The US Army Corps of Engineers said on Wednesday it would conduct a thorough review of Enbridge Energy’s plan to build an oil pipeline tunnel under a Great Lakes channel in Michigan, which could significantly delay the project.
The tunnel would house the replacement of part of Enbridge’s Line 5 that crosses the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac, a waterway of approximately 6.4 kilometers connecting Lake Huron and Lake Michigan.
The Michigan Department of the Environment, Great Lakes and Energy has issued a permit for the $ 500 million tunnel, but Army Corps approval is also required. The federal agency would examine the potential effects on the straits and adjacent wetlands.
The Corps could have contented itself with a tailor-made examination of the tunnel’s needs and objectives before making its decision. But he opted for an environmental impact study, which involves a more complete study, including the examination of reasonable alternatives.
“Most appropriate level of examination”
“I have concluded that an EIA is the most appropriate level of review due to the potential for impacts significantly affecting the quality of the human environment,” said Jaime A. Pinkham, Acting Deputy Secretary of the army for civil engineering work.
Thousands of comments from the public and native tribes warranted further investigation, Pinkham said, adding that navigating the busy shipping channel was also a consideration.
Enbridge had pledged to complete the tunnel by 2024, but “is evaluating the schedule” in light of the government’s decision, which will delay construction, spokesman Ryan Duffy said.
“Placing a pipeline in a new Great Lakes tunnel will provide additional levels of safety and environmental protection and will make what is currently a safe pipeline even safer, while creating jobs in Michigan and securing the energy needed by consumers in Michigan and the region, âsaid Enbridge.
The Canadian company, based in Calgary, Alta., Struck a deal in 2018 with former Republican Gov. Rick Snyder to build the tunnel. He intervened under pressure from area tribes, tourism companies and environmental groups to shut down Line 5, which carries petroleum and natural gas liquids between Superior, Wisconsin and Sarnia, Ontario.
Criticisms of the project “encouraged”
Critics argue that the submarine section – two parallel pipes laid in 1953 – is vulnerable to a spill that could pollute hundreds of kilometers of water and shoreline.
Enbridge, backed by industry and labor groups, says it is in good condition and has never leaked.
Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered Line 5’s submarine lines shut down in mid-May, a deadline the company ignored. Legal action is pending in the Federal Court. Canada, which has called the continued operation of the pipeline “non-negotiable,” is pushing the Biden administration to intervene.
The proposed tunnel is a separate regulatory issue. In addition to the Army Corps, Enbridge is also awaiting approval from the Michigan Public Service Commission.
“We are encouraged to see that the Army Corps of Engineers has responded to our call to undertake a more rigorous analysis” of the project, said Whitney Gravelle, president of the Indian community of Bay Mills. The tribe, which has treaty-guaranteed fishing rights in the straits, “is very concerned that the pipeline threatens our way of life,” she said.
Drilling through bedrock and soils under the straits would violate many environmental protection laws, said David Holtz of Oil and Water Don’t Mix, an anti-Line 5 coalition.
“It’s hard to imagine how the Enbridge tunnel project can survive the kind of in-depth, independent assessment that is now possible with today’s Army Corps decision,” Holtz said.
Enbridge said it would continue to work with the Corps on its review of the company’s claim “and toward a successful conclusion of this process.”