Back in August, I shared five reasons why we must shut down Line 5 as soon as possible, prioritize the protection of the Great Lakes and focus on a just energy transition. But despite the facts staring us right in the face, Enbridge continues to offer a dangerous and false solution to the threat posed to the Great Lakes by Line 5. They want to encase Line 5 in a tunnel that would run through the Straits of Mackinac. This proposal is extremely dangerous, harmful, and shortsighted and must not be viewed as a solution in any way.
Here are 5 reasons this tunnel is a dangerous false solution:
1. Experts have serious concerns about the tunnel.
Independent experts have said the tunnel proposal and plan raises serious environmental and feasibility concerns. The proposed tunnel and project construction will run through ecologically significant coastal wetlands in the Straits of Mackinac. Over 90 per cent of the fish in the Great Lakes depend on wetlands at some point in their lives, making wetlands conservation and protection paramount. On top of that, more than 75 per cent of the tunnel boring area is in “very poor” or “poor” quality rock conditions which increases the risk of construction instability. There is also a risk of explosions because of the presence of methane gas.
2. Climate breakdown and greenhouse gas emissions.
Recent scientific analysis shows that the tunnel project and pipeline could contribute an additional 27 million metric tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere annually, and generate $41 billion in climate damages between 2027 and 2070. We are in a climate emergency and borderline climate breakdown – we cannot afford a project like this if we hope to limit warming and avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
3. The tunnel will take at least 6 years to build.
Before any tunnel construction could begin, the tunnel would have to undergo a full federal Environmental Impact Statement in the U.S. to determine its environmental impacts. Enbridge would have to investigate the environmental risks of building the tunnel, explain how they will mitigate those risks, and explore all possible alternatives to the tunnel. Environmental Impact Statements can take two to three years to complete. And after all factors are taken into account, it is unlikely that Enbridge will ever get the green light for the tunnel to go ahead.
In the unlikely event that Enbridge got the go ahead, it would still take years to build the tunnel. Enbridge recently stated that construction would not be completed until 2028. This is troublesome for a few reasons including the pipeline’s age, ongoing state of deterioration, the immediate threat it poses to the Straits of Mackinac and the Great Lakes, and the immediate need to decarbonize the energy system.
We do not have years to spend waiting for the approval and construction of a false solution. We must address the immediate threats this pipeline poses to our fresh water and to our climate.
4. There are real world examples of how disaster could strike at any time.
There were just two real world examples of how dangerous underwater pipelines are. In July 2021 the Gulf of Mexico erupted into an eye of fire due to a pipeline explosion . More recently in October a pipeline spilled off the coast of California, and it is believed this was caused by an anchor strike that happened months earlier.
For the record, there have already been two incidents that could have caused the kind of rupture we need to avoid. In 2018, the pipelines were struck and damaged by a ship’s anchor, despite a no-anchor zone being in place. Then, in 2019, pipeline supports were accidentally damaged by Enbridge contractors, but it was a year before the damage was even discovered.
It is clear that Enbridge cannot guarantee the safety of this area despite the grandiose claims they make that this pipeline is “safe” and that there’s no reason to fear a rupture into the Straits of Mackinac. Given their track record of anchor strikes, spills, safety violations, and how long it took them to notice when Line 6B spilled into the Kalamazoo (17 hours!), it is clear that Enbridge cannot be trusted to safeguard the Straits of Mackinac or the Great Lakes.
5. The tunnel will desecrate ancient Anishinaabeg artifacts.
The tunnel’s construction through the Straits of Mackinac would desecrate ancient artifacts of the Anishinaabeg people who have inhabited this part of the world for over 10,000 years. This is, without question, completely unacceptable. The Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians passed a resolution in January to begin an application to classify the Straits as a Traditional Cultural Property. Traditional Cultural Properties are rooted in a traditional community’s history and are important in maintaining the continuing cultural identity of the community.
Enbridge needs to stop disrespecting the Great Lakes.
Enbridge not only tries to label this dangerous tunnel proposal as a “solution”, they go so far as to call it the “Great Lakes tunnel”. But this proposed tunnel is not being put forward for the sake of the Great Lakes. It’s purely to protect Enbridge’s profits.
Those who view the tunnel as a solution also seem to be forgetting that the tunnel would not encase the entire pipeline. Line 5’s route crosses over 400 other water bodies that have already seen major spills occur. The proposed tunnel would leave them all at risk.
The Great Lakes are a magnificent and invaluable system of freshwater bodies in the world that must be protected. We need to be looking towards the alternatives to Line 5 that we know exist. Enbridge’s “Great Lakes tunnel” is a disrespectful, dangerous proposal that will only cause more harm.
Now is the time to demand our government stop throwing their support behind this dangerous pipeline and the proposed tunnel as a solution to the ongoing and major threat that Line 5 poses. Call on our government to look at the Line 5 alternatives that will protect the Great Lakes and help us on the pathway towards decarbonizing society.
Correction: A previous version of this blog stated that a 15,000 pound anchor fell between the twin Line 5 pipelines in July, 2021. The anchor did not fall, it was abandoned between the pipelines.