As Line 5 pipeline owner Enbridge Inc. declares its proposed underwater tunnel project a perfect fit for the Biden administration’s Build Back Better agenda, environmentalists continue their fight to close the pipeline completely, citing threats to the Great Lakes watershed and to the global atmosphere.
Calgary-based Enbridge has hit upon a new angle to justify its US$500-million plan to replace the twinned pipe that currently runs along the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac, reports the Globe and Mail.
“The tunnel is a job creator, it protects the environment, and it secures economic security for the entire region,” said Executive Vice-President Colin Gruending, making a case for why Line 5 fits with Build Back Better’s objective to bolster the post-COVID U.S. economy. In fact, Build Back Better’s agenda includes an extensive infrastructure plan with an energy strategy that does not focus on fossil fuels.
As for how a fossil fuel pipeline project could possibly protect the environment, the company says the tunnel would be drilled so deep as to “virtually eliminate the chance of a pipeline incident in the Straits.”
However, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is concerned about the environmental impacts of the drilling itself, opting last June “to conduct a more extensive review of the tunnel project, a decision that could add years to the process,” writes the Globe.
That delay could prove devastating, with a 2016 University of Michigan study concluding that should the 68-year-old pipeline rupture, more than a thousand kilometres of Lake Huron and Lake Michigan would see grave impacts from the oil spill.
“We remain focused on the continuing threat presented by the existing pipelines in the water,” office of Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said in a statement. “We cannot afford to wait for a tunnel that will not be built for several years, if at all.”
The state also can’t afford to build a pipeline tunnel in an age of climate crisis, Sean McBrearty, Michigan legislative and policy director with Clean Water Action, told the Globe.
“When the world’s leading climate scientists are saying we have to rapidly decarbonize the global economy,” he said, “it makes no sense to spend any time building a tunnel to transport more climate change-inducing fossil fuels.”
But while Enbridge continues to ignore the mid-May shutdown order issued by Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, with some 540,000 barrels of oil flowing through Line 5 each day, Canada and the United States are now in negotiations following the Trudeau government’s invocation of a 1977 bilateral treaty drafted to ensure an unimpeded flow of petroleum between the countries.
“We expect that both the U.S. and Canada will engage constructively in those negotiations,” White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre said, adding that such discussions should in no way be seen as a first step to shutting Line 5 down.
“That is something that we’re not going to do,” she said.
Pointing to the political stakes in U.S. President Joe Biden’s refusal to support Whitmer’s efforts to close Line 5, Bloomberg says the White House might well be concerned about triggering “strong criticism from Republicans at a time when energy prices are surging because of tight supplies.”
But a March 2020 report by Public Sector Consultants (PSC) found “a number of robust and diverse alternative supply options for delivery to the Michigan market,” adding that “sensitivities around energy efficiency and utilization of customer storage…provide options for reducing the impact of supply disruptions, as well.”