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No safe pipeline in Straits of Mackinac: Advocates appeal


LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) — State regulators ruled in December the best solution to protect the Great Lakes from a disaster is to allow the Canadian oil giant Enbridge to build a $500 million, concrete-lined protective tunnel around its aging, 71-year-old dual pipelines.

Two advocacy groups, the Environmental Law & Policy Center and Michigan Climate Action Network, have now filed a brief asking the Michigan Court of Appeals to reverse that decision, saying there are safer and less expensive alternatives to the proposed Line 5 tunnel.

Enbridge pipeline damage

In this photo provided by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy, footage played on a television screen shows damage to anchor support EP-17-1 on the east leg of the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline within the Straits of Mackinac, Mich., in June 2020. A federal review of plans for the Great Lakes oil pipeline tunnel will take more than a year longer than originally planned, officials said Thursday, March 23, 2023, likely delaying completion of the project — if approved — until 2030 or later. (Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy via AP, File)

The groups maintain the only safe and effective option is to shut down the aging pipeline. “Enbridge’s Line 5 oil pipeline is too dangerous to run through the Straits of Mackinac where an oil spill would be catastrophic,” said Howard Learner, Executive Director and Senior Attorney for the ELPC, in a news release Friday, June 27.

The 1953-built dual pipelines carry millions of gallons of oil through the Straits of Mackinac every day, and critics and experts have long raised the alarm that it’s only a matter of time until it leads to disaster in the Great Lakes.

“The [Michigan Public Service] Commission failed to fully and fairly assess feasible alternatives to the Line 5 oil tunnel that would be better to avoid climate and environmental risks, and could be more cost-effective,” Learner said.

As of now, just one more regulatory approval lies ahead of the Line 5 tunnel’s construction.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for the third and final permitting decision before the Line 5 tunnel project can go forward.

The long-held concerns about the integrity of the oil pipeline were exacerbated by Enbridge’s 843,000-gallon crude oil spill in the Kalamazoo River near Marshall in 2010. It was termed the costliest inland oil spill in United States history.

The replacement for the current dual pipelines would include a single, 30-inch-diameter pipe within a concrete-lined tunnel, below the lake bed of the Straits of Mackinac.

An appeals court last week redirected Attorney General Dana Nessel’s case against Enbridge back to the 30th Circuit Court in Ingham County, where the AG had originally filed the case.

In 2020, Judge James S. Jamo of the 30th Circuit Court required Enbridge to temporarily cease operations in the Straits of Mackinac. After this, Enbridge moved the case to federal court after the deadline to do so had passed.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Department of Natural Resources Director Dan Eichinger in November 2020 notified Enbridge that the state was revoking the 1953 easement allowing it to operate the dual pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac.

“Protect the Great Lakes, that’s the primary responsibility,” said Gov. Whitmer in 2021. “To make sure this source of drinking water, agriculture, tourism — it defines our borders, defines who we are in Michigan — and that we protect it and that’s exactly what we’re going to continue to move forward and do.”

The 2020 notice ordered Enbridge to stop its operations in Line 5 by May 2021. Enbridge defied that order, backed by several chambers of commerce and Republican legislators in Michigan.

On the day of the MPSC’s ruling to give Enbridge the siting approval for the Line 5 tunnel, proponents argued that the plan represented the best solution for Michigan’s energy future.

“Union laborers are counting on the Great Lakes Tunnel,” said Geno Alessandrini, Sr., Business Manager for the Michigan Laborers District Council, in December. “This is the kind of infrastructure project that makes our energy more reliable, keeps it affordable, and protects our environment.”

Now, as they appeal MPSC’s recent decision in court, environmentalists say the ruling is out of touch with Michigan’s needs.

Retire Line 5

In this July 6, 2017, file photo, Lauren Sargent, takes part in a protest before the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline public information session in Holt, Mich. The U.S. and Canada will discuss the future of Enbridge Energy’s Line 5, a key segment of a pipeline network that crosses part of the Great Lakes and is the subject of rising tension over whether it should be shut down, the White House said Monday, Nov. 8, 2021. (Cory Morse/The Grand Rapids Press via AP, File)

“The Michigan Public Service Commission is out of step with the public and other state policymakers who have already determined that the best option is to shut down Line 5,” said Dr. Denise Keele, MiCAN’s Executive Director. “Constructing a tunnel to transport Enbridge’s crude oil is not only dangerous but undermines the State of Michigan’s goal of 100% clean energy by 2040 by investing in unnecessary fossil fuel infrastructure that will continue to contribute to climate change too far into the future.”


This article first appeared at WLNS 6.

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