The State of Michigan and Canadian oil transport giant Enbridge announced a deal Wednesday to build a new oil pipeline through the Straits of Mackinac, but in a tunnel 100 feet below the lake bottom where Lakes Michigan and Huron connect.
The massive project would take seven to 10 years and cost $300 million to $650 million — with Michigan officials emphasizing it would be Enbridge, not Michigan taxpayers, footing that bill.
It would create a utility corridor housing not only a new, 30-inch Line 5 pipeline for oil and liquid natural gas through the Straits of Mackinac but could also include other companies’ power lines, telecommunications cables and similar infrastructure. The corridor would be large enough for vehicles to drive through, allowing inspectors access to assess the condition of the pipeline.
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Under the agreement, Enbridge would build the utility corridor, and, upon completion, hand over its ownership to the Mackinac Bridge Authority, an independent state agency that operates the Mackinac Bridge and funds it through tolls. Enbridge would then be provided a 99-year lease for use of the corridor, and would remain responsible for operating and maintaining the tunnel.
The agreement could have ramifications for Wisconsin over whether more oil could one day flow through the company’s pipeline system that runs the length of the state, beginning near Superior.
In an Enbridge study leading up to the announcement, the company evaluated options of moving oil from Canada, which included redirecting crude through its existing Wisconsin pipeline corridor.
That would mean a bigger easement on private properties. An expanded pipeline in Wisconsin would cost at least $2 billion and add substantially to the oil stream already running through the state, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported in November 2017.
Enbridge spokeswoman Jennifer Smith said “the announcement today in Michigan does not change the fact that Enbridge does not have any plans for a new pipeline in Wisconsin.”
Environmental groups, property owners living along Enbridge’s Wisconsin corridor and others have fought any increased oil flow or pipeline expansion.
In 2015, Dane County required Enbridge to buy $25 million in environmental insurance to cover potential pipeline accidents when the company was increasing capacity of its system, which passes through Dane County.
That year, lawmakers on the Republican-controlled state budget committee, with little debate, voted to eliminate Dane County’s requirement. The matter is under legal challenge. Legislators also removed an obstacle for Enbridge in state law that would make it easier for the company to try to condemn land for pipeline expansions.
The Michigan agreement includes provisions intended to reduce the likelihood of a leak from the existing pipes while the tunnel is built and to ensure close collaboration between Enbridge and the state after the new pipeline becomes operational, officials said.
Among the provisions: underwater inspections to detect potential leaks and evaluate pipe coating; placement of cameras at the straits to monitor ship activity and help enforce a no-anchoring zone; a pledge that Enbridge personnel will be available during high-wave periods to manually shut down the pipelines if electronic systems fail, and steps to prevent leaks at other places where Line 5 crosses waterways.
The agreement also includes a process for dealing with the existing oil lines after they’re deactivated, although it leaves open the question of how much of the pipe material will be removed.
The agreement would end uncertainty about the controversial, 65-year-old Line 5 pipeline — improving Great Lakes and Michigan environmental protection and providing certainty for Upper Peninsula energy supplies, said Michigan Department of Natural Resources Director Keith Creagh, cochair of Gov. Rick Snyder’s Pipeline Safety Advisory Board.
“It’s a reasonable, thoughtful, pragmatic solution,” he said.
Added Enbridge spokesman Ryan Duffy, “The agreement protects the waters of the Straits and the Great Lakes in several ways, and makes a safe pipeline even safer.”
Michigan environmental groups were less enthusiastic.
“Today, Gov. Snyder cemented his disastrous legacy for the Great Lakes and the people of Michigan,” said Sean McBearty, Michigan program organizer for the nonprofit Clean Water Action.
“As his administration comes to a close, he announced a last-minute deal with Enbridge Energy that will succeed in keeping the Great Lakes at risk from a massive Line 5 oil spill for the foreseeable future.”
Mike Shriberg, Great Lakes regional executive director of the nonprofit National Wildlife Federation and a member of the Pipeline Safety Advisory Board, noted that the plan would keep the existing, aging Line 5 pipeline operating on the Straits bottom for up to a decade — with concerns already existing about missing protective coating on the pipe, missing anchors holding it to the lake bottom, and more.
Any agreement which does not begin with a plan to decommission Line 5 in the Straits within less than one year is a nonstarter,” he said. “We know that Line 5 is a threat to the Great Lakes and our way of life now, whereas a tunnel, if it is ever built, is many years away.”
Line 5 moves 23 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids per day through the Upper Peninsula, splitting into twin, underwater pipelines through the four-mile stretch of the Straits, before returning to a single transmission pipeline through the Lower Peninsula and on to a hub in Sarnia, Ontario.
Concerned citizens and environmentalists have called for the decommissioning of the line, stating a spill like the one on Enbridge’s Line 6B pipeline near the Kalamazoo River in 2010 would devastate the Great Lakes, shoreline and island communities, as well as the state’s economy.Share this article: