Departing Governor and Lame Duck Legislature Speed toward 99-Year Oil Tunnel Scheme, Leaving Mackinac Straits at Risk from Line 5 Pipelines

Enbridge’s Line 5 is already past its life expectancy and pumping far more oil than originally planned

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FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood testifying Dec. 11, 2018, at the Michigan House of Representatives Government Operations Committee.
FLOW Deputy Director Kelly Thayer testifying Dec. 11, 2018, at the Michigan House of Representatives Government Operations Committee.

In coordinated fashion, the Michigan’s lame-duck legislature on Tuesday and governor today opened the flood gates to a 99-year deal for a Canadian oil tunnel under the Great Lakes.

Their vision would lock in a century of oil transport through the Mackinac Straits when scientists agree that the world has a decade or so to change to renewable energy sources or face intensifying rounds of extreme storms, heat, floods, and drought from a changing climate.

Despite reasoned and compelling appeals (see video at 10:56 mark here) from businesses, environmental advocates, and current and former members of the Mackinac Bridge Authority, state lawmakers on Tuesday rushed the tunnel bill in just hours through committee and full House on a 74-34 vote and Senate 25-12, with behind strong lobbying for the tunnel by Enbridge, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, and groups representing labor, energy, and infrastructure. (See how state Senators voted here on page 2118 and state House members here on page 2536.)

Representatives of FLOW testified against Senate Bill 1197, and were joined in Lansing by tribal leaders and leaders of Oil & Water Don’t Mix, Great Lakes Business Network, Michigan Environmental Council, Clean Water Action, Mackinac Straits Alliance, National Wildlife Federation, Groundwork Center, Friends of the Mackinac Bridge, Michigan League of Conservation Voters, Michigan League of Women Voters, Sierra Club, and more.

Today (Wednesday), Gov. Snyder signed the legislation, and then appointed the three members to the Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority Board created in the new law. The law calls for either the Mackinac Bridge Authority or the MSCA by December 21 to receive from Gov. Snyder a draft agreement with Enbridge for the authority board to sign by December 31, leaving just days to negotiate the details regarding legal, fiscal, and liability concerns tied to the state owning the tunnel and leasing it for 99 years to Canada's Enbridge.

The Governor’s latest draft agreement with Enbridge is expected to authorize the company to continue operating its decaying oil pipelines in the Straits for 10 years or more while Enbridge considers whether or not to build the tunnel. The Line 5 pipelines threaten the drinking water source for half of Michigan residents and risk a $45 billion blow to shipping and the steel industry. Line was built in 1953 and is 15 years past its life expectancy and carrying 80 percent more oil than called for in the the original design. 

The rapid-fire political moves come as departing Gov. Snyder and state lawmakers race to lock in agreements and laws to limit the choices and powers of incoming Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel, who have publicly opposed the tunnel and Line 5 continuing to pump oil through the Mackinac Straits.

Enbridge's dual Line 5 pipelines in the Mackinac Straits push up to 23 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids daily through in the Straits of Mackinac, where Lake Michigan meets Lake Huron. Line 5, which begins in Superior, Wisconsin, and ends in Sarnia, Ontario, is a link in Enbridge's vast North America network.

Line 5 has leaked more than 30 times, spilling more than 1.1 million gallons of oil across Michigan's Upper and Lower Peninsulas. Enbridge in 2010 also caused the 1.2 million gallon spill of heavy tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River and its watershed in southwest Michigan.

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Enbridge’s Line 5 is already past its life expectancy and pumping far more oil than originally planned