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Ahead of Enbridge report, experts say tunnels are not the solution

One of the anchors used to hold Line 5 in place under the Straits of Mackinac.
Screen shot of a Ballard Marine inspection video
Enbridge Energy
Experts weigh in on risks of a Line 5 oil spill in the Great Lakes while waiting for Enbridge to release its report on Friday.

Enbridge Energy will release a report on their controversial Line 5 pipeline this Friday at the request of Governor Snyder.  

Enbridge is expected to recommend replacing the existing Line 5 with tunneled pipelines, much to the dismay of experts and attorneys across the state.

The 65-year-old pipeline runs beneath the Mackinac Straits. It transports natural gas liquids to refineries in the Upper Peninsula and Canada, where the gas is turned into propane.

Public opposition to the line has been building since another Michigan pipeline spilled into the Kalamazoo River in 2010. Concern escalated in April of this year when the anchor of a ship made three large dents in the pipeline.

Snyder and Enbridge have discussed replacing the pipeline with a tunnel that would sit below the lakebed in the past, and earlier this month, Snyder said he hopes to eventually find an alternative to Line 5. But activists are urging him to just get rid of the Line 5 system entirely.

Liz Kirkwood is the Executive Director of For Love of Water, a Great Lakes protection organization. During a conference call organized in anticipation of Enbridge’s report, Kirkwood said talk of building tunnels is just a distraction from the threat of what could end up being a multi-billion-dollar oil spill in the Great Lakes.

“A tunnel in the straits would do nothing to protect those Michigan and Great Lakes water ways from a Line 5 spill,” she said. “The only effective way to eliminate an oil spill threat to the rest of our Great Lakes is to actually stop oil flowing through the Great Lakes.”

Research done on the topic has determined Line 5 oil spill could mean environmental devastation for the Great Lakes, which contain 85 percent of all the freshwater in North America. It could also bring financial distress for the state— a study completed last month says a spill from Line 5 could cost Michigan over $6 billion in damages.

Mike Ripley, the environmental coordinator for the Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority, was also on the conference call. He says a Line 5 spill could even have cultural impacts for Michiganders.

“Commercial fishing in those waters not only supplies tribal families with jobs and livelihoods but also supplies a great many restaurants in our region with fresh fish for Michigan's tourism based economy.”

Ripley and other environmentalists worry a tunnel would not effectively prevent a spill.

Even if it does, construction could disrupt the tourism industry for at least 27 months and damage the environment around the Straits.

Enbridge will not comment until their report is released on Friday.

Editor's note: Enbridge Energy is a financial sponsor of Michigan Radio.

Maya Goldman is a newsroom intern for Michigan Radio. She is currently a student at the University of Michigan, where she studies anthropology and writing. During the school year, Maya also works as a senior news editor and podcast producer for The Michigan Daily.
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