Propane tanks

Propane is stored in tanks like these. Enbridge’s Line 5 supplies more than half of Michigan’s annual propane needs.

(The Center Square) – The Michigan Public Service Commission will begin hearing testimony Friday related to a permit request by Enbridge to relocate a section of the Line 5 pipeline beneath the lakebed of the Straits of Mackinac.

The MPSC will hear testimony from environmental, safety and engineering experts in testimony anticipated to extend over the course of the next two weeks.

The four-mile section of Line 5 under consideration for relocation has spanned the floor of the Straits since 1953. Enbridge received permission in 2018 from former Gov. Rick Snyder and Republican legislators to move the pipeline into a tunnel Enbridge would build for an estimated $500 million, all paid for by the campany. The tunnel would be built 100 feet beneath the lake’s bed.

Administrative Law Judge Dennis Mack ruled last April that the MPSC could only review the four-mile section that traverses the Straits rather than the entire 641-mile pipeline. Mack previously narrowed considerations the commission could examine to the environmental impact  of greenhouse gases resulting from the hydrocarbons transported through the pipeline.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel have been attempting to shut down Line 5 since assuming their respective offices in January 2019. Whitmer announced she was revoking the easement between the state and Enbridge in 2020, and ordered the company to shutter its pipeline by May of 2021.

Enbridge has countered that the governor does not have the authority to shut down Line 5 for two reasons. The first, according to Enbridge, is the pipeline is protected by a 1977 international treaty between the United States and Canada. The second reason given by the Canadian-owned Enbridge is that jurisdiction over the pipeline belongs with the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

study released by the Consumer Energy Alliance this past summer concluded that total economic losses of closing Line 5 could reach $20.8 billion in lost economic activity in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Pennsylvania. Fifty-five percent of the state and 65% of the Upper Peninsula rely on Line 5 to meet propane demands.

“Millions of Michigan residents rely on the heating and transportation fuels provided by this pipeline,” Mackinac Center for Public Policy Environmental Policy Director Jason Hayes told The Center Square. “Billions of dollars in regional economic activity, and tens of thousands of jobs across the region would vanish if it were shuttered.”

The pipeline is currently operating, and plans to build the tunnel are ongoing.

“We are making progress on the Great Lakes Tunnel Project,” Bob Lehto, Enbridge area operations manager in northern Michigan, said in a statement.  “The hearing is an important step to acquire a permit to relocate a segment of L5 within a tunnel. Our Enbridge team is eager to start construction because the tunnel will benefit Michiganders and the region.”

In a separate company statement emailed to The Center Square, Enbridge noted the pipeline is safer than such alternatives as truck, rail or lake-going barges. The company also asserts the pipelines result in lower emissions and are more reliable and affordable than the pipeline alternatives.

“It’s reassuring to see that the process of finalizing the permits for the Line 5 Tunnel project is ongoing," Hayes said. “There is widespread, bipartisan, and international support for keeping this essential piece of energy infrastructure operating and for relocating the pipeline from the waters of the Great Lakes to a cement-lined tunnel, 100 feet below the surface of the Great Lakes. Getting the permitting process completed and the tunnel underway is crucial.”

Regional Editor

Bruce Walker is a regional editor at The Center Square. He previously worked as editor at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s MichiganScience magazine and The Heartland Institute’s InfoTech & Telecom News.