A new unproven technology is being proposed for the State of Michigan’s most sensitive location, the Straits of Mackinac, with huge potential impacts: a boring tunnel machine that will bore a 20’- wide tunnel 60-100 feet below the lakebed for 3.5 miles containing a 30-inch pipeline transporting Canadian crude oil and propane. This is called the Enbridge Line 5 Tunnel.
Based upon thousands of concerned Michigan citizen letters, the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) identified in June 2021 that this tunnel project is a significant potential risk to the Great Lakes environment and has required that a detailed Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) will be performed at Enbridge’s expense.
This Line 5 Tunnel Can Affect You
The Tunnel is estimated to cost $500M-$1B and will be paid for by Enbridge. Enbridge will then give the Tunnel over to the State of Michigan for ultimate ownership, operation, and maintenance with a 99-year lease to Enbridge. It has already been recognized that the fossil fuel demand will not last 99 years, and the Tunnel may end up being a stranded asset. Therefore we, the State of Michigan taxpayers will be on the hook to maintain this tunnel for years with limited to no value.
An oil release from the Line 5 Tunnel is possible from explosions of methane and propane from the lakebed geology and transport pipeline. A 1971 lakebed methane explosion that occurred during tunnel construction in Lake Huron killed 21 workers. There are similar methane pockets under the Straits.
It was recognized in 2018 by the State of Michigan and Michigan Technological University that a pipeline release would be catastrophic and cost the Michigan taxpayer over $6 billion dollars in oil cleanup costs. Also, in the event of an oil spill and during clean up actions, shipping in the Straits would be closed and Michigan and the Great Lakes region could experience a loss of $45 billion — again a financial hit to the State of Michigan citizens and no financial liability to Enbridge.
An oil spill from the Line 5 Tunnel would devastate our tourist economy in Michigan. Beach and shoreline communities would suffer with oil residues and impacted wildlife for years to come. In fact, the 2010 Enbridge oil spill cleanup and recovery in the Kalamazoo is still happening. Tourist perception of the oil spill extent and impact would have a significant financial impact on Michigan and shoreline communities.
Indigenous tribes have voiced significant environmental and cultural concerns about the existing Line 5 and the Line 5 Tunnel. Cultural and archaeological areas would be impacted by the construction of the Line 5 Tunnel. Water quality impacts and the release of oil from the Tunnel would impact land and fishery rights secured under the Washington Treaty.
The EIS will look at several issues such as the need for the Tunnel, alternative locations other than using the Straits, climate change impacts, natural resource impacts and social/cultural impacts. Public meetings are expected in Mackinaw City during the EIS process. A draft and final report will be issued by the Corps at the end of the study with their decision to disallow or allow Enbridge to build the Line 5 Tunnel.
What You Can Do About the Line 5 Tunnel
The first thing is to become educated on the Tunnel and its environmental impacts and how it can impact you and your community’s quality of life. See Michigan’s page on Line 5 as well as Oil & Water Don’t Mix for more info.
You can understand and get involved in the Environmental Impact Statement process by visiting the Army Corps of Engineers webpage on Line 5. After a Notice of Intent (the start of the EIS), expected in August or September, citizens will have 60-90 days to send in their written comments, even if it is on a post card. An address will be provided by the Army Corps for comments.
You can request to be notified when the Notice of Intent is published by sending an email to Line_5_LRE@usace.army.mil.
If you have questions about the Line 5 Tunnel, contact the Army Corps of Engineer’s William R. Dowell, Chief, Public Affairs, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Detroit District at (313) 226-4680, or email him at email@example.com.
Let’s work together to protect our Great Lakes!
We here in Michigan cherish our freshwater; the Great Lakes contains over 20% of the freshwater on the planet. We rely on Lake Michigan and the Great Lakes for our life and quality of life. An unproven, unsafe, and high-risk Tunnel has no place in the most sensitive location in Michigan.
Get involved and make your voice heard.
As the Michigan state motto says: Si quaeris peninsulam amoenam circumspice — If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you.
Let’s keep it that way!
Thanks to Art Hirsch for writing this article. Art is working hard to protect our glorious and unique Great Lakes, and shutting down Line 5 is a key part of that. Thanks, Art!