GOP senators, including some Up North, urge movement on Line 5
Republicans in the Michigan Senate are sending a letter to federal and state officials urging the start of a pipeline tunnel project under the Straits of Mackinac.
The Great Lakes Tunnel project would house the Line 5 pipeline that currently runs exposed along the lakebed.
Despite reaching an agreement in 2018 with the state, the tunnel has faced years of permitting delays from regulators and the Army Corps of Engineers.
State Sen. Ed McBroom (R-Waucedah Twp.) calls the delays “foolish.”
During a press conference Wednesday morning, McBroom noted rural areas, like the Upper Peninsula depend on propane carried through the pipeline.
“Discussion around energy is vibrant right now in Lansing. But the tunnel and the pipeline are being left out of that discussion and this letter is a reminder to everyone who wants to talk about energy reliability, that this issue is already on the floor. We’ve already voted for this. It should be moving forward,” McBroom said.
The pipeline itself is owned by the Canadian company Enbridge, Inc.
While it awaits approval for a tunnel project, it’s separately applying for a permit to replace part of its pipeline with the Michigan Public Service Commission.
The latest action in that case happened in May, when the latest round of briefs were due.
“As far as we know, there’s no reason to delay. The information that [the Public Service Commission] requested was already turned into them. And they’ve had several meetings subsequently without putting the issue on the agenda,” McBroom said during Wednesday’s press conference.
Enbridge estimates around 22.68 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids flow through the Line 5 pipeline daily.
According to the state, that goes to natural gas refineries in the U.P., and oil refineries in Detroit, Toledo, Ohio and Sarnia, Canada.
The state says some Michigan-based companies also use Line 5 as a means of transporting their own oil.
"Up North, I've got to tell you, we get tired of people coming up and protesting the line and patting themselves on the back as if they've done something, and then getting in their SUVs to drive home," said Sen. John Damoose (R-Harbor Springs).
Republican Senators say energy prices would rise in rural areas if the pipeline were to shut down. They say it would require a drastic increase in trucks hitting the road to make up for that missing supply.
Despite that, environmental groups beg to differ.
Sean McBrearty is Michigan state director for the group, Clean Water Action. He says much of the fuel that goes through Line 5 doesn’t actually go to Michigan households.
“That oil … goes from Superior, Wisconsin, where Line 5 starts, to Sarnia, Ontario, where Line 5 ends. Michigan is being used as a pass-thru for Canadian oil. We do not benefit,” McBrearty said.
He makes the case there are other pipelines and energy sources that can serve the U.P. without risking an oil spill in the Great Lakes.
“A lot of the local distributors in the Upper Peninsula, who are the people who actually sell Upper Peninsula residents propane, it’s not Enbridge, have started transitioning away from the pipeline years ago,” McBrearty said.
Groups like Clean Water Action have been calling for the total shut down of Line 5 for years. Meanwhile, the state Attorney General’s office has fought the tunnel agreement in court, losing one battle before starting a separate lawsuit that is ongoing.
During Wednesday’s press conference, Republican Senators pointed to a treaty between the U.S. and Canada preventing the shutdown of the pipeline that Enbridge invoked in 2021.
“If you don’t do the tunnel, they keep what they’re doing now with the pipeline. Now I know people will fight this. And they’re trying to stop Line 5 in Wisconsin and other places. But that’s not really on the table right now. So, I don’t understand why we don’t all agree, let’s get out of the way and build the tunnel,” Sen. John Damoose (R-Harbor Springs) said.
But, despite reassurances from Line 5 supporters that the pipeline is safe, McBrearty is questioning its structural integrity. He’s pointing to a 2018 anchor strike that caused three dents to the 70-year-old line.
As far as the tunnel being a safer option compared to letting the pipeline remain in the open goes, McBrearty says there’s no next best option to shutting it down.
“If this doesn’t get shut down because the government decides to act and shut it down, this is going to get shut down when it ruptures into the Great Lakes and I’d hate to see that day,” McBrearty said.