Enbridge played Michigan's former Governor Snyder and Attorney General Schuette for suckers by passing a law that allows a tunnel for Canadian oil to be constructed under the Straits of Mackinac. Why were we played for suckers? The law did not require Enbridge to build a tunnel, and in fact, did not specify an end date for the tunnel to be built. The worst deal EVER.
Enbridge has also been gradually changing the design of Line 5 without getting the required approval.
Line 5 is a Canadian oil shortcut through Michigan and the Great Lakes. Why put our state and waters at great risk when we use hardly any of the oil? Why didn't former Gov. Snyder stand up for Michigan and the Great Lakes?
This talk by Kate Madigan, Director of the Michigan Climate Action Network recorded at the Line 5 Retirement Party in April 2018, lays this out in more detail
The risk of an oil spill is now very real after a ship’s anchor struck and damaged Line 5 in the Straits in April 2018. At least two more incidents occurred between Nov 2019 and June 2020, one severely damaging a pipeline anchor support. It turns out the damage was caused by Enbridge contractors. Serious concerns are finally bringing elected officials to say “enough,” and we are now seeing growing bipartisan agreement that we must shut down Line 5. We applaud these elected officials and encourage others to do the same.
We need to make one thing very clear. A tunnel is NOT a solution for our state, the Great Lakes, or the planet.
Before we look at the several ways Enbridge wants to play us for suckers, we need to understand how they operate.
How Enbridge Bypasses Environmental Regulations
If the Enbridge Kalamazoo River oil spill disaster taught us anything, it is that Enbridge is not satisfied with the status quo. Building new or increasing the capacity of existing pipelines means that stringent environmental reviews and regulations, including assessments of the need for any new infrastructure, must be followed. Time after time, Enbridge expands its network by bypassing these regulations. For proof, one doesn't have to look any further than the example it set in Michigan after the 2010 Kalamazoo River oil spill.
After the Kalamazoo River spill, the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history, Enbridge replaced the ruptured Line 6b with a new, larger pipeline that doubled its capacity. This replacement was done section-by-section and was called "integrity management" (maintenance) by Enbridge, while in reality and by any measure, the replacement was new infrastructure. Rebuilding the pipeline in this piecemeal fashion meant that the new pipeline bypassed the environmental regulation that would have made Enbridge demonstrate the need for this greater capacity. This video details exactly how this occurred.
Line 5 Oil Is Not For Michigan
The never-ending quest by Enbridge to expand its capacity to transport crude oil in Line 5 and throughout its entire Lakehead System in the Great Lakes is part of an initiative called the Enbridge Eastern Access Capacity Expansion.
A series of infrastructure improvement projects have increased the flow of oil in Line 5, replaced the failed Line 6b pipeline through southern Michigan with a larger pipe, and increased and reversed the direction of flow of oil in Line 9 that used to flow from Montreal to Sarnia (now flowing eastward).
Enbridge is currently attempting to expand its Line 3 pipeline in Minnesota from Alberta to Superior, Wisconsin - the start of Line 5, Line 6, Line 61, and Line 14/64.
95% of the product that flows through Line 5 passes through Michigan and back to Canada.
The Enbridge public relations spin promoting the need for Line 5 products in Michigan is window dressing to their overall goal: move more tar sands oil from Alberta, eastward across the Great Lakes region, back to Canada, and to export.
If we keep Line 5 oil flowing because it benefits Michigan, Enbridge will play us for suckers.
A Four Inch Pipeline Can deliver propane to the UP
Enbridge is fond of saying that without the propane provided by Line 5, “grannies in the U.P. will freeze.”
While it is currently true that less than half of the Upper Peninsula’s supply of propane arrives via Line 5, it is a fraction of the product that flows through the pipeline.
An Enbridge-funded study by Dynamic Risk stated that a new 4” pipeline could supply this propane (page K-2 of this report). Until such a pipeline is constructed, one rail car of propane per day could meet the U.P.’s demand.
Holding the Great Lakes hostage by arguing the Upper Peninsula needs Line 5 for propane while ignoring the obvious solution of building a new 4" pipeline is a weak argument that no reasonable or prudent person would make. Yet, Enbridge constantly makes this claim.
Enbridge is a pipeline company. Why are they not proposing to build the 4" pipeline so they can, as they constantly say, care for Michigan's residents?
If we keep Line 5 oil flowing through the Great Lakes because the U.P. needs propane, Enbridge will play us for suckers.
A New Unpermitted Line 5 Design
When the Line 5 pipeline was constructed in the Straits of Mackinac and opened in 1953, the approved design had the twin pipelines being supported by lying directly on the lakebed. The easement granted by the State of Michigan for the use of the lakebed for this private pipeline specified, among several other stipulations, a 75-foot maximum unsupported span.
Over time, tremendous currents in the Straits of Mackinac began to wash out the lakebed underneath the pipes. To rectify the washouts, Enbridge started to deploy grout bags to support the pipeline. As more washouts occurred, in the early 2000s Enbridge began installing large screw anchors to support the pipe underneath the washouts. Over time, Enbridge has installed 128 screw anchors. The State has authorized 22 more anchors that were installed in summer 2018, and Enbridge has applied for an additional 48 anchors in the spring of 2018.
These anchors have transformed the pipeline from one that lies directly on the lakebed to one with large spans suspended in the water above the lakebed. These elevated spans are more exposed to the currents in the Straits with a water volume "more than 10 times greater than the flow over Niagara Falls." The resulting structure is a new pipeline design that was never approved or permitted. A new legal action challenging any new anchors suggests this new design puts the pipeline at higher risk for rupture.
If this application for another 48 anchors to the original pipeline design is permitted as a “repair” or “maintenance,” the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will have authorized Enbridge to install a total of 198 anchor brackets to the Line 5 pipelines on public trust bottomlands and waters. This means Enbridge will have once again bypassed the required comprehensive review of risks, impacts, or alternatives under the law.
As further evidence that the screw anchors are altering the design, it was revealed that the anchors are damaging the protective coating on the pipeline.
See failed grout bags and examples of screw anchors in this video.
Structurally, more than 2 miles of pipeline are now elevated in public trust waters above the bottomlands. And given the recent anchor dents in the twin lines and rupture of the electrical line and release of toxic fluids, the risks to the Great Lakes are unacceptable.
If new Line 5 anchor permits are approved, Enbridge will play us for suckers.
A Tunnel Under the Straits is Not a Solution
If routing the Line 5 pipelines in a tunnel beneath the Straits of Mackinac sounds like a good idea, think again.
A tunnel would take several years to permit and build, and some experts say it is doubtful that it could ever be permitted. Simply talking about a tunnel has bought Enbridge 10 more years of flowing oil and profits while a tunnel is being explored. This delay keeps the current Line 5 pipeline moving 23 million gallons of oil and natural gas products through the Great Lakes every day while Michigan remains at risk for an oil spill into the foreseeable future.
Tar Sands Extraction in Alberta, Canada
With a new tunnel, you could be sure that Enbridge will not be satisfied in keeping the other 640 miles of Line 5 as-is. It would surely need to recoup its investment in a tunnel by expanding Line 5 into another conduit for heavy crude (a.k.a tar sands) from Alberta, Canada. These tar sands are the dirtiest fossil fuels on the planet and would lock in the Great Lakes as a conduit for years of extreme climate impacts and into decades of more risk of an oil spill.
The processing and use of tar sands release more greenhouse gases than any other fossil fuel. When refined, it pollutes nearby communities, like those living near the Marathon refinery in Detroit. When extracted, it is strip-mined, wiping out entire ecosystems and displacing communities.
When tar sands oil pipelines do spill, it is impossible to thoroughly clean it up, as we’ve already learned here in Michigan when one million gallons of tar sands spilled into the Kalamazoo River, the worst inland oil spill in US history.
If we agree to construct a tunnel for Line 5 under the Straits, Enbridge will play us for suckers.
Sign up to stay in touch with the Oil & Water Don't Mix Campaign
Stay in the loop