Enbridge commits to Line 5 tunnel under Mackinac Straits to replace oil and gas pipeline

Permits for tunnel to mitigate potential oil and gas spills issued by state

MICHIGAN – The Michigan Department of Environment Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) completed a review of Canadian energy giant Enbridge’s Great Lakes tunnel project, issuing permits for the company to relocate the portion of its Line 5 pipeline that runs along the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac. 

According to an Enbridge release, the pipeline tunnel project “will make a safe pipeline even safer.”

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer fulfilled one of her campaign promises late last year and moved to cancel Enbridge’s easement across the straits. Environmental activists have cited the danger of a Line 5 rupture leaking oil products into the Straits of Mackinac as potentially devastating to the Great Lakes, including Manitoulin Island. The submarine pipeline had been knocked from its moorings and had been struck by at least one anchor, underlining those concerns. For their part, Enbridge has pointed out that Line 5 has operated in the straits without incident for 69 years and maintains that its operation remains safe.

“The permits issued today do not resolve Governor Whitmer’s effort to shut down Line 5’s current operations,” noted the release. “Enbridge is challenging those efforts in federal court. Such a shutdown before the completion of the Great Lakes tunnel project would lead to major energy shortages in the region and severe economic consequences for Michigan, neighboring states and Canada.”

Concern over energy supplies, particularly propane (of which the bulk of Ontario’s stores travel through the Line 5 pipeline) and a concurrent loss of jobs has Ontario’s political leaders voicing strong concerns.

Sarnia Mayor Michael Bradley has said that he is concerned his Ontario city could experience a replay of its worst days in the 1990s, when thousands of locals lost their jobs when another pipeline was shut down. 

Enbridge points out that EGLE permits are “an important milestone for the tunnel project and are part of the process to authorize its construction. Permits from the Michigan Public Service Commission and the US Army Corps of Engineers are still required.”

The release goes on to explain the permits issued on January 29 are related to various parts of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act and one section of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System and include permits for wetlands protection, Great Lakes bottomlands protection and industrial wastewater discharge compliance. 

The proposed Great Lakes tunnel would encase a replacement section of Line 5 well below the lakebed, and according to Enbridge, thus eliminating the risk of any anchor strikes while “virtually eliminating the potential of any release from Line 5 into the Straits.”

Enbridge goes on to note that “survey research has shown that a majority of Michigan residents favor construction of the Great Lakes Tunnel, which is why Enbridge is investing approximately $500 million to construct the tunnel.”