On Friday, Dec. 1st, the 3-member Michigan Public Service Commission approved the application from foreign energy conglomerate Enbridge to construct an unprecedented replacement tunnel for a section of the Line 5 pipeline that runs under the Straits of Mackinac. About 4-miles of Line 5’s two 20-inch pipelines will be replaced with a single 30-inch pipeline that will be placed inside a concrete-lined tunnel routed under the lake bed.
Before construction, the commission is requiring Enbridge to submit a detailed risk management plan to the State of Michigan. The underground tunnel will reportedly include leak detectors and equipment needed for inspection and maintenance.
The plan requires approval from the Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority and the United States Army Corps of Engineers before construction begins.
The grass-roots environmental group Oil & Water Don’t Mix issued the following press release: “With this action, the Michigan Public Service Commission is putting Michigan in uncharted, dangerous territory while ignoring warnings by independent industry experts who testified during the MPSC’s proceedings; never before has an oil tunnel that also carries other hazardous liquids been built in one of the most ecologically sensitive spots on Earth.
“The proposed tunnel must still pass a comprehensive federal environmental study before moving forward and there is still an open question whether Enbridge intends to build the tunnel or is simply using the project as a diversion and delay from shutting down the existing twin oil pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac.
As recently as October, an independent study determined the tunnel and Line 5 is not needed. Moreover, the Line 5 tunnel will worsen the impacts of the climate crisis by adding 27 million metric tons of polluting and climate-altering carbon into the atmosphere, equivalent to ten coal-fired power plants.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are now working on the third and final permitting decision for the Line 5 carbon bomb tunnel. Families, businesses, and Michigan communities cannot be left out of this decision-making process. What they need is immediate action, and President Joe Biden could do that right now by revoking the presidential permit for Line 5.”
“Greenlighting this tunnel simply trades one set of extreme risks for another,” states Ashley Rudzinski, with Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities. “There is no other tunnel like this in the world -- and for good reason. Given Enbridge’s terrible track record of repeated safety failures and spills, it is shocking that Michigan regulators would approve this half-baked proposal. We are trading a ticking time bomb for an actual one.”
“These corporatists don’t care about the public trust and what transpired tonight further solidifies that fact,” states activist Bill Perault. “All these kangaroo court maneuvers only benefited a foreign company, even though that foreign company has the absolute worst record. In concerns to the Michigan Public Trust, if written laws can be revised after the fact by Unelected Bureaucrats who do not treat them as imposing any Genuine Constraints, then we do not have the Rule of Law. Instead, government officials can simply employ whatever reasoning they like; or none at all, in order to further whatever ends they think desirable as is the case with Enbridge’s Line 5 and the fake Michigan Public Service Commission that were not elected but appointed.”
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel issued the following statement: “Even with today’s approval, the fact remains that we are still years away from the tunnel actually being built. In the meantime, Line 5 is a ticking timebomb in the heart of the Great Lakes. As Michigan’s top law enforcement official, I filed a case in state court against Enbridge on behalf of the People of Michigan to protect Michigan’s Great Lakes from the threat posed by Line 5. I am committed to seeing that case through, and I will always take action to protect Michigan’s citizens and natural resources from the threat of pollution.”
Nessel intends to file an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals seeking to have the matter returned to the Michigan Supreme Court where the request to de-commission was initially filed.
Separating Truth from Fiction
There are some key facts Enbridge has been avoiding over the past six years as this battle over the tunnel project tunnel project has been waged. Let us begin with the claim that Line 5 is a vital supplier of Michigan’s energy needs.
Line 5 pumps 23 million gallons of mostly Alberta oil products through the Straits each day as a high risk shortcut to get Canadian oil to the Canadian market and export.
When it is pumping crude oil, 95% goes to Sarnia, Ontario with only about 5% going to the Detroit Marathon refinery. When it pumps natural gas liquids, 98% goes to Sarnia with about 2% stripped out at Rapid River in the UP for propane use. (About one railcar or three propane trucks a day).
To further underscore its minimal impact on Michigan energy needs, the Dynamic Risk Alternative study of 2017, paid for by Enbridge, determined that a shutdown would mean temporary per gallon cost increases of mere pennies. Negligible benefits for Michigan.
Now for the risks: A 2018 study by Michigan Tech (again paid for by Enbridge) indicated a worst case spill of 2.5 million gallons in the Straits. University of Michigan studies (Schwab and Richardson) indicate 700 miles of shoreline would be oiled and the damage figure would be well above $6 billion.
But the true cost of a massive spill is beyond any dollar figure. A winter or rough weather clean-up effort would be almost useless. An April 1, 2018 anchor drag left dents and gouges in the twin pipelines. Line 5 has leaked 29 times, spilling over a million gallons of oil to date and is now approaching 70 years of age despite a 50 year life expectancy.
Now for all those alleged temporary jobs. The tunnel project was originally projected to take 7-10 years when Snyder was governor and got his tunnel sellout rushed through late in the last year of a lameduck session of the legislature. Republicans rejected a Democrat amendment on the Snyder tunnel bill to reserve 50% of jobs for northern Michiganders.
Dems then “won” an amendment to develop a “plan” for a “labor pool” of an unspecified number of Michigan jobs. Here's Enbridge comment of August 4, 2017 in response to Dynamic Risk study proposal for a tunnel or trench alternative for Line 5: “ the positive economic impact to Michigan are (sic) overstated. The type and complex nature of either alternative would likely drive the need for specific equipment and contractors likely not currently available in the State of Michigan.” [page 8, Emphasis added]
Criticism has also been leveled at Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who has sent mixed signals on the environmental front. While Whitmer did take action to the shutdown the Line 5 pipeline through Michigan courts, she also navigated the Ford Blue Oval Battery Plan tax giveaway of $1 billion and allowed 2000 acres of farmland in Marshall, already the site of Enbridge’s biggest land spill in the U.S., to be denuded to be ready for this now downsized plant that has been cut in half.
In the wake of all this, many activists believe the only solution left is to enlist the aid of Voters Not Politicians (VNP) who is leading the effort to engage with state legislators to pass good-governance reforms to protect voting rights, strengthen our democracy, and ensure political power remains in the hands of the voters.
9th February, 2024