Michigan to Enbridge: Line 5 tunnel permit application is incomplete

Enbridge has 30 days to correct mistakes in its application for a state permit to build the controversial Line 5 tunnel, or state regulators will consider the application to be withdrawn. (Enbridge photo)

Before Enbridge can seek a permit to build the Line 5 tunnel to transport oil and natural gas beneath the Straits of Mackinac, Michigan regulators say the company needs to spend more time considering alternatives.

That’s one of several conclusions state officials reached when they reviewed Enbridge’s application for a permit from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes & Energy to build the controversial tunnel between Michigan’s two peninsulas. 

In a May 4 letter to the Canadian petroleum conglomerate, a state district supervisor gave Enbridge 30 days to update its application with more information.

Regulators said Enbridge’s application was unnecessarily long, at more than 350 pages, but omitted key information state officials need to help decide whether to grant the permit. 

“EGLE requests that Enbridge edit submitted materials for precision and relevance to actual proposed construction,” wrote Joseph Haas, a supervisor in EGLE’s Gaylord District Office.

In addition to submitting “a complete assessment of the alternatives” to the tunnel project, the letter stated, Enbridge must outline plans to mitigate damage the tunnel project could cause to wetlands and federally-protected plants, offer details about ongoing lawsuits that could affect the tunnel’s fate, and add other missing pieces to the application.

The holdup is the latest twist in a long battle over the fate of the 67-year-old pipeline, which transports 540,000 barrels daily of crude oil and natural gas liquids between Wisconsin and Ontario. Opponents have long called for its shutdown, arguing the pipeline poses a catastrophic hazard to the Great Lakes and inland waterways. 

Under a 2018 agreement Enbridge reached with the administration of Gov. Rick Snyder just before the Republican left office, the company plans to replace the 4-mile section that sits exposed at the bottom of the straits with a new line encapsulated in a concrete-lined tunnel deep beneath the lakebed.

Enbridge contends the tunnel plan would virtually eliminate the possibility of a spill in the Straits, but opponents cite other environmental concerns, including spill risks on inland waterways and the environmental impacts of fossil fuels, in their continued opposition to the tunnel and the larger pipeline. 

Snyder’s successor, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, campaigned on a promise to shut the pipeline, but so far she and Attorney General Dana Nessel, who also opposes the pipeline, have been unsuccessful in that effort.

State regulators on Wednesday said the letter to Enbridge is merely a routine step in the permitting process.

“This type of back-and-forth correspondence is common for the majority of applications we review for completeness,” EGLE spokesman Scott Dean said.

That didn’t stop Line 5 opponents from heralding the letter as an incremental victory in their fight against the tunnel project. 

“The burden is now on Enbridge to prove why Michigan and the Great Lakes should shoulder the huge risk of having Line 5 oil pipelines in the Great Lakes and crossing 400 other waterways,” said Sean McBrearty, coordinator of the anti-Line 5 group Oil & Water Don’t Mix, in a statement. 

“We don’t think that’s a hurdle Enbridge can overcome.”

Enbridge spokesperson Ryan Duffy told Bridge the company plans to provide the information EGLE requested “and move forward with this process.” Pending permit approvals, Duffy said Enbridge officials still expect to begin construction on the $500 million tunnel project next year and bring the new segment online in 2024. 

While it works to revise the EGLE application, Enbridge is also awaiting decisions on several other applications related to Line 5. The Michigan Public Service Commission is gathering public comment on Enbridge’s request that the commission either approve its plan to site the pipeline within the tunnel, or rule that the company already has approval.

Meanwhile, the tunnel project remains mired in legal disputes. Ingham County Circuit Court Judge James Jamo is scheduled to hear arguments May 22 in a lawsuit Nessel filed in June alleging the pipeline’s operation is a nuisance that violates the public trust doctrine and the Michigan Environmental Protection Act. 

Nessel is also appealing a Court of Claims decision that upheld the 2018 law that made way for the tunnel project. Nessel contends that the law, passed by former Gov. Snyder and the Republican-led Legislature, is unconstitutional. Arguments in that case are scheduled for June 2 before a Michigan Court of Appeals panel.

Enbridge also faces separate legal challenges from municipal, tribal and citizens groups.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

If you learned something from the story you're reading please consider supporting our work. Your donation allows us to keep our Michigan-focused reporting and analysis free and accessible to all. All donations are voluntary, but for as little as $1 you can become a member of Bridge Club and support freedom of the press in Michigan during a crucial election year.

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Donate now

Comment Form

Add new comment

Dear Reader: We value your thoughts and criticism on the articles, but insist on civility. Criticizing comments or ideas is welcome, but Bridge won’t tolerate comments that are false or defamatory or that demean, personally attack, spread hate or harmful stereotypes. Violating these standards could result in a ban.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.


Wed, 05/06/2020 - 5:12pm

No one wants it. Dig your Canadian tunnel through Canada

Wed, 05/06/2020 - 6:50pm

Just how many Enbridge spills must our state endure. Enbridge still hasn't cleaned the Kalamazoo River.

Wed, 05/06/2020 - 5:13pm

Funny how Trump says he wants to build a wall, but allows a tunnel for illegals.

Wed, 05/06/2020 - 5:14pm

God only know what viruses and pollutants will come from that tunnel.

Wed, 05/06/2020 - 5:51pm

So the State agreed that 'it is a very normal to have this back and forth for a majority of their permit applications.' Not sure what the newsworthy story is here? OWDM will continue to try to generate negative coverage of this very important project at every chance they get. Not sure why media plays into their sensationalized made-up stories.

Thu, 05/07/2020 - 10:29am

Yooper4 some of the people that are involved in this fight to get oil pipelines out of the Great Lakes have relatives that are dead and dying from the Kalamazoo spill. They never cleaned it up. Enbridge is a corrupt and lying company. They go around using bribery to get the little towns and county commission boards to sign on with them. Law and order is escaping our State as you saw on the Evening TV news last week and Enbridge was the beginning of that. Bribery used to be illegal in Michigan and most other States in the U.S. but not anymore. So plan on more of this sort of corruption and poison and death. The tunnel company that Enbridge has hired in is Court right now over using bad pipes, leaking raw sewerage into a town, etc, etc, etc. Not sure why you are in support of any sort of project from this disreputable Canadian Company. Lastly Yooper 4, the days of oil are over! Read the news. They are running out, closing down, have you been to the gas station lately? These times they are a changing.

Fri, 05/08/2020 - 11:25am

The EPA said the Kalamazoo Spill was cleaned up 8 years ago. Please reference factual information from a independent source where a Kalamazoo resident had died or is dying from that spill. Yes, soil spills are bad, I agree, but they can be cleaned up successfully (see Kalamazoo Spill as an example). Plus, the tunnel is the solution to make sure that pipeline doesn't leak in to the Straits. Your real motive is off oil, and I understand that... but until our society does not demand petroleum products for us to sustain the quality of life that we live, this pipeline and other pipelines continue to be necessary.

Don’t Drive
Thu, 05/07/2020 - 8:43am

If you oppose the tunnel, don’t drive a vehicle with an internal combustion engine. If you oppose the tunnel, don’t heat your home with any petroleum products. If you oppose the tunnel, don’t use plastics.
Modern life requires oil. If you oppose the tunnel, go back to your cave as anything else makes you a hypocrite.
It was amazing seeing all the SUV’s and trucks at the hearing about Line 5 and all those people driving those vehicle being opposed to line 5 and everyone of them is a hypocrite.

The tunnel is safer than the exposed pipeline (which is not an issue) so why oppose the tunnel? Radical stupidity by environmental extremists.

Thu, 05/07/2020 - 10:04pm

The US doesn't lack for pipeline. There are alternatives that don't require running 4 miles through the straits. This has nothing to do with whether you drive an automobile or not.

Fri, 05/08/2020 - 11:30am

What is the exact alternative that will replace that much oil and propane? Michigan only has one refinery which only produces about 25% of our petroleum needs, the rest is pipelined into our state from our neighboring states. What if these other States had the same position that you seem to have. Plus the tunnel will remove the chance of the pipeline ever leaking oil into the Straits so they are protected? The economic shock to those local communities would be devastating in the increased fuel costs and lost tax revenue. A common sense solution has been agreed upon by the company and our legislature. Dozens of counties are supporting this. Not sure what easy and cheap alternatives you refer to?

Thu, 05/07/2020 - 10:56am

Glory be, Enbridge trying to obfuscate the issue by submitting a 350 page application which left out the important details and is incomplete? Can you believe it?
Enbridge thinks because they operate in the UP they have to present a “ snow job” to get by.

Thu, 05/07/2020 - 11:31pm

I hope you freeze in the dark

Fri, 05/08/2020 - 11:31am

and if the application was only 2 pages, you would have complained that it was too short?

Just Stop!
Fri, 05/08/2020 - 11:53am

Keep our Great Lakes great and stop MANipulating every speck of beauty in our state! If this were up to voters in Michigan, it would get voted down! But even when we vote, it gets challenged. So sick of the so called progress and corruption.

Read The Death and Life of the Great Lakes by Dan Egan

Just trust em
Wed, 05/20/2020 - 6:17am

Look at the dam break in Midland. No accountability from these companies.