DELTA TOWNSHIP – Enbridge Energy must provide the Public Service Commission with additional engineering information on its proposed Line 5 pipeline tunnel project along with further information on the safety and maintenance of the existing dual pipelines along the lakebed of the Straits of Mackinac, the panel said Thursday.
By a 3-0 vote the commission ordered the record be reopened for another round of gathering evidence necessary for the development of the final record.
The commission found the application case deficient of what it called certain information relating to the proposed tunnel’s engineering and safety. The order also seeks further information on the maintenance of the current dual pipelines below the straits.
Thursday’s order comes more than two years after Enbridge filed its application with the PSC while also seeking state and federal permitting for the controversial tunnel project.
PSC Chair Dan Scripps said prior to Thursday’s action it is not a final order in the case.
“The decision today also does not impact either the process or timeline involved for the consideration of other necessary permits,” Scripps said. “This has been an extensive process. We want to make sure that we get it right, and that is the rationale behind reopening the record for the development of additional information in this matter.”
Specifically, Thursday’s order asks Enbridge for several types of further information to complete the record in the case.
Enbridge was ordered to file information and documents relevant to topics including the tunnel’s engineering and safety, electrical equipment, and the risk of fire and/or explosion. The company was also ordered to provide further information on the safety of the current dual pipelines, including information on leak detection systems and shutdown procedures.
Reports will also have to be filed along with additional information regarding previous agreements with the state and federal governments related to its operation of the existing pipeline along the straits that have not yet been provided during the active case before the PSC.
No briefing will be permitted in the reopening of the case, but testimony, exhibits, documents, and additional evidence will be allowed. Scheduling will be left up to the administrative law judge that has been handling the current case. A timeline on how long the process might take to play out was not immediately known.
Scripps repeated to reporters following the meeting that the purpose is for the commission to be thorough in its review, adding the safety concerns brought up during the process merited further review.
“We want to make sure that we have as complete a picture as we possibly can,” Scripps said.
Enbridge spokesperson Ryan Duffy in a statement said the company will continue to work with the PSC on addressing any and all concerns and questions it has about the proposed tunnel project.
“The engineering and design of the tunnel have been developed in accordance with the tunnel agreement entered with the state, and in close coordination with the Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority to ensure its safety and design life,” Duffy said. “We remain committed to the MPSC process and see that the Great Lakes Tunnel is built. It will make a safe pipeline safer, assure long-term energy security and reliability, and support Michigan jobs and the economy. Compared to the alternatives of truck, rail, or lake-going barges, pipelines are the safest and most efficient mode of transport for moving fuel. Placing the pipeline in the Great Lakes Tunnel better protects the Great Lakes.”
With the Line 5 tunnel having been a controversial proposal since its inception, the order was issued before a packed commission room. Groups of project supporters, some wearing matching t-shirts with pro-tunnel slogans, were among those in attendance.
None of the supporters of the project in the room or watching online spoke, however, with numerous opponents of the tunnel instead taking turns delivering about an hour of public comment, thanking the PSC for its actions and asking them to ultimately reject the project.
Sean McBrearty, legislative and policy director for Clean Water Action, was among those who spoke Thursday.
“I’d just like to thank you for the prudent decision today to reopen the record and make sure that you have all the facts before you before you make your decision,” McBrearty said.
He said the commission should try to get more information on the concerns raised during review of the case over the operation of a pipeline in a confined space beneath the straits. McBrearty said there could be significant risks of an explosion not just during the construction phase if the project were to move forward but afterward during future maintenance.
Supporters of the project urged its approval in statements following Thursday’s meeting.
“Line 5 is safe, and moving it into the Great Lakes Tunnel will make it even safer,” Mike Alaimo, director of environmental and energy affairs for the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, said. “Now’s the time for the Michigan Public Service Commission to get back to work, move the tunnel project forward, and protect tens of thousands of Michigan jobs.”
Caroline Liethen, director of environmental and regulatory affairs at the Michigan Manufacturers Association, agreed.
“The more than 600,000 workers who power Michigan’s manufacturing industry depend on affordable energy to do their jobs,” Ms. Liethen said. “Line 5 is a critical part of Michigan’s manufacturing industry, and building the tunnel is a matter of public law. The tunnel is about reliability, affordability, a safer environment, and Michigan jobs.”
Since legislation passed during the 2018 lame-duck session authorizing the tunnel project and creating the Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority to oversee the construction, maintenance, and operation of the proposed tunnel, the proposal has traveled a long road to reach this point.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Department of Natural Resources issued an order in November 2020 to shut down the line, effective May 12, 2021, citing multiple and frequent alleged violations of the public trust doctrine. Enbridge has since been fighting the move in federal court.
PSC members ordered a rehearing of Enbridge’s application in late 2020 following the administration’s move.
Attorney General Dana Nessel has also moved to decommission the line but suffered a major loss in court. The Court of Appeals ruled that the 2018 law setting up the tunnel authority was constitutional. Nessel sought to invalidate the law, arguing it violated the state Constitution’s title-object clause. She opted not to appeal the ruling.
The company obtained a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in May 2020. It obtained permits from EGLE in early 2021, angering environmental groups opposed to the project.
Earlier this year, the Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority approved Enbridge’s Request for Proposal for construction of the tunnel project. The RFP was accepted after adopting a Memorandum of Understanding that clarifies that Enbridge will hire the contractors to construct the tunnel and the Corridor Authority will hire an insurance contractor to perform standard checkups, which will be paid for by Enbridge. Enbridge under the MOU will also allow site access and records for the state to collect the information when needed.