Enbridge taking steps on oil pipeline tunnel, Whitmer says state hasn’t signed off

By: - June 17, 2019 5:52 pm

Mackinac Bridge | Susan J. Demas

Any progress Canadian energy company Enbridge makes on a controversial $500 million oil tunnel has not been authorized by the state and comes “at the company’s own risk,” warned Zack Pohl, spokesman for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks at the Mackinac Policy Conference, May 29, 2019 | Andrew Roth

That response came hours after Enbridge Energy announced Monday that it is moving forward with its planned summer rock and soil sampling as part of a self-financed utility tunnel that will contain a new oil pipeline 100 feet under the Straits of Mackinac.

Enbridge said in a statement that it is still “fully authorized to undertake the geotechnical program” and that the confirmation last week “preserves the schedule to complete the tunnel at the earliest possible date.”

The then-Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) issued a permit in January allowing Enbridge to begin rock and soil sampling this summer.


But Pohl said a prior agreement allowing the company to move ahead on its tunnel plan is “void” after Attorney General Dana Nessel’s March legal opinion that a 2018 law creating a state panel to oversee the project is unconstitutional.

“The governor is committed to getting the existing dual pipelines out of the water as soon as possible to protect the Great Lakes,” Pohl said in a statement.

Enbridge's Line 5.
Line 5 | National Wildlife Federation

Pohl confirmed that the permit allowing Enbridge’s soil and rock sampling remains in effect, but he said any further construction has not been approved by the state.

However, the Canadian oil company “received written confirmation last week” from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE), which succeeded the DEQ, saying it can continue its planned sampling the week of June 17, said Enbridge spokesman Ryan Duffy.

These latest developments come after talks between Whitmer’s office and the energy company deteriorated this month. Enbridge filed suit in the Michigan Court of Claims this month challenging Nessel’s legal opinion that a 2018 law creating the Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority (MSCA) overseeing the new tunnel is unconstitutional.


Nessel’s legal opinion disbanded the MSCA, whose members were appointed by GOP former Gov. Rick Snyder to oversee Enbridge’s planned utility tunnel project and, in effect, boxed Whitmer out of involvement, according to the governor.

A Whitmer spokeswoman said earlier in June that Enbridge “walked away from the negotiating table. The company claims that Whitmer made an unreasonable request in asking that the tunnel project be completed within two years.

Whitmer issued an executive directive in March prohibiting state departments from granting any more permits Enbridge may need to complete the project.

A spokesman for Enbridge did not immediately return inquiries from the Advance about what other permits the company might require.


After negotiation with Enbridge ended in court preparations this month, Whitmer created a new state task force to look into alternate propane delivery methods for Upper Peninsula residents. In addition to supplying crude oil, Enbridge’s existing 66-year-old Line 5 supplies a small amount of natural gas liquids.

Whitmer’s office said in a previous statement that Line 5 “poses an unacceptable threat to the Great Lakes.”

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Michael Gerstein
Michael Gerstein

Michael Gerstein is a former Advance reporter covering the Governor's office, criminal justice and the environment.