Michigan panel OKs Great Lakes pipeline tunnel

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich.  —  A plan to build an oil pipeline tunnel beneath a channel linking Lakes Huron and Michigan has won final approval.

One week after it was established, a Michigan panel approved an agreement between outgoing Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration and the Canadian pipeline company Enbridge. It calls for drilling the 4-mile (6.4 kilometer) tunnel through bedrock under the Straits of Mackinac.

The new pipeline segment will replace twin pipes along the lake bed. They are part of Enbridge’s Line 5. The pipeline carries oil and natural gas liquids between Superior, Wisconsin, and Sarnia, Ontario.

The unanimous approval from the three-member Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority accomplishes Snyder’s goal of sealing the deal before leaving office this month. His successor, Democrat Gretchen Whitmer, has criticized the tunnel plan.

Enbridge released a written statement Wednesday evening that says, in part, “Our continued commitment to modernizing our system at the Straits of Mackinac will make Line 5 among the safest, most reliable stretches of pipeline in North America.

“Most importantly, the replacement of Line 5 inside a tunnel will protect one of the most important and vital natural resources in the world. Buried 100 feet below the lakebed, the chances of a product release into the Straits are reduced to near zero.  The agreements completed this week in partnership with the State of Michigan and the Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority reflect Enbridge’s commitment to environmental protection at the Straits.In fact, Enbridge has already applied for permits to begin taking rock and soil samples at the Straits. The results from this work will provide information that will aid in the design and construction of a tunnel. Our target completion date for the tunnel project is 2024. “

The Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority met for the first time Wednesday in St. Ignace. The Michigan DNR says in a news release the tunnel will house a replacement segment for the Line 5 pipeline.

The three-member panel considered recent agreements between Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration and Enbridge Inc. The Canadian company wants to drill a tunnel through bedrock under the straits area connecting Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. The approved agreements will soon be posted online.

The tunnel would hold a new section of Enbridge’s Line 5, which carries oil and natural gas liquids between Superior, Wisconsin, and Sarnia, Ontario.

It would replace a more than 4-mile-long (6.4-kilometer-long) dual segment of pipe that runs along the lakebed.

Environmental groups oppose the tunnel and want Line 5 shut down.

The Michigan DNR says Governor Snyder and leaders of the departments of Natural Resources and Environmental Quality signed a separate agreement with Enbridge. ”

The Third Agreement requires Enbridge to undertake an enhanced inspection and stewardship regimen. The agreement also includes interpretations of the 1953 easement for the dual pipelines on the bottom of the Straits, as well as ongoing financial assurance requirements for the pipelines.

Enbridge says a fact sheet, a video and additional details can be found on its website.

Enbridge says additional measures that will be used right away on the current Line 5 pipelines include:

  • Providing funding for cameras to give the Coast Guard real-time monitoring capabilities of ships entering the Straits;
  • Shutting down Line 5 in the Straits during adverse weather conditions;
  • Enhancing safety at other Line 5 water crossings.

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The Associated Press contributed to much of this report.

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