2017-12-09 / News

State Makes Deal With Enbridge; Tunnel Options Eyed for Line 5

By Stephanie Fortino


One option to be explored for Line 5 is a tunnel similar to the cross section depicted in the state’s alternatives analysis. (Dynamic Risk Assessment Systems Inc.) One option to be explored for Line 5 is a tunnel similar to the cross section depicted in the state’s alternatives analysis. (Dynamic Risk Assessment Systems Inc.) An agreement between Enbridge Energy and the State of Michigan will have the company investigate putting its Line 5 pipelines into a tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac, which would help contain oil in the event of a spill. The agreement, announced Monday, November 27, comes ahead of public feedback meetings on what should be done about the pipeline in the future. Such a meeting is scheduled for St. Ignace Tuesday, December 12, at 6 p.m. at Little Bear East Arena.

The agreement, signed by Governor Rick Snyder, stipulates the state will make a final decision about the future of Line 5 by August 15, 2018. But if the state can’t reach a joint agreement with Enbridge, it will pursue other undisclosed “paths,” said Valerie Brader, the executive director for the Michigan Agency for Energy. While the agreement considers ways to replace or shore up the existing underwater pipes, she said shutting down Line 5 entirely hasn’t been ruled out.


A geologic profile of the Straits of Mackinac under Line 5. A tunnel would be dug in the bedrock, depicted here in white. The profile was adapted from geologic surveys taken for the construction of the Mackinac Bridge. (Dynamic Risk Assessment Systems Inc.) A geologic profile of the Straits of Mackinac under Line 5. A tunnel would be dug in the bedrock, depicted here in white. The profile was adapted from geologic surveys taken for the construction of the Mackinac Bridge. (Dynamic Risk Assessment Systems Inc.) Environmental advocates For Love of Water (FLOW) and Sierra Club’s Michigan Chapter continue to demand the line be removed entirely from the Straits.

The biggest revelation from the agreement is that Enbridge will investigate what it would take to put the Line 5 Straits crossing into a tunnel, which would provide a “secondary containment system” in the event of an oil spill, said Guy Jarvis, executive vice president of Enbridge Energy’s Liquids Pipelines and Major Projects division. The tunnel was one of the many solutions discussed in a 379-page alternatives analysis completed by Dynamic Risk Assessment, made public Monday, November 20, a week before the agreement was announced.

Three tunneling options Enbridge will investigate include:

• Installing a new pipeline in a tunnel beneath the Straits of Mackinac, which will include a manufactured tube that will enclose the pipelines;

• Installing a new pipeline at least 45 feet beneath the lakebed by boring an underground tunnel across the Straits (but this technique has not been used for crossings as wide as the straits, Mr. Jarvis said), and

• Digging a trench on the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac crossing and burying the twin pipelines in sediment.

Line 5 is split into two pipes under the Straits.

The options will be evaluated by June, 2018, when Enbridge will determine whether tunneling is technologically feasible for the Straits crossing.

While the state hasn’t decided the tunnel option is the best alternative for the Straits of Mackinac crossing, Ms. Brader said it was a suggestion that warranted more consideration by pipeline engineers.

“We see this not as a final decision, but as a step to getting the very best information we can so we can make that decision,” she said.

Starting November 27, Enbridge has also agreed to stop the flow of oil through the Line 5 Straits crossing during “adverse weather conditions” of waves of eight or more feet high. Emergency response equipment Enbridge owns can only be used in seas up to eight feet, Mr. Jarvis said, so the company has agreed to stop oil flow when the equipment cannot be used. Oil products will still be in the line when it is temporarily shut down, but isolation valves on either side of the crossing in St. Ignace and Mackinaw City will be closed.

The crossing was shut down temporarily Tuesday, December 5, because of high waves.

“We’re always looking to have multiple layers of protection,” Mr. Jarvis said.

Oil will still flow through the line when the Straits are covered in ice, another condition that poses significant challenges for spill cleanup.

Computer modeling and realtime data from Michigan Technological University’s buoy at the Straits will be used to monitor wave height, Ms. Brader said, and will inform whether the flow of oil should be paused. Michigan Tech’s buoy is removed each winter and launched in the spring.

Another stipulation of the agreement is that Enbridge will replace a Line 5 crossing at the St. Clair River where the pipelines pass from Michigan into Sarnia, Ontario. The St. Clair River is used for drinking water and the crossing occurs in an environmentally sensitive location.

Using similar technology for the replacement of Line 6B following the 2010 Marshall oil spill, Enbridge will install the new pipeline by boring beneath the riverbed (which is the same process as the second proposed tunneling option for the Straits of Mackinac). The underground tunnel will span about 1.5 miles across the river. The sediments that surround the pipe will contain oil if spilled, Mr. Jarvis said. The new pipe will be buried deeper than the existing crossing. The new line will significantly lower the risk that oil could reach the river or the Great Lakes in the event of a spill, according to the governor’s office.

“Tunneling under the St. Clair River and shutting down Line 5 during adverse weather are promising first steps in safeguarding our waterways,” Ms. Brader said.

The new crossing there, said Mr. Jarvis will be installed once Enbridge receives state and federal approval from the U.S. and Canada.

Enbridge has also agreed to install other safety measures to mitigate anchor strikes from vessels crossing through the Straits of Mackinac. The final alternatives analysis identified vessel anchor strikes as one of the most serious threats to Line 5.

Also by June 2018, Enbridge has agreed to evaluate other ways to inspect the Straits crossing, assess the quality of the coating of the pipes, and detect oil leaks.

Line 5 runs for 575 miles through the State of Michigan, crossing 245 inland rivers and streams, Michigan Department of Natural Resources Director Keith Creagh points out. The state is trying to protect Michigan’s natural resources, including its inland waterways, and wants Enbridge to evaluate every crossing of a water body throughout that state to minimize the likelihood of spills and pollution of Michigan waters. The line crosses several major rivers, including the Au Sable, Sturgeon, Pigeon, and Ontonogon. The crossing near the northern shore of Lake Michigan along US-2 will also be carefully reviewed and monitored, Mr. Creagh said.

A Promise of Transparency,

But Lingering

Environmental Concerns

Increasing transparency is also a priority, Ms. Brader said, and the State of Michigan will have an employee working closely with Enbridge to ensure the company is meeting its deadlines. The state hired its own experts who will have access to Enbridge’s data and studies in its attempts to monitor the company.

“This agreement allows us to be in the room and have the information, and determining the validity of that information,” said Mr. Creagh. “At least from DNR’s viewpoint, that is critical.”

Enbridge has also agreed to be more transparent, recognizing that the citizens of Michigan want to know more about Line 5 than the company has previously disclosed.

“We realize our internal technical studies and understanding haven’t translated well into reassuring the public or Michigan leaders about the ongoing safe operation of Line 5,” said Enbridge spokesman Ryan Duffy. “We apologize if our actions sometimes have created confusion.

“Many Michiganders have joined Governor Snyder in expressing, with increasing frequency, concerns regarding the safety of Line 5 in the Straits. Enbridge not only is hearing those concerns, we are listening. Most important, we are taking actions to address these concerns.”

But environmental advocates question whether the company will be forthright and honest.

“It’s remarkable, given Enbridge’s pattern and practice of lying to the state about Line 5’s condition, that the governor is now trusting Enbridge to abide by a new agreement,” said FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood. “This puts the future of the Great Lakes in the hands of Enbridge.”

But the agreement is legally binding, insisted Ms. Brader. If Enbridge violates the agreement or misses deadlines, it will be held accountable. She declined, however, to specify how. As an attorney, she and a representative from the office of the Michigan Attorney General negotiated the agreement with Enbridge.

Environmental advocates oppose the agreement, and FLOW said the governor was too hasty in signing it. FLOW contends the interim safety measures suggest the state wants to replace the line, rather than shut it down.

“Nothing short of ending the flow of oil through the Straits will protect the Great Lakes from a catastrophic spill,” said Ms. Kirkwood.

Anne Woiwode, the Sierra Club of Michigan’s conservation chair, shared similar concerns that the measures outlined in the agreement will not be sufficient.

“Putting in more technology to ensure we find out sooner when Line 5 ruptures is not the same as protecting the Great Lakes,” she said. “These are good steps, but they are only Band-Aids, and we are concerned that, instead of protecting the Great Lakes, they will be seen as permanent solutions. They are not.”

Enbridge insists Line 5 is in good working order.

“From an engineering and operational perspective,” Mr. Duffy said, “ongoing inspections and studies show that Line 5 at the Straits of Mackinac remains in good shape and is fit for service.”

Jim Olson, an environmental attorney and the president of FLOW, said the agreement conflicts with measures Gov. Snyder has already taken, including his executive order to establish the pipeline safety board and analyses.

“It is imprudent and arbitrary for the governor to unilaterally sign a deal with Enbridge before the legal processes and evidence, including the opinion of experts on all sides, have been thoroughly reviewed and completed,” he said. “Governor Snyder appears to have prematurely ignored and violated his own executive order, law, rules, and once more ignored his public trust duties toward the Great Lakes, water, public health and safety, and the protection of citizens.”

FLOW also contends that the agreement removes any meaningful opportunity for the public to weigh in on the alternatives.

Ms. Brader said the agreement doesn’t jeopardize the public’s ability to provide input on the issue, noting the state intentionally announced what it’s considering prior to gathering more public opinion.

“I see this as very complementary to the public process, which we very much plan on moving forward with,” she said. “In fact, we very much wanted this out at the start of the public comment period so they could have the benefit of seeing what’s being done immediately, what further information will come in, and hearing from them what they took away from it and where they think we should go in terms of a final decision.”

The state continues toward a separate independent risk analysis contract with Dr. Guy Meadows at Michigan Technological University. That analysis, public input, and Monday’s agreement will all shape a final recommendation from the state on the future of Line 5.

FLOW also raised concerns that the agreement did not include input from local Native American tribes.

“The governor’s preemptive move today continues to violate treaty-reserved rights that predate Michigan’s statehood,” the organization wrote in a statement. “The five federally recognized tribes whose fishing rights are located in the Straits of Mackinac were never consulted in 1953 [when Line 5 was first installed], and again were not consulted as part of this 2017 agreement between Enbridge and the State of Michigan. Sixty percent of the tribal commercial whitefish harvest comes from the spawning grounds in the Straits of Mackinac.”

Mr. Creagh says the state is considering the environmental impacts of Line 5, looking to Michigan’s Natural Features Inventory and fish and wildlife biologists to ensure the state’s natural resources are protected.

“By Enbridge signing this agreement,” he said, “there’s a renewed commitment of their stewardship and the understanding that the Great Lakes are special and it is what defines Michiganders, and they need to be held to a higher standard.”

Links to the agreement and to the newly-released Dynamic Risk Assessment can be found on The St. Ignace News Web page, stignacenews.com, under the Documents tab.

Return to top

Click here for digital edition
2017-12-09 digital edition