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Citizens Respond to Agency’s Decision Today Rejecting Enbridge Bid for Rubber-Stamp Line 5 Tunnel Approval

Citizens groups applaud the decision today by the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) rejecting Enbridge Energy’s bid to bypass scrutiny of their proposed Line 5 pipeline tunnel in the Straits of Mackinac and instead ordered a full review.

“Enbridge has already shown that they can't be trusted,” said Sean McBrearty, Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign coordinator. “MPSC correctly decided that a project of this magnitude clearly requires a full contested case proceeding with many opportunities for public engagement. MPSC must thoroughly study this proposal and its potential impacts on our water and climate before making their final ruling.”

Michigan Public Service Commission

Michigan Public Service Commission

The three-member commission set a public hearing on Enbridge’s request for August 24. Tuesday’s decision followed widespread public opposition to Enbridge’s effort to have the MPSC rubber-stamp its application for the authority to construct a replacement pipeline.

More than 1,700 comments in opposition to Enbridge’s request for a declaratory ruling from MPSC in favor of their proposed tunnel were submitted by the public. Today’s decision follows disclosure last week of Enbridge’s violation of a federal court order resulting in $6.7 million fines and a separate court decision temporarily shutting down the troubled Line 5 pipeline because of damage.

During Tuesday’s public comment before MPSC commissioners several people spoke out against Enbridge and it’s proposal to build a Straits pipeline, including Petoskey resident Bob Vance. “Line 5 deserves much closer scrutiny, not less,” said Vance.

“Line 5 deserves much closer scrutiny, not less.” - Bob Vance, Petoskey resident in public comment to MPSC

With today's decision, Enbridge's proposed tunnel is likely to get that scrutiny with issues already being raised about its impact on Great Lakes water quality, fishing, and tourism. Initial concerns include:

Line 5 Water Quality Threat. Besides Enbridge’s proposal to discharge millions of gallons of wastewater into the Great Lakes, the tunnel would only cover approximately 4 miles of a 645-mile long oil pipeline that runs through the entire state of Michigan on its way to a refinery in Canada. The rest of the 67-year-old pipeline transports oil through or near 400 other Michigan waterways.

Tunnel Safety. The American Transmission Company (ATC) in an April 2019 letter warned about safety issues involving the tunnel which would be transporting hazardous natural gas liquids which experts say could ignite under certain conditions causing a potentially disastrous tunnel explosion underneath the Straits. ATC, which carries electricity through cables to the U.P. took itself out of consideration for sharing the tunnel with Enbridge. During a presentation to the U.P. Energy Task Force on June 9, an ATC official described the potential safety issues as “really, really scary.”

State and Taxpayer Liability. While Enbridge has agreed to pay for tunnel construction, the tunnel itself would be turned over to a state agency and would be owned by the state. That means Michigan’s taxpayers could be on the hook for any tunnel collapse or other problems, or in the event that Enbridge decides to abandon Line 5 as oil and other fossil fuel use decline.

"The Michigan Public Service Commission must thoroughly study this proposal and its potential impacts on our water and climate before making their final ruling.” - Sean McBrearty, Coordinator, Oil & Water Don't Mix

Enbridge's abysmal safety record will also be a likely focus, including:

  • Enbridge’s claims about Line 5 pipeline safety were put to the test when an anchor was deployed in the Straits of Mackinac in April 2018, denting and gouging Line 5.  Enbridge’s technology failed that test when, despite the damage to Line 5, no warnings were triggered. Three weeks passed before underwater vehicles contracted by Enbridge could safely navigate the turbulent Straits to put eyes on the damage.
  • Enbridge’s negligence caused the largest oil pipeline rupture in Michigan history into the Kalamazoo River watershed near Marshall 10 years ago this July but they were allowed to construct an even larger pipeline to replace the old Line 6B that ruptured.  
  • Enbridge’s prior track record on fines in Michigan includes $177 million in civil penalties, $1.3 billion in damages, and more than 2.3 million gallons of spilled oil.  
  • Just over two years ago, Enbridge agreed to pay a $1.8 million fine for failing to thoroughly inspect its pipelines for weaknesses as required under a 2016 agreement that covers their dangerous Line 5. 
  • Enbridge lied about Line 5 safety when it knew that since 2003 numerous bottom support anchors were missing and failed to disclose it until 2017, nine months after a report documented that pipeline spans of up to 286 feet had no anchor support.  Enbridge violated its easement agreement with the state but is now suing to force the state to accept additional agreements that would keep Line 5 operating. 
  • In 2017 Enbridge claimed that missing protective coatings along the Straits pipeline were a mere “hypothetical” possibility, while at the same time a video in their possession showed areas of missing coatings and the company had known of bare spots since 2014.

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