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Two groups seek to stop Line 5 tunnel project with appeal to Michigan court

Written by Jakkar AimeryThe Detroit News

Michigan Climate Action Network, together with the Environmental Law & Policy Center, is seeking a legal appeal of the Michigan Public Service Commission's decision to allow the building of a tunnel to house the Line 5 pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac.

Enbridge Energy extracted samples from 27 holes drilled on shore, in shallow, and at the deepest segments of the Straits of Mackinac, capping Enbridge’s $40 million investment in 2019 in preliminary work for a tunnel to house the Line 5 oil pipeline.
Enbridge Energy extracted samples from 27 holes drilled on shore, in shallow, and at the deepest segments of the Straits of Mackinac, capping Enbridge's $40 million investment in 2019 in preliminary work for a tunnel to house the Line 5 oil pipeline. Photo by Enbridge Energy


On Dec. 1, the commission of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer appointees ruled that relocating the dual oil pipelines from the lakebed of the straits to a yet-to-be-constructed tunnel underneath the lakebed is the "best option" to improve safety while still securing the "public need" for fossil fuels.

Environmental groups were dismayed by the commission's decision since they have been seeking a shutdown for years. On Friday, the Environmental Law and Policy Center and the Michigan Climate Action Network said they made their appeal to the Michigan Court of Appeals.

"One of the Commission’s primary responsibilities under Michigan law is to evaluate whether there are feasible and prudent alternatives to projects like this that will pose fewer environmental risks and cost less money," Scott Strand, senior attorney at ELPC, said in a late Friday statement.

"But the Commission simply refused to consider the best alternative out there, which is simply to shut down the old Line 5 pipelines under the Straits and not replace them with a new pipeline at all. The shippers and refineries who currently use Line 5 have lots of options, but the Commission was just not interested in anything but a new way to run crude oil under one of the most environmentally vulnerable natural assets we have in this region."

Enbridge spokesman Ryan Duffy responded Saturday by praising the Public Service Commission's decision, arguing the commission "carefully examined this complex issue and considered many viewpoints, questions, concerns and ideas," and assuming the tunnel construction could begin in two years.

"The input from intervenors on both sides of the issue raised important questions that challenge us all to get this right," Duffy said. "We are ready to begin work on this project."

Commission Chair Dan Scripps said at the Dec. 1 meeting that the current placement of the dual pipeline on the lakebed west of the Mackinac Bridge, where it is exposed to a potential anchor strike, presents a risk that must be addressed.

"It’s clear," Scripps said. "We need to get those pipelines off the bottomlands and out of the Great Lakes.”

Commission staff members said their analysis of Enbridge's siting request found a public need exists for Line 5's oil products, and that the route, location and design of the replacement pipeline is "reasonable" and a "significant improvement" to the current placement on the bottom of Lake Michigan.

As part of its approval, the commission required Enbridge to make additional risk assessments and safety considerations while moving forward with its plans.

The proposed tunnel still can't proceed until it gets permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which said earlier this year that its study would not be completed until late 2025.

Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel have pursued so far unsuccessful litigation seeking to shut down the oil pipeline.

Opponents described their decision to appeal the commission's ruling as an attempt to avoid a "climate disaster."

"The reality is that we are moving away from fossil fuels. We have to," said Denise Keele, executive director of the Michigan Climate Action Network. "The last thing we need to be doing is building new fossil fuel infrastructure like a new pipeline under the Straits and locking in more reliance on oil. The Commission unfortunately was unwilling to come to grips with this reality."

Enbridge countered Saturday by arguing that "Enbridge remains steadfast in our plan to reduce emissions to net-zero by 2050 by investing in renewables, modernizing our networks, and transporting and delivering these energy resources safely."

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in October 2021 invoked a never-used 1977 treaty over Michigan's threats to shutter the pipeline. The treaty, Canada argued, prevents the U.S. government or Michigan from disrupting the operation of a transit pipeline if it harms the energy supply in either country. The treaty negotiations are continuing.

In 2018, Enbridge agreed to a deal with departing Republican Gov. Rick Snyder to build a straits tunnel to house a new segment of the pipeline; at that point, the tunnel was estimated to cost about $500 million.


This article first appeared at The Detroit News.

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