Michigan pipeline project uncertain after U.S. election

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One of Sarnia’s chemical valley companies is bracing for a challenge following the U.S. midterm elections.

Only a month after outgoing Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder made a deal with Enbridge to run their new, upgraded Line 5 pipeline through a tunnel roughly 100 feet below the Straits of Mackinac — a narrow stretch of water connecting lakes Michigan and Huron — the Great Lake State voted Democrat Gretchen Whitmer governor.

During her campaign, Whitmer promised to kill the expensive project.

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Whitmer’s campaign website states as much: “On the day I take office, I will immediately file to enjoin the easement and begin the legal process for shutting down Line 5 to protect the Great Lakes, protect our drinking water and protect Michigan jobs.”

Whitmer won the Michigan gubernatorial race decisively over Republican Bill Schuette Tuesday by more than 300,000 votes state-wide. She’ll take office at noon, Jan. 1, 2019.

Enbridge has until then to prepare their defense.

“We will continue to work closely with the State of Michigan as we have been doing,” Ryan Duffy, spokesperson for Enbridge, said in a statement. “Enbridge is committed to moving forward with the measures in our October agreement.”

Actually cancelling the plan would be a messy affair — if possible at all. The twin 65-year-old crude oil pipelines have been decried by critics as an environmental disaster waiting to happen despite assurances from Enbridge they are still safe. Even Schuette, who supported the tunnel project, agreed the old twin pipes should be decommissioned.

“There will be a great effort to get aligned on an outcome we can all agree on,” Keith Creagh, director of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, added, stressing the current tunnel plan is the “most certain strategy” for decommissioning the twin pipelines.

A disruption of the current pipeline would send reverberations through Sarnia and Lambton County, where Enbridge processes crude oil and redistributes it across Ontario and the United States.

“They do provide a tremendous amount of employment,” Steve Arnold, Mayor of St. Clair Township, said. “It’s an integral part of not only this community, but the entire eastern (part of Canada). It’s a link between the east and west.”

“The Line 5 project is very important for us. It’s important we keep it operating,” Arnold said.

The project, finalized Oct. 3, would be funded entirely by Enbridge. The Alberta-based company said they expected the project to take anywhere from seven to ten years to complete and could cost as much as $500 million U.S.

Enbridge does not have a spotless reputation in Michigan. In 2010 they were responsible for the infamous Kalamazoo River oil spill near Marshall, when a pipe leaked nearly 3.8 million litres of crude oil into a central Michigan tributary costing more than $1 billion U.S. in clean-up costs.

In 2014 Enbridge settled with the U.S. government for $177 million.

On the other hand, Enbridge’s efforts to clean up the area around Marshall and to reimburse affected landowners won them points with the local government.

“They were very good with us, with the community,” Tom Tarkiewicz, city manager for Marshall, said. “Enbridge responded very quickly.”

Enbridge did not say whether their projected timeline would be affected by a legal battle. Whitmer’s office did not reply to a request for comment Wednesday.

With files.

lpin@postmedia.com

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