US, Canada to Discuss Enbridge Line 5


The White House has announced that the United States and Canada are expected to “engage constructively” in negotiations regarding the Enbridge Energy Line 5 pipeline. The announcement arrives after Canada formally invoked a provision from 1977 Transit Pipelines Treaty last month.

“These negotiations and discussions between the two countries shouldn’t be viewed as anything more than that—and certainly not an indicator that the U.S. government is considering shutdown,” said White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. “That is something that we’re not going to do.

“In addition to being one of the closest allies, Canada remains a key U.S. partner in energy trade, as well as efforts to address climate change and protect the environment.”

Jean-Pierre added the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was preparing an environmental impact statement on Enbridge’s proposal to drill a tunnel and replace a segment of Line 5. 

Enbridge has continued operations despite a May 12 deadline from Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer to cease pumping oil through the pipeline. The Biden Administration has not released an official stance on the matter.

In more recent reports, it was announced that the legal battle between Enbridge Inc. and the state of Michigan over the controversal infrastrcuture will be heard in a federal court. The ruling, made by a judge yesterday, dismisses Michigan's motion to have the case removed to state courts.

About the Transit Pipelines Treaty

The 1977 Treaty between the U.S. and Canada came upon the agreement that both countries:

  • Believe that pipelines can be an efficient, economical and safe means of transporting hydrocarbons from producing areas to consumers, in both Canada and the United States;
  • Note the number of hydrocarbon pipelines which now connect Canada and the United States and the important service which they render in transporting hydrocarbons to consumers in both countries; and
  • Convince that measures to ensure the uninterrupted transmission by pipeline through the territory of one Party of hydrocarbons not originating in the territory of that Party, for delivery to the territory of the other Party, are the proper subject of an agreement between the two Governments.

The Government of Canada, in an Oct. 4 letter from Canadian Council, invoked Article IX of the treaty as a formal request for negotiations, on the grounds that “no public authority in the territory of either Party shall institute any measures… which are intended to, or which would have the effect of, impeding, diverting, redirecting, or interfering with in any way the transmission of hydrocarbons in transit.”

“I am profoundly disappointed that today the Government of Canada chose to invoke Article IX of the 1977 Transit Pipelines Treaty in a bid to help Enbridge, a private oil company, keep crude oil running indefinitely through Michigan's Straits of Mackinac,” Whitmer said in a statement. “So long as oil is flowing through the pipelines, there is a very real threat of a catastrophic oil spill in the Great Lakes.

“Michigan is, and will remain, a strong partner with Canada on a range of issues. However, I will not remain silent when the fate of the Great Lakes and Michigan hangs in the balance.” 

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.

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.

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.

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.

In October, 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 day, 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.

Lawsuits & Cancellation Efforts

Since the project was announced, there have been various attempts to either delay or cancel the Line 5 project altogether. In August 2018, a lawsuit was filed 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.

The following year, in wake of the law previously created to develop a three-member Mackinac Straights Corridor Authority was ruled unconstitutional by the state attorney general. At the time, Gov. Whitmer asked for Attorney General Dana Nessel's legal opinion. In Whitmer’s view, the law was invalid and went as far as to halt state agencies’ attempts to facilitate construction on the tunnel.

State legislature Republicans dismissed Whitmer’s opinion, citing that a judge has already allowed the law to be as is.

In November 2020, 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.

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.

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.

According to The Detroit News, Enbridge was looking to hire a contractor for the construction phase of the Line 5 pipeline relocation project in April. Since announcing its selection of Great Lakes Tunnel Constructors to design and build the underground tunnel, the 18-month term would apparently be ending five months early.

The company attributed its decision to a “significant cost creep” in preliminary designs for construction, which were witnessed as early as October 2020, and revealed a nearly double price tag for the initial $500 million cost estimate.

As a result of the contract’s end with GLTC, Enbridge planned to switch from a construction manager/general contractor model to a request for proposals from new bidders.

Regarding the revoke of the easement as promised by Whitmer to shut down the Line 5 project in May, Enbridge also reported it was continuing to fight the matter in federal court. In addition, Canada, Ohio and Louisiana were also pushing back against Whitmer’s decision.

While efforts to keep the project moving forward continue in court, Enbridge has since reported that the Michigan Department of Environment Great Lakes and Energy had issued project permits. However, the firm said in a statement at the time that the permits “do not resolve Governor Whitmer’s effort to shut down Line 5’s current operations.”



Tagged categories: Government; Government contracts; NA; North America; Oil and Gas; Pipeline; Pipelines; President Biden; Program/Project Management

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