse customers.
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.