Michigan Senate approves plan to preserve Line 5 before foes take office

Straits of Mackinac

The Michigan Senate voted 25-13 on Wednesday to legislation to create a separate governing body to oversee a tunnel to protect the Line 5 pipeline.

LANSING — The Michigan Senate approved legislation Wednesday aiming to lock in a proposal to construct a tunnel to protect Line 5, Enbridge Energy’s 65-year-old oil pipeline beneath the Straits of Mackinac.

An amended Senate Bill 1197 passed 25-13 during another busy day in the Legislature’s lame duck session. The legislation would create a three-member authority to oversee the proposed $350 million to $500 million tunnel.

Gov. Rick Snyder, a term-limited Republican, wants to swap out twin pipelines in the Straits for a new pipe that would be protected in a bedrock tunnel 100 feet below the lake bottom.

The legislation would allow him to appoint members to the board before the end of the month, when his term ends and he’s succeeded by Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat and opponent of Line 5.

Related: Michigan power grabs, pipelines and pot: What we’re tracking in lame duck

The plan has drawn opposition from environmentalists and many Democrats who want the pipeline shut down, citing fears of a catastrophic oil spill in the Great Lakes.

The bill drew no debate Wednesday, after one Democrat urged his colleagues to pass it. Sen. Adam Hollier of Detroit said the tunnel would simultaneously reduce spill risks and ensure residents of the Upper Peninsula would have access to propane from the pipeline.

“When we talk about safety, and we talk jobs, those things came second — they came second to making sure people were being warm in the winter,” said Hollier, the only Senate Democrat to support the legislation.

“I’m concerned about our environment and about the Straits. And building this tunnel, which is a $500 million investment in Michigan will prevent [a spill].”

Three Republicans voted against the bill: Sens. Joe Hune of Fowlerville, Rick Jones of Grand Ledge and Tonya Schuitmaker of Lawton.

Enbridge and the state announced a deal in October to pursue the tunnel, which Enbridge would fund. The project is expected to take seven to 10 years.

Initially, Snyder’s plan hinged on the Mackinac Bridge Authority, an independent state agency that oversees the iconic bridge, owning the 4-mile, 12-foot in diameter tunnel and leasing space to Enbridge for 99 years.

That prompted fierce opposition –  including from former bridge authority members — and Republican lawmakers worked with Snyder to re-write it.

Sen. Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City, offered the substitute bill that cleared the Senate on Wednesday. It would create an authority focused on owning, operating and overseeing the tunnel, which could also house other utility lines beneath the Straits.  

Members of the new Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority would serve six-year terms.

Snyder’s appointments would be subject to the advice and consent of the Senate, and no more than two could represent the same political party.

The bill seeks to insulate the state from any costs and legal liability associated with the pipeline and tunnel, ensuring Enbridge bore those risks.

The House must now approve the legislation before it could land on Snyder’s desk.

Line 5 can transport up to 540,000 barrels of light crude oil per day from Superior, Wisconsin, to Sarnia, Ontario.

Calling for a shutdown, environmental groups have raised a number of arguments about the risks of a spill, and they pointed to Enbridge’s safety track record and its history of being scolded by Michigan officials over failing to be transparent about Line 5’s condition.

Enbridge also owned Line 6B, which broke in the Kalamazoo River in 2010, triggering one of   the worst inland oil spills in U.S. history. More than 1.2 million gallons of crude oil was recovered during a four-year cleanup and Enbridge has paid nearly $1.3 billion for cleanup and restoration.

Enbridge has touted the pipeline as a “vital piece of Michigan energy infrastructure” for meeting Michiganders’ energy needs — including much of the Upper Peninsula’s demand for propane.

Studies funded by environmental groups have cast doubt on the pipeline’s importance for the state, concluding that it instead largely benefits Canada by moving fuel through Michigan.

“We remain opposed to Senate Bill 1197, which would keep the damaged Line 5 Pipeline in operation for another decade or more, prolonging the risk of a disastrous oil spill in our Great Lakes,” Lisa Wozniak, executive director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters said in a statement Wednesday.

“Creating a new authority to oversee the pipeline does not change the fact that our most precious natural resource will remain at risk.”

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Comments

Agnosticrat 2.0
Wed, 12/05/2018 - 1:27pm

Coup D'etat!

mary
Wed, 12/05/2018 - 9:53pm

And if there is a catastrophic oil spill the Repubs will blame the Dems.

Ben W. Washburn
Thu, 12/06/2018 - 5:27pm

I could support building a tunnel, so long as Enbridge 5 is shut down until it was finished.
I think that we should accommodate Canadian economic interests, so long as they do not pose a serious threat to the Michigan economy. But for the present, I do not support keeping the Enbridge Line 5 open until that construction is completed, unless the Canadian government is ready and willing by international treaty to bear the full risk of a rupture, which I am fairly sure that they would be unwilling to do.

Matt
Fri, 12/07/2018 - 11:06am

Ben, The Canadian demand from a shut down would undoubtedly affect us, those products flow both ways. Canada cares about and has almost as big of an interest in the Great Lakes as us. Can you quantify the risk of a rupture over the next 10 years? I've never heard one anywhere. I'd bet it's way less than the risk of a airplane crash, yet I'll bet that doesn't stop you, me or anyone rational from flying. We willingly live with more significant risks everyday. The risk of the catastrophic event and the multiple system failures required to destroy the Great Lakes as being portrayed by the shut it down crowd probably approaches that of an asteroid striking the earth which is why they won't give one. This isn't about oil in the lake it's about CO2 but the shut it down crowd isn't honest enough to really discuss direct solutions. It's not about caring about the Great Lakes or climate change but honest discussions require honesty, which I believe you are.

Alex Sagady
Sun, 12/09/2018 - 3:02pm

>>>The plan has drawn opposition from environmentalists and many Democrats who want the pipeline shut down, citing fears of a catastrophic oil spill in the Great Lakes.

The tunnel plan is designed to prevent a spill to the Mackinac Straits from the existing twin 20 inch Line 5 segments in the event of another anchor strike from passing lake vessels. There is zero chance of the State of Michigan shutting down Line 5, which is an interstate hazardous liquids pipeline. Under federal law (49 USC Sec. 60104(c)), states are prohibited from having, maintaining or enforcing safety or operational standards on such pipelines, thus rendering the 1953 easement agreement as unenforceable:
https://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-9th-circuit/1058087.html

As a result, Michigan is only able to achieve influences on Line 5 that Enbridge itself is willing to accept, and nothing that they are not willing to accept.

>>>>The project is expected to take seven to 10 years.
Not according to Enbridge's engineering report. The company's engineering alternatives report stated that the tunnel could be permitted and constructed in 5-6 years -- 2 years for permitting and geotechnical survey drilling and 3 years for actual construction. The tunnel boring machine can progress at 40 feet per day, which means the boring operation can get all the way through in less than 2 years.

>>>Line 5 can transport up to 540,000 barrels of light crude oil per day from Superior, Wisconsin, to Sarnia, Ontario.

Nope. This is a factoid fabricated by environmental groups and design to support their narratives rather than being an accurate description of physical features of Line 5.

At Marysville, MI a pumping station on Line 5 diverts up to 190,000 barrels per day out of the 540,000 barrels/day to a 16 inch pipeline that diverts such flow to other pipelines and deliveries ultimately to 3 petroleum refineries in Michigan and Ohio.

>>>>Calling for a shutdown, environmental groups have raised a number of arguments about the risks of a spill, and they pointed to Enbridge’s safety track record and its history of being scolded by Michigan officials over failing to be transparent about Line 5’s condition.

Because Line 5 operates under a federal preemption and is regulated by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), Enbridge does not have any legal obligation for reporting or transparency to the State of Michigan which has no safety or operational authority to regulate Line 5.

PHMSA commissioned the Oak Ridge National Laboratory to review 2 decades of engineering reports on the integrity of the Line 5 segments at the Mackinac Straits and ORNL found no basis for any environmental group claims that Line 5 is at any imminent risk of pipeline failure. No metal loss from corrosion was found. The Line 5 segments in the Straits are not like the pipe on any of the rest of Line 5 (or Line 6B, for that matter). The Line 5 Straits pipe segments are nearly an inch thick (0.812") and are made from seamless tube with no longitudinal welds.
https://www.phmsa.dot.gov/sites/phmsa.dot.gov/files/docs/Enbridge_Makina...

>>>>Studies funded by environmental groups have cast doubt on the pipeline’s importance for the state, concluding that it instead largely benefits Canada by moving fuel through Michigan.

None of the reviews by environmental groups claiming Line 5 shutdown alternatives are realistic or practical exercises of petroleum engineering, and all of these reviews mistakenly assume that Michigan has the authority to precipitously cut off supplies of both crude oil and natural gas liquids to Canada in a manner that restrains interstate and international commerce -- violating both the U.S. Constitution and NAFTA in the process.

Ed Munton
Fri, 12/14/2018 - 10:51am

These are the 13 Democrats who voted with Republicans to pass this during the lame duck session:

Wendell Bryd
Sara Cambensy
John Chirkun
Scott Dianda
Fred Durhal
Brian Elder
Patrick Green
Jewell Jones
Robert Kosowski
Leslie Love
Phil Phelps
Terry Sabo
Tenisha Yancey