State panel authorizes start of Line 5 tunnel bidding process

Canadian report offers alternatives for Line 5, Enbridge calls it ‘misguided’

By: - February 17, 2022 3:04 pm

Mackinac Bridge | Allison R. Donahue

While the federal Line 5 court case between Attorney General Dana Nessel and Canadian pipeline company Enbridge trudges along, a small state panel gave the green light Wednesday for bidding to begin for the construction of Line 5’s tunnel-encased replacement pipeline.

On the same day, a Canadian report pushed back on Enbridge’s warnings of an energy crisis in the event that Nessel does successfully order the shutdown of the current pipeline.

The Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority (MSCA), a three-person panel with full, independent authority to oversee Enbridge’s tunnel project in the Straits of Mackinac, approved the company’s request for proposal (RFP) Wednesday morning. That was despite the absence of its third member and outcry from groups that oppose the project.

An RFP is a document that solicits formal bidding proposals from potential vendors. In this case, Enbridge is asking for construction companies to submit proposals for the Line 5 tunnel project.

Democrat Paul Novak of Detroit was not present at the meeting. Novak is the newest member, having been appointed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in February 2021. He has also been the lone member to raise issues with transparency concerns regarding the panel’s duties.

Enbridge spokesperson Ryan Duffy said Thursday that the company will put out requests in the next few weeks, then will review the submissions. He expects the whole selection process to take about six months.

By approving the RFP for the tunnel project construction contractor, the MSCA concurs that it meets all requirements specified in the tunnel project agreement between Enbridge and the state.

Enbridge, St. Ignace | Susan J. Demas

That agreement had been negotiated with GOP former Gov. Rick Snyder, who finalized the deal with Enbridge shortly before leaving office in 2018. The statute creating the MSCA — and tying the Whitmer administration’s hands on reversing the deal — was rushed through the 2018 Lame Duck session by the GOP-controlled Legislature before being swiftly signed into law by Snyder.

The MSCA is specifically authorized to oversee all aspects of the tunnel project and ensure it comes to fruition. It is separate from the three state regulatory bodies in charge of granting the construction permits necessary for the tunnel, i.e. the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE), Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

So far, only EGLE has granted its portion of permits for Enbridge’s project.

“Enbridge has assembled a world-class team for the project, and with the MSCA’s concurrence Enbridge is prepared to issue the RFP to select a construction contractor to build this critical utility infrastructure modernization project,” Duffy said Thursday.

Lansing-based Progress Michigan criticized MSCA’s approval of the RFP as a “step in the wrong direction for government transparency and accountability.”

“When former Republican Gov. Rick Snyder created the MSCA during the 2018 lame duck session, it was an unprecedented move to give a handful of individuals the power to rubber stamp the flawed Line 5 tunnel,” said Lonnie Scott, the group’s executive director. “What we saw today is a continuation of that effort to give a multinational fossil fuel corporation greater leverage than the legitimate concerns of Michigan residents.”

Scott also said that the two present MSCA members also ignored expert testimony Wednesday that warned of an explosion risk during tunnel construction.

“According to the Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority’s website, they are responsible for ‘independent oversight’,” Scott said. “Unfortunately, today’s meeting showed anything but ‘independent oversight’ as they took Enbridge’s word at face value despite the corporation’s troubled past in Michigan, including their 2010 oil spill into the Kalamazoo River, the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history.

“The tunnel project is just a ploy for Enbridge to continue raking in profits while Line 5 remains a ticking time bomb in the Great Lakes.”

Canadian report counters Enbridge claims

A Canadian environmental advocacy organization this week released a 15-page report exploring and validating alternatives for Line 5 from the Canadian perspective.

Environmental Defence’s report echoes findings from National Wildlife Federation (NWF)-commissioned research from the London Economics International in 2018.

“Enbridge claims that a Line 5 closure would trigger an energy supply shortage. But this analysis shows that this is simply not true,” said Michelle Woodhouse, water program manager at Environmental Defence. “… A planned and swift closure is both feasible and necessary.”

The new report was funded by the private, Flint-based Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. It finds that viable alternatives to Line 5 include utilizing the full capacity of Line 78, another Enbridge pipeline that travels to Sarnia alongside Line 5, which could reduce any crude oil shortfall in Ontario and Quebec up to 255,000 bpd (barrels per day).

By making upgrades to Line 78A and Line 78B’s pumping facilities, Environmental Defence concludes that it could reduce the shortfall by another 119,000 bpd.

Rail transit is another option, the report states. With two to three additional trains moving through existing routes, 119,000 bpd could be added. That would result in a consumer price increase of about 1.8 cents per liter (roughly 0.47 cents).

Roughly one additional marine tanker on existing routes serving Quebec’s Valero refinery could also transport that much oil.

The 80,000 bpd of natural gas liquids (NGLs) that Line 5 currently transports, however, would likely need to find another route. Environmental Defence suggests that alternative sources of NGLs could be sourced from nearby regions.

Map of Enbridge’s Lakehead pipeline system, including Line 5 and Line 78 | Environmental Defence report

Enbridge has long argued that any shutdown to the Line 5 pipeline would result in a costly and detrimental energy crisis in both the Midwest and Canada.

Duffy pushed back on the new report on Thursday.

“Environmental Defence Canada’s plan would put the environment at risk as it would burn more fuel to transport energy, clog critical roads and rail lines and create unnecessary energy dislocations while raising prices,” Duffy said.

“Environmental Defence also comes up short in that it cites another pipeline (Line 78) as a viable alternative source, yet that pipeline is already full and meeting the demands of other customers.”

Duffy added that the “misguided plan” only proves that a Line 5 shutdown would have a “significant and immediate impact on the region’s energy supply.”

Criticizing many points made by the report, Duffy concludes that the best long-term plan to maintain the region’s energy needs is the Line 5 tunnel project.

But the report won praise from environmental organizations in Michigan.

“These findings show, once again, that Enbridge Energy and its surrogates simply cannot be trusted. They have been misleading the public with scare tactics about the criticality of Line 5,” said Beth Wallace, NWF Great Lakes campaign manager.

“In fact, this analysis uses Enbridge’s own claims along with publicly available data to show that Enbridge is choosing profit over people, wildlife, and clean water when it comes to Line 5. Enbridge continues to misrepresent the need for Line 5 because they make $1 million to $2 million every day Line 5 operates,” she continued.

Sean McBrearty, spokesperson for the anti-Line 5 Oil & Water Don’t Mix coalition, said in a statement that the new report “explodes the myth that Canadians are handcuffed to the dangerous Line 5 oil pipeline for their energy supply.”

“In Michigan, we know first-hand that we can’t trust Enbridge,” McBrearty said. “It was Enbridge’s negligence that led in 2010 to the largest oil pipeline rupture in the state’s history. Enbridge’s public relations spin on the need for Line 5 should not survive the facts documented in this new Canadian report.”

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Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins

Laina G. Stebbins is a former Michigan Advance reporter. A lifelong Michigander, she is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service.