Enbridge moves forward with Line 5 tunnel despite coronavirus lockdown

The Michigan Public Service Commission, which oversees petroleum pipeline siting, is seeking public comment on Enbridge’s request to build the replacement pipeline.

The owners of the aging Line 5 oil and natural gas pipeline want Michigan regulators to declare that they don’t need state permission to construct a replacement pipeline deep beneath the Straits of Mackinac.

The request to the Michigan Public Service Commision is part of a wave of applications that Enbridge, a Canadian conglomerate, has submitted to state and federal regulators in recent weeks to begin construction on the $500 million project next year.

Enbridge spokesperson Ryan Duffy said the applications are “another step in moving forward” and consistent with a timeline laid out in a 2018 agreement with the state. 

But pipeline foes contend permitting should be delayed until Michigan’s coronavirus crisis ends to allow citizens to fully engage in the process.

“Urgent matters relating to health, safety, financial, or security should receive the state’s full attention rather than unrelated new or pending actions requiring robust public engagement and input,” an opposition group, Oil & Water Don’t Mix, wrote on April 8 to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

During a virtual meeting on Wednesday, the Michigan Public Service Commission voted to seek public comment on Enbridge’s most recent request, which asks the state to either approve its plan to site the pipeline or rule that the company already has approval.

Enbridge argues the commission’s 1953 approval of the existing pipelines covers its plan to replace the section running under the straits with a 30-inch diameter pipeline running through a concrete-lined tunnel deep beneath the lakebed.

In its application to the commision, the company’s lawyers argue the proposed pipeline “involves no more than maintaining and continuing to operate Line 5 by replacing and relocating one approximate four-mile segment of the over 600-mile line.”

The company also filed separate permit applications this month with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes & Energy to begin constructing the tunnel that would house the pipeline, and with EGLE seeking permission to discharge wastewater during tunnel construction and operation. 

The 67-year-old Line 5 transports 540,000 barrels daily of crude oil and natural gas between Wisconsin and Ontario. Propane from Line 5 is an important energy source for many Upper Peninsula residents, but opponents contend the pipeline poses a catastrophic hazard to the Great Lakes.

A spokesperson for the state’s energy department said officials are reviewing Enbridge’s applications for tunnel construction and wastewater discharge, after which they will seek public comments. 

“In keeping with the state’s effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, we are adapting our processes to handle these and other permit requests in a way that protects public health, complies with the law, and allows meaningful public participation and input,” EGLE spokesman Scott Dean said.

The Michigan Public Service Commission will accept comments until May 13 on the separate pipeline siting issue. Deliberations are in “the very early stage,”  said Sally Talberg, commission chair, who noted the panel needs a legal analysis of Enbridge’s request.

Pipeline opponents argue that moving forward on permits during the statewide stay-home order stifles public engagement, particularly from lower-income and rural residents who lack reliable internet, and tribal governments that are operating with skeleton staffing during the statewide stay-home orders. 

“We’re in essential mode, doing everything we can with as minimal a staff as possible because we feel an obligation to our citizens,” said Frank Cloutier, a spokesperson for the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, which opposes the pipeline. 

“And the state of Michigan is still vigorously consulting on permits that have a negative impact on our environment in the face of a pandemic.”

Duffy said Enbridge is “sensitive to the situation” posed by COVID-19, but the company must move forward so construction could start next year and wrap up by 2024.  Enbridge argues the pipeline would virtually eliminate the possibility of a spill. 

While Enbridge awaits permit decisions, Line 5 remains in limbo within the court system. 

The company agreed to the tunnel deal during the last month of the administration of former Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican. His Democratic successor, Whitmer, campaigned for office on a promise to shut the pipeline.

So did Attorney General Dana Nessel, who in June filed a lawsuit in Ingham County Circuit Court alleging its operation is a nuisance that violates the public trust doctrine and the Michigan Environmental Protection Act. 

Enbridge also faces legal challenges from municipal, tribal and citizens groups that argue the state erred in allowing the company to anchor the existing line to the bottom of the Straits.

In an April 6 letter to a state task force charged with considering alternative ways to deliver propane to the Upper Peninsula should Line 5 cease operating, Nessel reminded the group that the proposed tunnel is not a done deal.

“While Enbridge has proposed and is currently planning to construct a tunnel beneath the Straits to accommodate an eventual replacement for that segment of Line 5,” Nessel wrote, “the actual completion of that project is far from certain, and in any event, years away.”


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Wed, 04/22/2020 - 8:02pm

Enbridge sucks. Oil & Water Don’t Mix!

Alex Sagady
Wed, 04/22/2020 - 8:40pm

>>>>>"The owners of the aging Line 5 oil and natural gas pipeline....."

Enbridge Line 5 is a liquids-only pipeline carrying light crude oil and
natural gas liquids (NGL) from Canada and North Dakota, and synthetic light crude
from Canada. Line 5 is not physically capable of, and does not carry,
any natural gas at all.

>>>>>"The 67-year-old Line 5 transports 540,000 barrels daily of crude oil and natural gas between Wisconsin and Ontario. "

Again, no natural gas is transported on Line 5. There are two natural gas transmission
lines that cross the Mackinac Strait, but they do not have anything at all to do with Enbridge's Line 5 hazardous liquids pipeline.

540,000 barrels per day is the physical capacity of the pipeline, but not all of that volume goes to Ontario as claimed above in the article. At Marysville, MI, an 'off ramp' in the form of a Sunoco pipeline that diverts up to 30-35% of Line 5's flow to petroleum refineries in Michigan and Ohio.....so Line 5 does not transport 540,000 barrels per day to Ontario.

Ya Hoo
Sat, 04/25/2020 - 4:38pm

Good to see in these troubling times that someone like you still has a gig working for Enbridge.

Alex Sagady
Mon, 04/27/2020 - 2:08am

Your allegation that I work for Enbridge is false.

Wed, 04/22/2020 - 10:13pm

Oh the rich, rich hypocrisy of the same folks arguing the tunnel project will take far too long to complete, and simultaneously fighting and delaying it at every turn...

Sat, 04/25/2020 - 4:42pm

WE DON'T WANT IT! So yeah, we will do anything to stop it.

Alternative Ene...
Thu, 04/23/2020 - 4:12am

Fossil fuels? Isn't there a world wide glut? Enjoy the clean air while you can.

Thu, 04/23/2020 - 10:56am

And in 1973, the theory was we only had 30 years of oil left. That was 47 years ago. Oops! The nay sayers were wrong then, and now? Others argue natural GAS, is not NGL; and, ice is not water then. Don’t make dumb arguments. It displays your IQ.

Alex Sagady
Sat, 04/25/2020 - 12:47am

>>>>>>Others argue natural GAS, is not NGL.......Don’t make dumb arguments. It displays your IQ.

Your comment is nonsense. Natural gas is a gas. Natural gas liquids are
petroleum liquids produced along with natural gas from natural gas
extraction wells. As a result, saying that Line 5 carries "natural gas"
because it carries "natural gas liquids" is complete nonsense since
the practice in natural gas fields is to send produced "wet gas" to
a separator facility which separates the natural gas from the natural
gas liquids (NGL). Also erroneous is the claim that natural gas liquids
are some kind of gas....not under the conditions of transport in a
petroleum liquids-only pipeline.

Sat, 04/25/2020 - 12:51pm

Your statement of 4/22 , is what I take issue with. I hold 7 PhDs in engineering and physics. Nuff said! Period! Now go away!

Who knows
Sat, 04/25/2020 - 4:44pm

Kazoo86, then you should proudly disclose your full name and all your degrees. Why not?

Good Job!
Tue, 04/28/2020 - 5:29pm

Good job calling out Kazoo86. What a liar!

Fri, 05/15/2020 - 11:34am

Gotcha, you believe everything you read. Now think!

Big Blue Wave
Sat, 04/25/2020 - 4:41pm

Kazoo86, you do realize we are in a worldwide pandemic, right? Things have been going downhill since Reagan. I have to say Nixon was bad, but at least he gave us the EPA. Trump is and all the Republicans since Reagan have been trying to dismantle it. That's all going to change in November.

Thu, 04/23/2020 - 5:56pm

Then if the gas ran out you would complain about that too.

Fri, 04/24/2020 - 6:14pm

Solar baby, solar! Or wind baby, wind!

Better Tomorrow
Sat, 04/25/2020 - 4:45pm

Wave energy too. Take advantage of natural currents in the Great Lakes.

Thu, 04/23/2020 - 5:56pm

Then if the gas ran out you would complain about that too.

Enough Gas
Sat, 04/25/2020 - 4:47pm

Too much petroleum, now people have to pay to store it, but what about the hidden costs like pollution?

Yooper 4
Thu, 04/23/2020 - 9:19am

This quote from Oil & Water sums it up, "Urgent matters relating to health, safety, financial, or security should receive the state’s full attention rather than unrelated new or pending actions requiring robust public engagement and input,” an opposition group, Oil & Water Don’t Mix, wrote on April 8 to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer."

This is the same group that says the current pipelines are extremely unsafe and ready to break at any moment (without any real evidence) yet claim during COVID only 'safety' matters should move forward. Unbelievable on their double speak to try to panic the masses.

Thu, 04/23/2020 - 9:48am

Please stop trying to confuse the issue by claiming “ doublespeak”( leave that to trump)
No one has evidence that line 5 WON’T break before the concrete condom is built, but we do know that Covid19 is here and wreaking immediate damage on the citizens of Michigan.
If you review all of Enbridge communications you will see that they believe their pipeline is as safe as it was when installed 67 years ago- only big corporations can overcome entropy, I guess?

Sat, 04/25/2020 - 4:51pm

Bek, you are right and Enbridge has a long history of lying. Remember the disaster in the Kalamazoo river? It's still not clean after all these year. We we say America first, we mean the USA, not Canada and a Canadian conglomerate like Enbridge.

A Yooper
Thu, 04/23/2020 - 9:33am

Get your head out of the tar sands.
There are plenty of line 5 ruptures in the U.P.
800 + metric tons of contaminated soil was removed from a Hiawatha National Forest campground and taken to the Delta County landfill which Enbridge failed to report until 2012.

Thu, 04/23/2020 - 10:07am

Enbridge wants to drill a tunnel 100’ below the bottom of the Strait , put line 5 in a dry lighted and easy to inspect environment and people are fighting this why? I guess the would rather have the diver shown in the photo working in a blind environment doing the job. Some people were not in line when brains were distributed.

Thu, 04/23/2020 - 11:23am

The pro-pipeline comments here get dumber and more disingenuous by the day.

Pure Michigan
Sat, 04/25/2020 - 4:54pm

Yes, we should just have a ballot initiative and see what We the People of Michigan want. Other than a few shills who work for Enbridge, Michiganders would vote that down in a New York minute. We love our Great Lakes, our inland lakes, our rivers and Pure Michigan. Put it on the ballot in November!

Thu, 04/23/2020 - 10:43am

Let me understand this argument. 1) People don’t want to replace the 67 year old pipeline. 2) People don’t want the 67 year old pipeline to leak. Ok, I understand the issues. But, I also understand anything built by man will fail. People seem to miss this fact! The only solution is to replace line 5. The land owners that have sold to Enbridge have made a lot of money. Good for them. Can someone please explain the real reason for NOT replacing line 5? The herd mentality is not a reason.

To Kazoo86
Tue, 04/28/2020 - 5:32pm

Why don't you tell us your name and where you got all your degrees? You should be proud. Was it Trump University or Enbridge College?

Thu, 04/23/2020 - 3:40pm

Enbridge claims they already have state approval based on the 1953 agreement! They must be kidding. I'll have to try that with my local building department. "I don't need a building permit because I got one 20 years ago." I'm sure that will go over well. I hope it does not go over for Enbridge, they need to be tightly regulated, they have not shown that they can watch over themselves.

Fri, 04/24/2020 - 5:34am

Anyone opposed to Line 5 that drives a vehicle with an internal combustion engine is a hypocrite. Anyone that heats their home with petroleum products and opposes Line 5 is a hypocrite. We all use petroleum products on a daily basis in every aspect of life. Drill the tunnel, move the pipeline under the straits, quit the bs. Anyone that opposes this better be ready to go completely petroleum free or they are complete hypocrites.

No to Enbridge
Sat, 04/25/2020 - 4:57pm

There are alternatives and we are tired of Socialism for Corporations and Capitalism for Working People. Enbridge lies and wildlife dies. People are slowly poisoned.