Enbridge begins geological work for Line 5 tunnel, despite Nessel lawsuit

Highland Eagle

The Highland Eagle, a drilling vessel, was scheduled to leave from Detroit on Wednesday night on a 36-hour trip to the deepest parts of the Straits of Mackinac, where crews will collect samples of bedrock, information Enbridge calls vital to finishing the design of a tunnel it wants to build around the Line 5 pipelines. (Bridge photo by Jim Malewitz)

DETROIT — Enbridge Energy is forging ahead with preparations to build a tunnel in the Straits of Mackinac to protect its controversial Line 5 oil and gas pipeline, even as the state seeks to block the project.

Meeting with reporters at the Detroit Wayne County Port Authority along the Detroit River on Wednesday, Enbridge officials outlined $40 million in engineering and geological preparations planned this year as part of a $500 million project to swap the dual pipelines and construct a tunnel around new pipe. Officials of the Calgary-based energy giant said that’s the best option for protecting the Great Lakes from an unlikely rupture without disrupting regional fuel supplies.

The highlight of Enbridge’s presentation on Wednesday: a tour of the Highland Eagle, a drilling vessel brought from the Irish Sea for the project. The ship was scheduled to depart Detroit on Wednesday night for a 36-hour voyage to the deepest stretches of the Straits, which separate Michigan’s two peninsulas.

Once in the Straits, rotating 38-member crews will drill holes deep into the bedrock and collect rock samples over a 72-day stretch. Meanwhile, a separate jack-up barge will drill six more boreholes –  deep, narrow holes – along the lakebed nearer to shore.


Geological sampling is a critical step for finalizing designs and determining how to best build the 4-mile, 12-foot in diameter tunnel, Enbridge officials said. 

Guy Jarvis, Enbridge’s executive vice president of liquids pipelines, called the vessel “tangible evidence” of the company’s commitment to move forward on the tunnel “in the face of the state’s attempts to invalidate prior agreements and shut down the pipeline.”

These boxes will hold rock core samples drilled deep into the lakebed of the Straits of Mackinac (Bridge photos by Jim Malewitz)

The preparations are the latest salvo in an ongoing battle between Enbridge and environmentalists and Democrats over the 66-year-old pipeline that carries up to 540,000 barrels of oil and gas liquids per day from Superior, Wisconsin to Sarnia, Ontario. Dogged by safety concerns, the pipeline was dented by an anchor last year, but hasn’t leaked in the Straits.

Two weeks ago, Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat, filed a lawsuit to shut down Line 5 in the Straits. Her suit in Ingham County Circuit Court called the pipelines “a continuing threat of grave harm to critical public rights in the Great Lakes.” 

Republicans criticized the suit, calling the tunnel proposal the safest alternative to protecting the pipeline without cutting off propane supplies that are vital to the Upper Peninsula.

In March, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a fellow Democrat, ordered state agencies to stop work on the tunnel project, which her Republican predecessor, Rick Snyder, greenlighted in his final days in office last year. In June, Enbridge sued in Michigan’s Court of Claims seeking to uphold its agreement with Snyder. 

The litigation could take years to resolve, but Enbridge vows to be ready should its arguments prevail. The company obtained the state and federal permits for the geological work before its feud with the state escalated recently over tunnel plans. 

Enbridge officials said the company could finish the tunnel by 2024 — with only two years to mine the tunnel itself. 

Amber Pastoor, who manages the Line 5 replacement and tunnel project for Enbridge, speaks to reporters outside of the Highland Eagle in Detroit.

First, however, crews must understand what lies beneath the Straits.

“That’s why the Highland Eagle is here,” said Amber Pastoor, who manages the Line 5 replacement and tunnel project for Enbridge. 

“What is the material? What does the rock and soil of the Straits look like, so we can best design the tunnel?” 

Bryan Newland, chairman of the Bay Mills Indian Community in the eastern Upper Peninsula, said he is skeptical of Enbridge’s campaign to tout its tunnel preparations. 

He is among the tribal officials who have panned the tunnel plans, saying Native Americans had little voice in negotiations over the pipeline, even though the tunnel would have huge implications for their fishing rights in the Great Lakes. 

Nineteenth-century treaties give Michigan tribes exclusive rights to fish in the Straits.

“If the state does not authorize a tunnel, Enbridge will say we’ve already invested tens of millions of dollars,” Newland told Bridge Magazine. “This is a classic tactic … I hope the state doesn’t fall for it and put itself in a corner.”

Enbridge’s drilling is the first project of its kind in the Straits. 

The drill sitting atop the Highland Eagle will bore 18 holes into the Straits lakebed, so crews can collect core samples. Each borehole will take four days.

Crews sampled the Straits during construction of the Mackinac Bridge, which connects Mackinaw City and St. Ignace and opened in 1957. Those samples were limited and done without the high-tech tools that Enbridge is deploying.

The samples could reveal other information that will make geologists salivate, Pastoor said. Preliminary work from a near-shore barge revealed a fossilized worm thought to be 400 million years old, Pastoor said.

“There are a lot of geoscientists who are pretty geeked out by what we might find,” she said. “When this geotechnical program is done, we’re going to have the story of the history of the Straits. We’re going to be able to go as far back as 400 million years and understand how the Straits came to be and how Lake Michigan came to be.”

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Thu, 07/11/2019 - 8:37am


Thu, 07/11/2019 - 9:08am

Does anyone understand that the pipeline products will be delivered, either through a new pipeline or via tank trains or in the worst case via tank trucks? A pipeline seems to be the most secure method, and a pipeline 100 feet below lake bottom through solid rock seems to be the most secure method available. The intransigence of some groups of people is amazing.

Thu, 07/11/2019 - 10:27am

Spot on Arjay! A new underground pipeline will solve all the problems and dangers of the existing pipeline protecting our Straits and Great Lakes. As you point out tank trains or trucks are an alternative that benefits no one. The State govts opposition is short sighted and politically motivated. I'm 100% behind the pipeline and encourage everyone to let their reps and Lansing know this must proceed.

Thu, 07/11/2019 - 10:35am

A. - You are still believing the line that this is about the health of the Great lakes waters and environment. It's not. If it was, Nessel would be suing to shut down the Chicago canal also to stop the permanent introduction of invasive carp, just for starters. Even with the incalculably small probability of a leak in line 5, as we've seen elsewhere, oil spills are eventually cleaned up, (not to mention the extra precaution of putting the lines in rock deep under the lake bed). So stop dignifying this dishonesty with trying to reason with them and call them what they are, Enviro-Marxists and other useful idiots trying to scare low info voters out of their own ideological objectives which can't be sold to voters any other way.

Fri, 07/12/2019 - 2:43pm

I can only hope that you're young enough to suffer along with the rest of us as climate change gets worse

Sat, 07/13/2019 - 2:11am

Let’s stop calling the climate CATASTROPHE the benign term of change- read the science on the matter and wake up to reality.

Sat, 07/13/2019 - 11:15pm

Bones, Saying that you want to save the planet by strangling the entire petrolium industry is actually a honest fair position, fear mongering uncalcuable probabilities of a remote catrastrophy is not, especially when a legit solution is in the offing. So as long are you're out there showing us how life works without any petroleum there is no complaint.

Mon, 07/15/2019 - 12:41pm

I literally work on vehicle electrification you sanctimonious dolt.

We're seeing the effects of global warming now. The seas are dying from acidification tied to rising temperatures. Warmer ocean temperatures are increasing evaporated water in the amosphere which is contributing to stronger storms. Europe just experienced a record heat wave, and the US is due for one this weekend. Civil strife tied to water scarcity (Honduras, Syria, Kashmir) has already killed and displaced millions. It's happening right now, open your goddam eyes.

Decarbonizing the world economy is going to be a herculean effort, but not an impossible one. But it must be done if we want avert the deepening ecological and political crises.

Mon, 07/15/2019 - 2:58pm

And electricity comes from almost entirely carbon sources. Wind and solar, (and probably electric cars), in MI are a farce and with it's own kinds of environmental degradation. If the US goes to zero CO2, you're saying the problem is solved? What's your plan to force the other nations into this? The solutions from all you Green New dealers are less than reassuring ... but I'll grant your intentions are good, sort of! Show me something that will work and I'm in!

Sun, 07/21/2019 - 10:47pm

I think getting off fossil fuel is going to be very difficult and painful, but there is no choice. We led the world into this dilema and we need to lead it out of the dilema. Lead by example. Expect the future to be very difficult, work hard to expedite carbon-free technologies, protect those folks who are most vulnerable, and hope for the best.

middle of the mit
Sun, 07/14/2019 - 12:33am

[ Even with the incalculably small probability of a leak in line 5, as we've seen elsewhere, oil spills are eventually cleaned up, (not to mention the extra precaution of putting the lines in rock deep under the lake bed). So stop dignifying this dishonesty with trying to reason with them and call them what they are, Enviro-Marxists and other useful idiots trying to scare low info voters out of their own ideological objectives which can't be sold to voters any other way.]






Matt, would you like to continue to tell us how responsible Enbridge is?

Thu, 07/11/2019 - 1:23pm

If you trust Enbridge then I have a bridge in NYC to sell you. Enbridge has a long record of lying, misinformation and refusal to fix their mistakes. That's well known in Canada. Why should we allow them to screw up HERE again and leave us taxpayers with the clean up bills?
Ever heard of the Kalamzoo River spill? Apparently not. Here (you won't read it we know that): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kalamazoo_River_oil_spill
Do you even live in Michigan? I bet you don't.

Fri, 07/12/2019 - 3:42pm

I agree that the tunnel is the best way. And how about double wall piping? It's used in every gas station and it's easy to monitor. Seems like a no brainer to me. I have spent around 35-40 years of my life working in the petroleum industry. I have seen the technology evolve drastically. It seems like a safe double wall pipeline could be built and monitored easier than a tunnel .

Patricia Nelson
Thu, 07/11/2019 - 9:22am

I don't remember ever seeing any fact-based analysis of what the pipeline accomplishes. Who in the U.P. gets propane from the pipe? (Are there alternative power sources for them?) How many cars are fueled by what's delivered to the Detroit refinery? (How much less/more efficient & safe are alternative sources?)
I'd also like to see the record of Enbridge's political donations.

Thu, 07/11/2019 - 1:25pm

Thank you for facts. But the 'pipelines are wonderful' crowd doesn't read or believe facts, just fossil fuel propaganda.

Sat, 07/13/2019 - 11:17pm

And you are showing us how life works without any petroleum aren't you, Rick?

Barbara A Murray
Thu, 07/11/2019 - 9:55am


Thu, 07/11/2019 - 11:08am

Avoiding the political arguments, a simple question. Are these core sample holes filled when the sample is taken or left to vent?

Anne Snudden
Thu, 07/11/2019 - 11:59am

Enbridge claims that the UP needs the tunnel in order to get propane. The UP is not an island in the middle of the ocean! The 200 mile land border with Wisconsin allows easy access for anything, including propane. No international border, mountains, desert, large bodies of water, border wall, nothing to block access!
Running a pipe or tunnel that risks the health of our environment and wonderful Great Lakes is completely unnecessary.

Sun, 09/29/2019 - 5:12pm

So let me make sure I'm understanding you correctly. Your saying that it would be more environmentally friendly to run a pipeline into the UP from Wisconsin. Have ya ever been to the UP? Do ya realize 80-90% of the UP is vast forest? I'm sure that clearing a path 100 foot wide through the middle of the forest across the UP will be way more environmentally friendly than digging a tunnel through rock 100 feet under the Mackinaw Straits and putting the pipeline somewheres where not only will it not be an eye sore but will be in a place that will have virtually no chance of ever being damaged and leaking.

Donald Combs
Thu, 07/11/2019 - 12:46pm

Thankfully current state officials realize the folly of Snyder's last "deal" leaving office. The future (even our very existence) is NOT tied to fossil fuels! The world is a changin' - EV's, renewable energy, battery storage....... Yet, the oil industry with help from Trump, lobbyists, low information voters & other assorted knuckle-draggers refuse to accept the SCIENCE that our planet is in trouble. Keep it in the ground (& until that trend takes hold.....certainly don't build more infrastructure to enable a dying industry).

leonard page
Thu, 07/11/2019 - 1:57pm

can someone explain why michigan is required to serve as a permanent shortcut to deliver 23 million gallons a day of Alberta oil products to Sarnia Ontario for the canadian market and export? why assume any risk to our upper great lakes when only 5% stays within Michigan? Rapid River siphons off 1300 barrels of propane a day for central UP users. this can be deivered by several transport trucks or 1-2 rail cars a day with little cost ==about 5 cents a gallon temp bump in propane cost. Kinchloes propane storage yard get propane from canadian soo by rail. tunnel build can have no certain completion date due to potential tech difficulties and guaranteed permitting challenges that could take years. there are two elephants in the room==the risk of operating the present 66 year old pipeline for 5 -10 years or even longer during the build is totally unacceptable. april 1, 2018 anchor drag can happen again anytime and no one can stop it. oil spills are cleanup??? read the Mich Tech Report on Risks of 2018 which forecast a 2.5 million gallon worst case spill. ask someone in valdez, the gulf or Marshall Michigan about remediation of those spills? finally nothing in the tunnel proposal does anything to replace the other 640 miles of line 5 in the great lakes basin --crossing over 400 water bodies and having leaked 33 times spilling more than a million gallons. tell me again why michigan should take this risk?

Thu, 07/11/2019 - 4:34pm

Well said...why is Mi...taking the risk...??

Thu, 07/11/2019 - 4:33pm

I see a lot of useless idiots on here who know next to nothing about the danger of this pipeline or Enbridge's long history of lies, propaganda or their refusal to pay for their mistakes...which have been myriad.. Putting the pipeline under bedrock isn't going to protect the water...which another useless idiot, claims can just be "cleaned up"... If you think that is true then feel free to dump a quart of motor oil in your next gallon of drinking water...and do your "cleanin"... The truth is, you are never going to remove these toxins from the water, even with cleaning...and it will affect the health of a lot of people, long after were gone... So what is the solution here...? Personally, I think the oil should be moved across the water by another means, then piped to a service line onshore... That would seem to solve the concern but we don't have the time or energy for common sense solutions to this problem in MI.

Rick B
Fri, 07/12/2019 - 8:55am

Is it legal to drill under/in Great Lakes water? Seems like Enbridge is drilling oil wells in disguise? Our trust of this company is zero, especially after all their past practices with the current pipeline, the fiasco on the Kalamazoo River and their quick push with the Snyder administration to create a contract which is being litigated. Let's stop this now. Why was their news conference in Detroit? They were hoping Northern Michigan wouldn't hear about it of course. Get out your signs and let our voices be heard. The current unsafe pipeline should not be allowed to endanger our Great Lakes waters for the next 8-10 years. The Great Lakes are used by 24 million in the US and 9.8 million Canadians for their drinking water supply, jobs and our way of life. Let them drill in Canadian bedrock.

Christine Temple
Fri, 07/12/2019 - 11:50am

At what point do we call the coast guard to order that ship removed? They appear to be moving illegally. I, among thousands of concerned citizens, want them stopped. They are openly defying our legal system.