The new year raises an old question: Should Michigan allow a Canadian oil company to risk the Great Lakes for its own profit? A Line 5 oil tunnel in the Straits of Mackinac does that for Enbridge Energy. Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administrator Skip Elliot said, “You will not find a more sensitive area anywhere in the United States” for an oil pipeline. Yet Enbridge pursues the shortest, most profitable route to its East Coast markets.
At 66 years, Line 5 is damaged and needs replacement, so a new pipeline in a tunnel is planned. However, continued operation of old Line 5 while building the tunnel increases risk. A September accident left drilling equipment embedded in the lake bottom and leaning against Line 5, yet went unreported. This is the fateful beginning of the tunnel, which Enbridge says will “make a safe Line 5 even safer.”
Drilling 100 feet into bedrock for an oil tunnel in such narrow confines as the Straits is unprecedented and risky. Doing it next to an aged pipeline carrying a million gallons of oil each hour is a high stakes gamble.
Gov. Snyder’s lame duck deal stipulated Michigan will own the tunnel and lease it to Enbridge for 99 years. It allows Enbridge to back out. Unlike Michigan, Enbridge has almost nothing to lose and everything to gain from a tunnel that keeps oil flowing in the old pipeline until it is replaced in five years or more.
Enbridge, backed by ExxonMobil and big oil, created the Moving Michigan Campaign to convince Michigan it needs a tunnel — when 90 percent of Line 5’s oil and 98 percent of its propane liquids go directly to Sarnia. It hypes fear that the Upper Peninsula will be left out in the cold without Line 5 propane. Most egregiously, Enbridge touts safety as the reason for a tunnel.
Gov. Whitmer pledged to shut down Line 5 to protect the Great Lakes and Michigan’s economic future. Her UP Energy Task Force finds that the U.P. need for propane, like Michigan overall, isn’t dependent on Enbridge. She doesn’t believe a 99-year commitment to fossil fuels during a climate crisis is wise.
An Oct. 29 study by American Risk Management shows Enbridge’s pledge to cover cleanup costs of a Line 5 spill is hollow because the parent company, Enbridge Incorporated, isn’t responsible for liabilities incurred by its subsidiary, Enbridge Energy. Michigan is left holding the bag. Enbridge spent $1.2 billion to clean up the Kalamazoo River in 2010. What will it cost if 500 miles of Great Lakes shoreline are damaged?
Michigan’s legal battles with Enbridge, based on public trust, are set in the pipeline’s 1953 Easement. Enbridge repeatedly abuses this trust. Alternatives to Line 5 exist. The Great Lakes are priceless assets belonging to the people. They aren’t Enbridge Energy’s to risk.
The tunnel represents an unacceptable and completely unnecessary risk. Michigan could lose more than money if Canadian oil keeps passing through the heart of the Great Lakes until the pipeline finally fails.
About the author: Barbara Stamiris testified before Congress in 1983 about safety issues at the nuclear plant in Midland, Michigan. She is active in Oil and Water Don’t Mix, and Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council named her the 2019 Volunteer Environmentalist of the Year. About the forum: The forum is a periodic column of opinion written by Record-Eagle readers in their areas of expertise. Submissions of 500 words or less may be made by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include biographical information and a photo.