Line 5 tunnel project under Straits of Mackinac approved by Michigan Public Service Commission

The controversial project that would construct a tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac as part of a plan to relocate pipelines that carry oil between Michigan's two peninsulas has been approved by the state energy regulator board. 

The Michigan Public Service Commission approved the plan with 2 commissioners voting in favor and one abstaining. 

Enbridge, the Canadian company that owns the Line 5 pipeline, proposed building a tunnel under the lakebed as an alternative means of transporting fuel. Concerns that anchor strikes could damage the pipeline elevated criticism over the project. 

The commission said it considered other ways of moving fuel but decided the plan, which includes constructing a tunnel that would house a 30-inch pipeline under the bedrock, was the best way to safely transport the material.

The approval does come with conditions, including receiving full governmental approval, that no third-party utilities may be placed near the tunnel without further approval from the commission, and Enbridge's plans must exceed the minimum federal regulations to ensure safety. 

The decision is a blow to activists that argued the project threatened the Great Lakes. 

However, the commission said the public need for a replacement of the aging dual pipelines that currently lie at the bottom of the Great Lakes was necessary. Without an operating pipeline, suppliers of fuel "would need to use higher-risk and costlier alternative fuel supply sources and transportation for Michigan customers, including those who use propane for home heating," the release from the commission said.

"We are an important step closer to finally, once and for all, removing the threat the current pipeline poses to our Great Lakes," said Chairman Dan Scripps during Friday's meeting.

FLOW, or For Love of Water, called the commission's decision "disgraceful" and said it "betrays" its responsibility to the public.

"The Straits are no safer while an unprecedented tunnel perpetuates the threat of an explosion spilling oil and gas into these ecologically fragile and economically vital waters," they said in a statement. 

Enbridge called the decision "a major step forward" toward making the project a reality.

"We are ready to begin work on this project. The only thing standing in the way of locating a replacement section of Line 5 into the tunnel is a decision on our permit application by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers."

Fighting Line 5 has been a staple of Gretchen Whitmer's two candidacies for governor, eventually taking her fight to the courts ordering the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to revoke the easement that allowed it to operate dual pipelines under the Straits of Mackinac. 

State Attorney General Dana Nessel also supported the push to shut down the pipeline, filing a brief in a Wisconsin federal court in May after the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians requested a judge shut down the pipeline.


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In its assessment of Enbridge's application, the commission found the replacement plan was a "significant improvement" over the current operation by "virtually eliminating the risk of anchor strikes in addition to the replacement segment being housed in a tunnel that can serve as a secondary containment vessel that would contain a leak if one developed."

The application for the tunnel project was first submitted in April 2020. It specifically refers to a four-mile stretch where the tunnel would be buried between 60-370 feet beneath the lakebed. Once constructed, it would include ventilation systems, leak detectors, and dewatering equipment. 

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