Enbridge goes open house in the battle for Line 5 pipeline

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MICHIGAN – As the battle continues over the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline running along the lakebed through the Straits of Mackinac, with Enbridge vowing to defy Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s order to shut the line down by May 12 and challenging the state’s right to close the line, the company has upped its game with a new online resource—a digital open house for the Great Lakes tunnel project.

The tunnel, which is still awaiting State of Michigan permits, would run far beneath the lake bed of the Straits of Mackinac and replace the current pipeline with one enclosed in an 18-foot-diametre concrete encased shell.

Enbridge touts the digital open house as “making it easier and safer than ever for northern Michigan to get up close and personal with Enbridge’s Great Lakes tunnel project.”

The Line 5 tunnel virtual open house includes videos and interactive opportunities that highlight the engineering and design of the project.

Through the portal, community members are able to ask questions, provide feedback and hear firsthand from project experts.

In addition to the launching of the open house, Enbridge also hosted an April 29 virtual public meeting to provide updates to the project and address the state’s request to shut down Line 5 by May 12.

“We will not be shutting the pipelines down on the date set by the state,” Enbridge community engagement Great Lakes region manager Paul Meneghini said. “We remain confident that Line 5 continues to operate safely, and there is no credible basis for terminating the easement allowing the dual 5 pipelines to cross the Straits of Mackinac. Enbridge will vigorously defend the validity of that easement and its right to operate that pipeline.”

A multi-party House of Commons special committee report released on April 15 affirmed the economic importance of the Line 5 pipeline to both Canada and the US and recommended urgent, bi-national executive action to resolve the dispute between the State of Michigan and Enbridge over the Straits of Mackinac crossing.

“Line 5 is a significant aspect of Canada’s economic relationship with the US and contributes to secure energy supplies in both countries,” asserts the report. “Its shutdown could have many implications, including reduced safety, shortages of various energy products on both sides of the Canada–US border, transportation bottlenecks for Alberta’s crude oil and job losses for Canadian and American workers. In this context, the special committee believes that the Government of Canada’s efforts designed to ensure that Line 5 remains in operation are vital.”

The report highlights the importance placed on the issue, given its unanimity across partisan lines.

The special committee’s report on Line 5 follows parliamentary hearings in March that included testimony from labour and business groups such as trade unions, the Laborers’ International Union of North America and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. Energy ministers in  Ontario, Alberta and Saskatchewn testified to the importance of Line 5. Many other organizations also provided written input to the committee.

“Enbridge is grateful for the tremendous outpouring of support for the uninterrupted operation of Line 5, including parliamentarians across all party lines who’ve come together on this important cross-border issue,” commented Vern Yu, Enbridge executive vice president and president of Liquids Pipelines. “We concur fully with the findings of the report, most importantly on the need to resolve the current dispute through executive action and state-to-state negotiation. As the report makes abundantly clear, it’s in the best interests of both Canada and the United States to agree on a plan to keep the line open and get the new proposed tunnel built in a timely manner. The stakes could not be higher, Line 5 is not just a pipeline—it’s an economic lifeline in Canada and the United States.”

The pipeline is opposed by many environmental groups who cite alarm over any potential spill from the 67-year-old Line 5 and the need to wean North America off of fossil fuels. While environmentalists cite a number of spills that have occurred along the length of Line 5, those spills took place on sections of the line with welded seams, while the submarine section of the line running along the lakebed consists of seamless pipe.

Concerns have also been raised over a recent anchor strike on the line from an Enbridge-leased tug that dented one of the pipes. Enbridge has instituted new safeguards and protocols it claims will prevent a reoccurrence of that issue.

Environmentalists and the Michigan governor cite what they allege is a spotty compliance record with the terms of its easement across the straits by the Canadian-owned energy giant in discounting Enbridge safety assurances.

The Canadian government has threatened to invoke a never-before-used treaty and to intervene in the court proceedings.