By Liz Kirkwood
Above: FLOW’s Liz Kirkwood speaking in opposition to a proposed oil tunnel in the Straits of Mackinac, during a November 8, 2018, hearing in St. Ignace.
In the world of public relations, there are facts, exaggerations, and untruths. Right now, Enbridge is bombarding the people of Michigan with hazy PR claims that it has safely operated the Line 5 oil pipelines in the open waters of the Straits of Mackinac for the last 66 years.
The Canadian energy pipeline giant, however, conveniently fails to tell the public that it has allowed the pipelines to deteriorate badly, bending and grinding on the lake bottom in the fierce currents. Enbridge also neglects to mention that on April Fools’ Day 2018, Line 5 threatened to dump its oil into the Great Lakes when a tugboat anchor struck, and risked breaching, the underwater pipelines.
Rather than seizing on this near-disaster to decommission the decaying pipeline infrastructure built in 1953, the Snyder administration instead spent its final eight months in office cementing a private pact with Enbridge. The backroom deal would leave Line 5 vulnerable to another anchor strike or rupture for up to a decade while Enbridge explores the feasibility of building an oil tunnel under the Straits.
Michigan’s new attorney general, Dana Nessel, in late March correctly determined that the tunnel law passed hastily in the waning days of the 2018 lame-duck legislature was unconstitutional. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer later that same day directed all state departments to halt work on tunnel permitting. But Gov. Whitmer’s recent opening of negotiations with Enbridge seeking to speed up the stalled tunnel process contradicts her own directive and circumvents a transparent public process.
Trying to hasten a bad idea won’t make it any better. While seeking to revive Snyder’s 99-year tunnel deal with Enbridge risks undermining Gov. Whitmer’s own goal to combat climate change risks and impacts.
And Enbridge and the former Snyder administration’s claims that the proposed oil tunnel would serve a public purpose by also housing electrical and other utilities is a ruse that masks an enormous risk of explosion, as experts advising FLOW determined in prior research.
Just today, in fact, an electrical supplier to the Upper Peninsula – American Transmission Company or “ATC” – issued a letter indicating that it has no intention of running its 138,000-volt electric lines through the proposed oil tunnel. “A tunnel of uncertain timing, later in the decade, does not serve the public,” the letter stated. “ATC does not believe that installing high voltage electric lines in close proximity to high pressure oil or gas lines is a good idea.”
It’s never been clearer that Enbridge is pretending there’s a public purpose to their private oil tunnel in order to gain access to the public waters and bottomlands of the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act requires there be a “public purpose,” no impairment or interference with fishing and other public trust uses and rights of citizens and communities, and a showing of no feasible and prudent alternative for transporting Canadian oil back to Canada. The state of Michigan must restore the rule of law and transparency by requiring Enbridge to apply to build a tunnel in the Straits under the law, not negotiate occupancy of public bottomlands behind closed doors.
The real solution to the Line 5 threat must protect the Great Lakes, which define Michigan, drive our economy, and provide drinking water to half the state’s population. Gov. Whitmer must heed her campaign promise to shut down Line 5, while implementing a common-sense backup plan for propane transport in the Upper Peninsula using truck, train, or a small new pipe that doesn’t cross the Straits of Mackinac.
Let’s cut through Enbridge’s PR-fog and get the facts straight. Line 5 is not vital energy infrastructure for Michigan. More than 90 percent of the oil in Line 5 comes from and flows back to Canada.
Not only does Enbridge lack adequate insurance to cover the impacts of a catastrophic spill estimated from $1.87 billion to as much as $45 billion, the company’s oil spill response plan was held to be inadequate in late March by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.
Enbridge’s dismal track record is underscored by its 2010 Line 6B Kalamazoo River disaster – known as the largest inland tar sands oil spill in U.S. history – and extends to Line 5, which has leaked in total over a million gallons of oil in Michigan and Wisconsin from at least 33 known spills since 1968.
Infrastructure needs abound in Michigan – ranging from our failing drinking water and wastewater infrastructure to the aging Soo Locks and a long-term clean energy plan for the U.P and the state as a whole. Let’s shut down Line 5 and create jobs focused on those real needs, instead of protecting Enbridge’s private interest in our public waters.