Can We Be Done Talking About The Tunnel?

Enbridge’s Line 5 Tunnel Under the Straits of Mackinac is a Red Herring, and We’re Wasting Time

For years, communities and advocates have called Enbridge Energy’s Line 5 pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac a “ticking time bomb.” Earlier this month, we learned this is more than a moniker or figure of speech.

On February 3, Bay Mills Indian Community filed testimony from experts who agreed that significant explosion risks worry them when it comes to the proposed Line 5 tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac in Michigan. From the risk of a methane leak causing explosions—like the ones that killed three workers in the Milwaukee Deep Tunnel Project and caused the Lake Huron Water Tunnel explosion—to the Natural Gas Liquids (NGLs) and crude oil being transported through Line 5, geologists, engineers, and pipeline safety experts all agree: The tunnel isn’t safe.

Sure, Enbridge says that it can work with regulators to make the tunnel safe, to have it adhere to all the regulations and standards required of it. One problem: There are no regulations for a pipeline in a 4 mile, enclosed tunnel. Regulators have no authority over Enbridge to compel them to comply with any regulations, even if they did exist.

Line 5 turns 70-years-old this year, risking 20% of the world’s fresh water and drinking water for millions. The pipeline has never been properly supported, has been hit by multiple boat anchors and has dangerous bends and dents, which is why Governor Whitmer revoked Enbridge’s license to operate in 2020. Enbridge has operated Line 5 illegally since. Photo courtesy of: NWF FOIA

Just look at how Enbridge is operating right now. Without consequence, it’s violating several legal requirements and easements, including trespassing along the Sovereign Tribal territory of the Bad River Band in Wisconsin to continue pocketing millions of dollars per day. This is a historical problem for Enbridge. Their gross negligence and mishandling of Line 6b led to one of the most catastrophic spills in recent history. They’ve demonstrated the same lack of judgment with construction of Line 3, and they have already leaked over 35 times along Line 5, resulting in over 1 million gallons released (that we know of). 

But this all distracts and detracts from the urgent need to shut down Line 5, and Enbridge is loving it. While they rake in the money, they have no problem belaboring the tunnel. It gives them time to rework Federal permits so that Line 5, which was only supposed to last for 50 years, can go on operating unsafely in perpetuity. Environmentalists, local businesses, scientists, Tribes and frontline communities have been sounding the alarm, but have been drowned out by the noise of the bogus tunnel scheme signed by lame duck Governor Rick Snyder.

So let’s end the tunnel debate. Not just because we know that building the tunnel is too risky and the questions that experts have posed have gone unanswered. For example, we don’t have answers to what Enbridge would do if oil and gas leaks were found in the tunnel. We don’t even know answers to basic questions, like what would happen if the drill got stuck or a pocket of gas were struck during construction. Instead, let’s stop worrying about those answers, which will assuredly leave us unsatisfied and waste more time. 

The University of Michigan Line 5 spill modeling shows over 700 miles of Great Lakes shoreline at risk from a moderate size rupture from Line 5. Because the currents in this location change direction every few days, and 10 times the strength of Niagara Falls, scientists have labeled this as the worst possible place for a Great Lakes oil spill.

Let’s shut down Line 5 and stop allowing Enbridge to distract us with a red herring, turning our attention to this debate, wasting time, and allowing Enbridge to continue to illegally pocket millions a day. President Biden has a duty to step in and protect the Great Lakes, citizens rights, and Tribal sovereignty. If Biden is serious about upholding our rights and preventing toxic disasters, he and Secretary Pete Buttigieg need to speak up against Enbridge’s attacks and work to start an orderly shutdown of Line 5. Revoke the presidential permit.