MI Governor Shuts Down Pipeline
In citing environmental concerns, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has announced the state will be shutting down Enbridge Energy’s Line 5 pipeline—which was built in the 1950s and crosses under the Straits of Mackinac.
“Here in Michigan, the Great Lakes define our borders, but they also define who we are as people,” Whitmer said in a statement. “Enbridge has routinely refused to take action to protect our Great Lakes and the millions of Americans who depend on them for clean drinking water and good jobs.”
Enbridge Pipeline Saga
In July 2017, Michigan Pipeline Safety Advisory Board released a Dynamic Risk Assessments Inc.-prepared assessment of Enbridge Energy’s Line 5 liquid pipeline that looked at the risks related to keeping the current pipeline as well as alternatives, including new lines in or around the straits, a new pipeline elsewhere or a complete abandonment of the line.
According to Dynamic Risk, the biggest threats to the existing pipeline were anchor hooking, incorrect operations, vortex-induced vibration and spanning stress. A spill in the straits, the firm contends, would likely incur $100-200 million in costs, about 60% of that covering environmental cleanup. Those figures account for what Dynamic Risk calls “objective assessments of credible risks,” and not a worst-case scenario.
By June 2018, Enbridge Energy released its report to the state of Michigan on possible replacement of its Line 5 pipeline, concluding that a tunnel or an open cut with secondary containment would be feasible methods for replacing the 65-year-old liquids pipeline.
“I think this Line 5 decision is going to spark some interest in existing pipelines,” says a @CenterForBioDiv attorney on @GovWhitmer's move to shut down #Line5 in the Straits of Mackinac https://t.co/SKioPxtInR— Andy Balaskovitz (@ABalaskovitz) November 18, 2020
In the report, Enbridge says its study, performed by independent consultants, showed a tunnel created by a tunnel-boring machine could be a feasible method of installing a new pipeline to replace Line 5. Such a tunnel would have a 10-foot inside diameter and would stretch four miles long, 100 feet below the deepest part of the Straits.
A tunnel would cost $350-500 million and would replace the dual 20-inch pipelines comprising the current Line 5 with one 30-inch line. The concrete tunnel would be lined with precast concrete tunnel lining; the annulus outside the tunnel lining would be filled with cement grout.
The other alternative the company released was an open cut with a secondary-containment pipeline around a new 30-inch Line 5. This approach would cost $250-300 million and would involve trenching the pipeline for the first half-mile or so from the shoreline, then laying the majority of the line on the lakebed with an engineered protective cover.
The pipe-in-pipe system would involve a 30-inch steel pipeline surrounded by a 36-inch secondary-containment line with low-friction spacer rings in the space between. The outer pipeline would be engineered to withstand pressures greater than the line’s operating maximum.
According to a risk analysis by Michigan Technological University, a worst-case spill could affect more than 400 miles of shoreline on Lake Michigan and Lake Huron and come with a price tag of more than $1.8 billion.
A lawsuit filed at the end of August 2018 by the Environmental Law and Policy Center and the National Wildlife Fund alleged that a top Coast Guard official testified under oath in front of Congress the year before that the service was not adequately prepared for a worst-case spill on the line, though the Coast Guard does have a contingency plan in place to do just that.
In December, the Michigan Senate voted to create the three-member Mackinac Straights Corridor Authority, an entity that would oversee the construction of the replacement pipeline and a new utility tunnel.
According to Crain’s Detroit Business, creating the panel is an essential step toward replacing the underwater pipeline. The project is slated to take seven to 10 years to complete, and the cost of replacing the pipeline could range from $350-500 million, all paid for by Enbridge, but owned by the Mackinac Bridge Authority.
However, in May 2019, the law to create the three-member Mackinac Straights Corridor Authority was ruled unconstitutional by the state attorney general. Gretchen Whitmer, Michigan’s current governor, asked for Attorney General Dana Nessel's legal opinion. In Whitmer’s view, the law is invalid and went as far as to halt state agencies’ attempts to facilitate construction on the tunnel.
State legislature Republicans have dismissed Whitmer’s opinion, citing that a judge has already allowed the law to be as is.
At the beginning of March, Enbridge announced that it hired Arup (London) to design the tunnel and Great Lakes Tunnel Constructors—a partnership between Jay Dee Contractors Inc. (Livonia, Michigan) and Obayashi Corp. (Tokyo)—to build it. At the time of the announcement, the company was still seeking construction permits from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
In mid-May, the Corps' Detroit district office announced it would begin accepting public comments on Enbridge’s proposal to build an oil pipeline tunnel beneath Michigan’s Straits of Mackinac.
By the end of the month, Enbridge officials announced that while installing screw anchors to secure sections of its Line 5 in the channel they discovered four spots where protective coatings had worn away from the underwater oil pipeline and were repaired within 10 days of the discovery.
The following month, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overruled District Judge Mark Goldsmith’s ruling 2-1 that Enbridge had to comply with both the Endangered Species and National Environmental Policy Acts regarding its spill plans.
Previously, the company was sued by National Wildlife Federation for allegedly failing to prove that plans would not jeopardize endangered fish or wildlife and for not issuing an environmental impact statement. However, in the past five years Enbridge had submitted spill plans which were both approved by the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
Judges Amul Thapar and Joan Larsen stated in their majority opinion that Enbridge had met those standards and that the company plans to have enough personnel and equipment to respond to a worst-case discharge, as well as testing and drills.
In September, the Michigan Public Service Commission held a virtual public hearing for comments on the proposed Enbridge Line 5 tunnel and was expected to begin hearing testimony from legal challengers next year.
Last month, Enbridge released a new animation video showing what the Great Lakes Tunnel Project process and construction for the Line 5 tunnel replacement project in the Straits of Mackinac would look like.
According to the video, using a roughly 500-foot-long tunnel boring machine, the proposed tunnel will be built through rock, deep below the lake bed, in an effort to add further protection of Michigan waters, while also ensuring an uninterrupted supply of reliable, affordable energy.
The tunnel itself is reported to be made up of a reinforced concrete liner measuring one foot thick, with grout completing the seal. Pipe supports, complete with rollers, will be bolted along the inside of the tunnel walls. It also plans to be equipped with drainage, leak detection equipment and electronic communications.
As for the North shore, a vertical shaft is slated to be constructed, where the tunnel boring machine will be retrieved and dismantled after it made its way across the straits—an endeavor projected to take roughly two years, moving at an average of 40 feet a days five days a week.
Over the course of the construction, saturation divers will be used to perform regular inspection and maintenance because of the high hydrostatic pressure experienced during construction.
Once tunnel construction has commenced, Enbridge plans to assemble new segments of the Line 5 pipeline, which will be welded, inspected and coated all on the South side in a staging area prior to installation.
While the tunnel has been constructed to serve Line 5, it could accommodate third party utilities, according to Enbridge. Project construction was expected to start in 2021.
Project Shut Down
On Friday (Nov. 13), Gov. Whitmer and Michigan Department of Natural Resources Director Dan Eichinger informed Enbridge that they were revoking the 1953 easement that allows for pipeline operations through the Straits of Mackinac.
Previously under an agreement with the state, Enbridge had agreed to protect the pipeline from corrosion by maintaining a multilayered coating and placing physical supports on the infrastructure, no more than 75 feet apart. However, Michigan authorities have discovered that Enbridge violated the terms of this agreement and failed to protect the pipeline from potential boat anchor damages.
“I think this Line 5 decision is going to spark some interest in existing pipelines,” said Jared Margolis, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “I think, at some point, we do need to turn to pipelines that are in the ground that are dangerous, that are posing a serious risk.”
While pipeline operations traditionally fall under federal jurisdiction, Whitmer reported that she was acting under the state’s public trust doctrine, which requires state authorities to protect the Great Lakes.
According to Enbridge spokesman, Michael Barnes, the decision could devastate the economy.
“Enbridge remains confident that Line 5 continues to operate safely and that there is no credible basis for terminating the 1953 easement allowing the Dual Line 5 Pipelines to cross the Straits of Mackinac,” the spokesman, Michael Barnes, said. “Line 5 is an essential source of energy for not only Michigan but for the entire region including Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Ontario, and Quebec.”
Others involved in the industry mirrored the company’s opposition to terminate the project, citing additional worries over potential oil supplies disruptions and possible refinery shutdowns.
“Shutting down Line 5 would kill thousands of jobs in Michigan, severely impact manufacturing and cost our economy hundreds of millions of dollars when the state is already reeling from a pandemic,” said Mike Johnson, the vice president of government affairs at the Michigan Manufacturers Association.
However, a study commissioned by the National Wildlife Federation found that the shutdown of Line 5 would have a minimal economic impact and that other shipping methods like trucking would keep refineries running.
Arriving after nearly a decade of political pressure, the decision to shut down the project requires that Enbridge cease its operations by May 2021, but it will have the effect of curtailing the entire pipeline, which runs between Superior, Wisconsin, and Sarnia, Ontario.