MACKINAC COUNTY, Mich. – There was praise and disappointment on Friday after the Michigan Department Environment, Great Lakes and Energy approved the first permits to for the controversial tunnel project around the Enbridge Line 5 gas line.
The dual oil pipeline is among the largest in the region and runs directly through the Mackinac Straits carrying 23 million gallons of crude oil each day. The approval of the permit is only the beginning of a several stage process but comes after EGLE said it spent months and thousands of staff hours of review.
The decision was praised by Michigan business leaders including the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, the Michigan Laborers District Council and Michigan Manufacturers Association.
“It’s a project that makes a safe pipeline safer, updates Michigan’s energy infrastructure, and supports competitive, high paying jobs that power the state’s economy,” the MMA’s Vice President for Government Affairs Mike Johnston said in a statement.
Environmental advocates -- including the National Wildlife Federation, the Michigan League of Conservation Voters and For the Love of Water or FLOW -- all said the approval was the wrong move.
“It’s really disappointing to see this approval is largely a rubber stamp, move forward,” said the NWF’s Great Lakes Campaign Manager Beth Wallace said. “But we are hopeful that in the upcoming permitting processes that Enbridge still has to obtain, that that comprehensive review will still happen.”
In 2018, an anchor damaged a the Line 5 pipe and caused roughly 600 gallons of insulation fluid to leak. In 2010, a separate Enbridge pipeline spilled more than 800,000 gallons of oil into Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River.
Environmental scientists estimate an oil spill in the Straits of Mackinac would cost almost $2 billion in cleaning costs and lost tourism revenue.
Enbridge, in a statement on Friday, said the project would make the pipeline safer and the company would be spending close to $500 million on the tunnel.
The permitting also goes against Governor Gretchen Whitmer who filed a state lawsuit in Ingham County against Enbridge in November to permanently shut down the pipeline by May 2021, saying it was at risk for anchor strikes and leaks, which in theory is what a tunnel or “encasement” is meant to protect the pipeline from. Enbridge in turn filed a federal lawsuit to block Whitmer’s efforts. Both suits are ongoing and the permits on Friday
In response on Friday, Whitmer’s office stuck to her lawsuit calling the Line 5 “an unacceptable risk to the Great Lakes and threaten[s] over 350,000 jobs in Michigan.”
“The Governor and DNR determined that Enbridge must cease operation of the dual pipelines by mid-May of 2021. Today’s decision by EGLE to issue permits related to tunnel construction, consistent with law, in no way lessens the pressing need for a shutdown of the existing pipelines by mid-May and Enbridge’s legal obligation to comply with that deadline,” Deputy Press Sec. Robert Leddy said.
The approval also puts Michigan at the center of growing tension between the U.S. and Canada over oil lines after the Biden Administration blocked the Keystone XL pipeline earlier this month.
This week the Canadian Consul General in Detroit telling the Canadian National Post shutting down Line 5 could harm Canadian-U.S. relations.
“The bottom line, in terms of the economy, is it’s a big threat,” Consul-General Joe Comartin said in the article adding it “certainly has the potential for damaging our relationship.”
The next step in the permitting process would be permits after assessments from the Army Corps of Engineers and Michigan Public Service Commission where those opposed to the pipeline have vowed to continue fighting against the tunnel and transmission of oil through the Straits.