For Immediate Release: Gov. Snyder’s “Line 5” Oil Tunnel Increases Risk of Great Lakes Oil Spill

STATEMENT FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:                                                                 October 3, 2018

Jim Olson, President, Legal Advisor                                                           Email:
FLOW (For Love of Water), Traverse City, MI                                           Web: Office: (231) 944-1568, Cell: (231) 499-8831

Gov. Snyder’s “Line 5” Oil Tunnel Increases Risk of Great Lakes Oil Spill

Statement on Gov. Rick Snyder’s announcement today by Jim Olson, president of FLOW, the Great Lakes law and policy center based in Traverse City

Make no mistake, Gov. Rick Snyder’s oil tunnel proposal announced today increases the likelihood of an oil spill disaster in the Straits of Mackinac, the very heart of the Great Lakes.

The Governor’s proposed tunnel, to be completed in 7 to 10 years, means Enbridge will continue to pump 23 million gallons of oil a day through an extremely risky Line 5 pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac—just one more anchor strike or failure of the decaying pipelines from an oil spill catastrophe.

The tunnel does absolutely nothing to address the current, unacceptably high risk and estimated $2 billion to $6 billion in damages to the Great Lakes, the shoreline communities, tourism and businesses, and property owners. The suggestion that the tunnel offers a real solution, or that electrical and fiber optic cables could be added to the tunnel for public benefit, is simply a ploy meant to sweeten bitter taste for Michiganders.

The governor is explicitly seeking to bypass public and environmental reviews, and bind the next administration. It’s ironic given that building the Mackinac Bridge united Michigan’s people and peninsulas, while the oil tunnel would benefit only a private Canadian corporation. 

After four years of studies, Gov. Snyder’s proposal promises clear winners and losers. Enbridge wins, with the assurance of billions more dollars in profit for decades to come, while the Great Lakes and Michigan taxpayers lose, saddled with an oil tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac that would lock in decades of crude oil transport of Canadian oil back to Canada along the entire length of an aged, high-risk Line 5.

Gov. Snyder’s tunnel vision also is a proposed subordination and unnecessary risk of the public trust resources of Michigan—the Great Lakes and bottomlands—and a giveaway of taxpayer funds in this public-private agreement and Michigan’s economic security to a private Canadian company. In his final months in office, the governor must not forget his solemn, legal duty to serve the paramount public interests of Michiganders and protect the Great Lakes.

The governor’s tunnel deal is a reward for Enbridge’s gross negligence that caused the million-gallon oil spill into the Kalamazoo River watershed in 2010, triggering more than a billion dollars in damage and cleanup. Experts commissioned by FLOW estimate at least $6 billion in environmental and economic damage from a Line 5 oil spill in the Straits of Mackinac.

The only real solution now is to apply the law and shut down the 65-year-old Line 5 pipelines permanently to protect the Straits, and nearly 400 other water crossings in Michigan, from the next Enbridge oil spill. The Canadian oil, which Enbridge does not own, can be sent through other pipelines operated by Enbridge and its competitors. Michigan has no obligation to guarantee Enbridge a shortcut to Ontario oil refineries and the overseas export market.

The public should keep a watchful eye on the legislature for attempts to facilitate the governor’s scheme, particularly during the lame duck session after the November 6 election.

Gov. Snyder’s proposal fails to comply with the Michigan constitution and several state environmental laws, as follows:

  • A tunnel owned and partially financed by the State taxpayers running through the public trust bottomlands of the Great Lakes raises serious legal issues under the constitution and laws. The Governor’s unilateral agreement skirts several permit applications that should be denied because the tunnel is primarily for Enbridge and other private companies and would impair and disturb the public trust resources of the Great Lakes, and because the Great Lakes can’t be taken or occupied when Line 5 is basically nonessential to Michigan, and there are other pipeline routes that can be adjusted to meet Enbridge’s needs.
  • Snyder proposes to use the 1952 Mackinac Bridge Authority, in essence, as a shell company to assume ownership of the tunnel and shield Enbridge from the difficulty of Enbridge independently seeking government permits for the tunnel and replacement pipeline. This approach is legally impossible, because the bridge authority does not have the power to build a tunnel that has nothing to do with vehicles. The bridge authority established in 1952 or a similar approach can no longer be used to circumvent environmental, water and public trust laws tied to Michigan’s Constitution of 1963.
  • The legislature should be reticent about ramming a bridge or tunnel authority into new legislation, given the serious limitations under the constitution and public trust principles that protect the Great Lakes, because the limitations imposed by public trust law and the constitution that forbid comingling of state funds and credit or use of the Great Lakes bottomlands for a private purpose cannot be repealed.
  • A Canadian tunnel under the Straits would risk violating the 1836 Treaty and consent decree with Michigan Tribes protecting the Straits fishing grounds.


For more information, visit FLOW’s website at

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