Mich. Gov., Enbridge Reach Deal for Oil Pipeline Tunnel Under Straits of Mackinac
The massive project would take 7 to 10 years and cost between $300 million and $650 million -- with state officials emphasizing it would be Enbridge , not Michigan taxpayers, footing that bill. It would create a utility corridor housing not only a new, 30-inch Line 5 pipeline for oil and liquid natural gas through the Straits of Mackinac , but a utility corridor that could also include other companies' power lines, telecommunications cables and similar infrastructure. The corridor would be large enough for vehicles to drive through, allowing inspectors access to assess the condition of the pipeline.
The agreement in the works would end uncertainty about the currently operating, controversial, 65-year-old Line 5 pipeline on the Straits bottom -- improving Great Lakes and Michigan environmental protection and providing certainty for Upper Peninsula energy supplies, said Michigan Department of Natural Resources Director Keith Creagh , co-chair of Gov. Rick Snyder's Pipeline Safety Advisory Board .
"It's a reasonable, thoughtful, pragmatic solution," he said.
Added Enbridge spokesman Ryan Duffy , "The agreement protects the waters of the Straits and the Great Lakes in several ways, and makes a safe pipeline even safer."
But environmental groups were less enthusiastic.
"Today, Gov. Snyder cemented his disastrous legacy for the Great Lakes and the people of Michigan ," said Sean McBearty, Michigan program organizer for the nonprofit Clean Water Action.
"As his administration comes to a close, he announced a last-minute deal with Enbridge Energy that will succeed in keeping the Great Lakes at risk from a massive Line 5 oil spill for the foreseeable future."
Mike Shriberg , Great Lakes regional executive director of the nonprofit National Wildlife Federation and a member of the Pipeline Safety Advisory Board , noted that the plan would keep the existing, aging, Line 5 pipeline operating on the Straits bottom for up to a decade to come -- with concerns already existing about missing protective coatings on the pipe, missing anchors holding it to the lake bottom, and more.
"While we will reserve judgment until we fully review the latest agreement, any agreement which does not begin with a plan to decommission Line 5 in the Straits within less than one year is a non-starter," he said. "We know that Line 5 is a threat to the Great Lakes and our way of life now whereas a tunnel, if it is ever built, is many years away."
Line 5 moves 23 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids per day through the Upper Peninsula , splitting into twin, underwater pipelines through the 4-mile stretch of the Straits, before returning to a single transmission pipeline through the Lower Peninsula and on to a hub in Sarnia, Ontario .
Concerned citizens and environmentalists have called for the decommissioning of the line, stating a spill like the one on Enbridge's Line 6B pipeline near the Kalamazoo River in 2010 would devastate the Great Lakes , shoreline and island communities, as well as the state's economy.
Under the new agreement between the state and Enbridge , the company would build a utility corridor under the Straits, and, upon completion, hand over its ownership to the Mackinac Bridge Authority , an independent state agency that operates the Mackinac Bridge and funds it through tolls. Enbridge would then be provided a 99-year lease for use of the corridor, and would remain responsible for operating and maintaining the tunnel, Creagh said.
Creagh addressed one area of concern for pipeline critics -- that a new pipeline would allow Enbridge to push more and heavier grades of crude oil through the Straits, including the type of heavy diluted bitumen that sank to the Kalamazoo River bottom and caused major cleanup problems in the 2010 spill.
"It will be a new, 30-inch pipe that replaces where it currently divides into two pipes under the Straits -- no increase in capacity, no heavy crude, the same products that are running through it at this time," he said.
The new Enbridge deal has many details that will yet require resolution, including what role the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers or other federal agencies will have in evaluating the project and its potential environmental impact. But Creagh indicated state officials' desire to have their end of the deal finalized with Enbridge before Snyder leaves office at the end of December.
The Michigan Chemistry Council applauded the tunnel deal Wednesday.
"Just as the Mackinac Bridge and the original Line 5 did in the 1950s, this new project will help connect Michigan's two peninsulas in an innovative and forward-thinking way," said executive director John Dulmes . "We are excited to see how the scientists, engineers, and laborers will put this plan into place."
The deal is sure to be a contentious issue in the campaign to succeed Snyder. Democratic nominee Gretchen Whitmer has pledged to shut down Line 5 if elected governor in November. Her Republican opponent, state Attorney General Bill Schuette , has endorsed the tunnel option.
It wasn't immediately clear whether the next administration would have legal authority to undo the agreement. Michigan owns the straits bottomlands and granted Enbridge an easement when the pipes were laid in 1953. Creagh said any effort to revoke it would trigger a lengthy and expensive court battle.
The agreement includes provisions intended to reduce the likelihood of a leak from the existing pipes while the tunnel is built and to ensure close collaboration between Enbridge and the state after the new pipeline becomes operational, officials said.
Among them: underwater inspections to detect potential leaks and evaluate pipe coating; placement of cameras at the straits to monitor ship activity and help enforce a no-anchoring zone; a pledge that Enbridge personnel will be available during high-wave periods to manually shut down the pipelines if electronic systems fail, and steps to prevent leaks at other places where Line 5 crosses waterways.
The agreement also includes a process for dealing with the existing oil lines after they're deactivated, although it leaves open the question of how much of the pipe material will be removed.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact Keith Matheny : (313) 222-5021 or email@example.com . Follow on Twitter @keithmatheny.
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