Michigan, Enbridge Strike Deal for Line 5
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and Canadian oil transport company Enbridge recently struck a deal that would allow for the construction of a new pipeline 100 feet beneath the Straits of Mackinac, eventually replacing the aged Line 5 pipeline. The project is slated to take seven to 10 years to build, costing between $300 million and $650 million.
The new corridor housing would provide space for both the new 30-inch Line 5 pipeline and other companies’ power lines and similar infrastructure. The corridor would also be wide enough for vehicle access, which would allow for inspection of the pipeline.
Line 5 Background
Line 5 conveys crude oil and natural gas liquids under the Straits (which separates Michigan's Upper and Lower peninsulas, and connects Lake Michigan and Lake Huron); the 65-year-old twin pipeline has been subject to increasing controversy in recent years as evidence of coating delamination and unsupported lengths of pipeline has raised concerns about a release in the Great Lakes.
Line 5 has never leaked, and it previously passed a high-pressure hydrotest; Enbridge has said that the pipeline poses no risk to the region, but neighbors, legislators and environmentalists have noted that any spill from the line could cause major damage to the environment in the tourism-heavy region.
In July, a risk analysis performed by Michigan Technological University indicated that a worst-case release on the pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac would sully more than 400 miles of shoreline and come at a total cost of $1.87 billion. The analysis was the last piece of evidence needed prior to the agreement.
In late August, a lawsuit filed by an environmental group alleged that the United States Coast Guard isn't sufficiently prepared to respond if there were a spill under the Straits, and sought to shut the pipeline down until the issue could be sorted.
According to the Detroit Free Press, Enbridge will both cover the cost of building the corridor and pass off ownership to the Mackinac Bridge Authority, which is responsible for operating the Mackinac Bridge. In exchange, Enbridge will be granted a 99-year lease for the corridor; the company will both maintain and operate the tunnel.
In light of ongoing concerns about a pipeline leak, deal provisions include: underwater inspections to evaluate the condition of the pipe coating as well as checks for potential leaks; the implementation of cameras to monitor the no-anchor zone and general ship activity; and a promise that Enbridge personnel must be available during periods of high waves to manually shut down the pipeline if automated systems fail. The agreement also handles deactivated pipelines, though the amount of material that would be removed remains unclear.
Mike Shriberg, member of the Pipeline Safety Advisory Board and Great Lakes regional executive director of the nonprofit National Wildlife Federation, said that the plan would keep the current iteration of Line 5 operating for another 10 years. Shriberg went on to call any plan that did not begin with an agreement to decommission Line 5 within a year “a nonstarter.”
Moving forward, the Enbridge deal still has a number of details to sort out, including what role federal agencies will have in evaluating the project. Despite these details, Michigan Department of Natural Resources Director Keith Creagh, cochair of Snyder’s Pipeline Safety Advisory Board, made note of the state’s desire to have the deal finalized before Snyder leaves office in December.
On the day the deal was announced, the House of Representatives also passed a five-bill package that prohibits ships from dropping anchor in the Straits of Mackinac, both alleviating some concerns and a win in light of a high-voltage power line sustaining damage in April because of a ship dropping anchor.