Oil tunnel plan leaves big questions for Great Lakes protection

Gov. Snyder today announced his plan for the 65-year-old pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac, commonly known as Line 5. The state and Enbridge, the company that owns Line 5, made a deal that allows Enbridge to build a tunnel below the Straits. This tunnel would be owned and operated by the State of Michigan, but would be leased to Enbridge for a term of up to 99 years to house the pipeline.

“Line 5 remaining active in its current condition is a threat to the Great Lakes, plain and simple,” said MEC President and CEO Chris Kolb. “The tunnel will take years to build and during that time the risk of a spill from the existing 65-year-old pipeline poses a very serious threat. At any moment, Line 5 could leak 2.4 million gallons of crude oil into the Great Lakes and cause billions of dollars of damage to our waters, coastal communities, and recreational economy.”

This plan would continue to put the Great Lakes at risk even after a tunnel is built, completely ignoring the fact that this aging pipeline runs through hundreds of miles of people’s backyards, crosses hundreds of rivers and streams, and runs along the Lake Michigan shoreline in the Upper Peninsula. A break at any of these locations would have devastating impacts on both the waters and natural resources of Michigan. In many of these locations, a spill would flow unimpeded into the Great Lakes.

Before it does anything else, Michigan needs to immediately assume a regulatory role to ensure any oil pipeline is being operated and maintained in a fashion that protects the state’s water resources. Relying on the federal government to regulate oil pipelines within Michigan resulted in the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history on the Kalamazoo River. Not learning from that spill is irresponsible and risks the long-term health of the largest fresh waterbody in North America.

“Although Enbridge claims that this tunnel could be completed in seven to ten years, in reality it could take much longer, and every day we are testing our luck,” said Kolb. “It is crucial that the state government and Enbridge tell the residents of Michigan how they plan to protect the Great Lakes from a catastrophic spill from Line 5 now and in the future. When is the pipeline going to be decommissioned? What is the administration doing to reduce a spill risk while constructing the tunnel? What will happen if there is a leak in the winter months? This is not something to be rushed through in the final months of an administration or legislative session without a full evaluation of the implications and the inclusion of ample public input.”

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