Enbridge’s $500M Line 5 tunnel in Michigan delayed 1.5 years

Dive Brief:

  • The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has delayed a key permit needed for Enbridge’s proposed Line 5 oil pipeline replacement project in Michigan. The agency said it requires another year and a half to study public comments about the $500 million project and assess its environmental impact. 
  • The Canadian energy company’s project entails replacing dual 4-mile oil pipelines that run under water between Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas with a new, tunnel-encased pipeline. The USACE planned to publish the draft environmental impact statement in late 2023, but has now pushed back that date to spring 2025. 
  • Both Enbridge and environmental activists opposing the project expressed frustration at the lack of decision. If the project goes ahead, the USACE’s move effectively pushes the start of construction to 2026, Enbridge said.

Dive Insight:

Enbridge Energy’s 645-mile Line 5 pipeline is part of its Lakehead System, which begins in Superior, Wisconsin, and ends in Sarnia, Canada. Federal approval for the Michigan tunnel, which would be bored into bedrock underwater through the Mackinac Straits, is necessary because the project involves building structure in and discharging materials into U.S. navigable waters. 

The company had originally promised to complete the structure next year, and expressed frustration about the further delay. 

“While we are supportive of a thorough, comprehensive and carefully considered permitting process that ensures adequate opportunity for review and comment, we are disappointed with the extended timeline for a project of this scope,” Enbridge said in a press release.

Another barrier to the project is a lawsuit brought in June 2019 by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, which seeks to void Enbridge’s use of the 1953 Line 5 easement and end its use of the existing pipelines in the Straits. An earlier 2018 lawsuit has been resolved, according to the state of Michigan.

The tunnel project came about as a result of an accident in 2010, when 21,000 barrels of heavy crude oil spilled from a line owned by Enbridge into a tributary of the Kalamazoo River. It remains one of the largest inland spills in U.S. history, according to the state of Michigan. The spill sparked more focus on the potential ecological and economic damage that could occur if the Line 5 pipeline running under the Mackinac Straits failed.

While this tunnel project has seen numerous delays, other major U.S. oil projects are moving ahead with the blessing of the Biden administration. 

Earlier this month, President Joe Biden greenlighted a massive, multi-billion dollar oil drilling project in Alaska known as Willow, which had garnered fierce pushback from environmentalists. ConocoPhillips, the project developer and state’s largest oil producer, estimated the build could create more than 2,500 construction jobs. On Wednesday, the administration announced it is auctioning off more than 73 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico for offshore oil and gas drilling.

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