Is Michigan’s Line 5 Deal With Enbridge Enough to Protect Great Lakes?

“We cannot trust Enbridge to do these studies,” says the state’s energy chief.

The Line 5 pipeline carries petroleum products 645 miles from Wisconsin to Ontario in two pipes that sit in the water along the lake bed.

The Line 5 pipeline carries petroleum products 645 miles from Wisconsin to Ontario in two pipes that sit in the water along the lake bed.

Jake Neher/WDET

The state of Michigan has reached an interim deal with Enbridge Energy meant to improve the safety of the oil and gas company’s Line 5 pipeline, which runs under the Straits of Mackinac and the Saint Clair River.

Under the deal, Enbridge will replace a section of a controversial pipeline that runs beneath the Saint Clair River with a tunnel. It will also examine similar treatment for a section of Line 5 that runs beneath the Straits of Mackinac. The deal also calls for Enbridge to stop pumping oil and gas beneath the Straits of Mackinac when weather conditions would make it difficult to respond to a spill. And it sets a deadline in August to make a final decision about whether to shut down or replace the pipelines.

State officials have been openly critical of Enbridge and its management of Line 5 in recent months. They say this deal is a big step toward making sure there’s not a major spill in the Great Lakes.

But environmental groups aren’t sold. They say the deal doesn’t go far enough.

What is the future of the pipeline? Is this deal good enough? 

Detroit Today invited Enbridge to join this conversation. The company declined.

Host Stephen Henderson speaks with a number of experts on Detroit Today about the deal.

For Love of Water (FLOW) Executive Director Liz Kirkwood says anything short of shutting down Line 5 in vulnerable areas is not good enough.

“The governor is dictating and entering into an agreement with Enbridge that has basically given Enbridge the authority to write the final chapter of the fate of Line 5,” says Kirkwood. “And that’s a real problem.”

Valerie Brader, executive director of the Michigan Agency for Energy and co-chair of the Michigan Pipeline Safety Advisory Board, also joins Detroit Today to talk about why the state thinks its a good deal. She says she actually agrees with critics who say Enbridge cannot be trusted — and she says the deal addresses that concern.

Sandra Svoboda/WDET

 “We cannot trust Enbridge to do these studies. You need to have someone at their elbow every step of the process, going through their own files with them, and this agreement allows that. And it wouldn’t be acceptable if it didn’t,” says Brader. “Which is exactly why we’re hiring two new state employees whose entire duties will be to watch these studies to tell us if, at any point, they’re being pushed one way or another.” 

Henderson also speaks with another member of the state’s Pipeline Safety Advisory Board — someone who has a familiar business in the Straits of Mackinac.

Chris Shepler, president of Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry says he — like Kirkwood — is not satisfied with the state’s deal with Enbridge, and wants that section of Line 5 shut down or re-routed.

“It’s hard for me to trust them (Enbridge),” says Shepler. “It’s all about being trustworthy and above board, and I don’t think Enbridge has been that.”

Click on the audio player above to hear the full conversation.


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