July 2, 2020

The Audacity of Enbridge

Guest Column
Aug. 24, 2019

Michigan said no to Enbridge Inc.’s Line 5 by electing a governor who promised to decommission the pipeline that threatens our Great Lakes.
The backroom deal that former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder made with Enbridge, a Canadian multinational energy transportation company based in Calgary, Alberta, called for a new Line 5 in a tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac, ignoring the advice of his own safety board. 

The agreement says Michigan will own the oil tunnel upon completion and lease it to Enbridge for 99 years. But now that state Attorney General Dana Nessel has filed suit to begin the process of decommissioning Line 5, a new backroom deal is brewing. A bill supporting the Enbridge tunnel is expected to be introduced in Michigan’s House of Representatives soon. 

Every lawmaker in Michigan agrees that the Great Lakes are our most precious asset and need to be protected. Yet that protection is in grave danger as pressure to support a Line 5 tunnel builds. Enbridge and their fossil fuel allies have mounted a massive Moving Michigan propaganda campaign. Touted as a safer alternative to the old Line 5, the tunnel plan is actually unsafe and disastrous for Michigan. It would keep Line 5 operating 20-25 years beyond its intended lifespan. 

There is nothing safe about drilling into bedrock for a tunnel next to an outdated and damaged pipeline that is still carrying oil through what University of Michigan experts have called the worst possible place for an oil spill in the Great Lakes. Enbridge acknowledges that the 66-year-old line needs to be replaced but plans to keep on using it while a new line in a tunnel is built, exposing the straits to a growing risk of a catastrophic oil spill. Enbridge’s willingness to risk our water for the bottom line is not surprising. What is surprising is that any lawmaker would support this foreign corporate venture when it holds so little benefit for Michigan.

It is Enbridge that needs Line 5, not Michigan. They need it to reach eastern Canadian markets since the TransCanada pipeline was rejected for environmental reasons in their own country. Today 98% of Line 5's propane liquids and 90% of its oil go to Sarnia, Ontario, not Michigan. If we didn't allow our straits to be their shortcut, Enbridge could use its pipelines around the lakes to move oil to Sarnia. The risk to Michigan is not only unacceptable, it is completely unnecessary. 

Enbridge is willing to build and pay for a $500 million tunnel, not "to secure the energy needs of the state" as their Moving Michigan Campaign would have us believe. They are doing it to keep oil and profits flowing. If safety was a concern, they would not use an unsafe pipeline while building one that is ostensibly safer.

Enbridge included many clauses which allow them to back out of the tunnel agreement. $500 million is an investment risk that pays off for them only if the price of oil is high 10 years from now – an unlikely prospect as the world responds to the climate crisis.

If Enbridge chooses to opt out of the tunnel agreement, Michigan would be left with the tunnel debt, or worse, with the price of a disaster if Line 5 failed. It cost Enbridge $1.3 billion to clean up 25 miles of the Kalamazoo River when Line 6B failed, yet their liability is capped at $8 billion for 500 miles of Great Lakes shoreline.

The Consumer Energy Alliance, made up of companies like ExxonMobil, BP, and Chevron, is the muscle and money behind the Moving Michigan campaign. Michigan chambers of commerce receive money from Enbridge. And Enbridge is sending resolutions to county boards of commissioners full of "whereas" statements supporting a tunnel. These national, state, and local campaigns are driving the advertising and the misinformation intended to convince Michigan of a non-existent need for a tunnel. 

Enbridge tells us the Upper Peninsula will face a cold winter without Line 5's propane, but alternate means of supplying this propane are available. Propane is already delivered by truck or rail in the UP today. Without Line 5, propane delivery would cost only a few cents more per gallon, as a Dynamic Risk Alternatives Report of 2017 has shown. Another option is to build a four-inch line from Superior, Wisconsin to Rapid River in the UP for the natural gas liquids (NGLs).

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's U.P. Energy Task Force is looking into these propane alternatives so that Michigan is prepared for a responsible decommissioning of Line 5, not a sudden failure. Only 2% of Line 5's NGLs are drawn off in Rapid River and converted to propane for the U.P. The rest goes to Canadian markets.

Recently Michigan legislators have sought to enter Attorney General Nessel’s lawsuit in order to support the tunnel – a troubling development. If fossil fuel dark money prevails and an oil tunnel is built by and for Enbridge through Michigan waters, one thing is certain: old Line 5 must not operate in the interim. The audacity of the Enbridge tunnel campaign is hard to believe. The only thing harder to believe is that some Michigan legislators are buying it.
Barbara Stamiris is a retired educator and environmental activist. She was an intervenor in federal hearings for the Midland nuclear plant and testified before Congress about the plant, which never opened. She is a member of Leelanau League of Women Voters and Oil & Water Dont Mix. She recently received NMEAC's Environmentalist of the Year Award in the volunteer category.


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