Enbridge CEO chides state's opposition to Line 5 tunnel, plans new monitors

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News
An  April 24, 2018 photo shows damage to the east pipeline of Line 5 caused by an anchor strike.

An Enbridge Energy leader has rebuffed state officials for their legal efforts to stall the construction of a tunnel to house the Line 5 oil pipeline beneath the Straits of Mackinac and announced new initiatives to protect operations.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration has “not yet shown an interest” in the company’s suggestions for collaboration on accelerating the tunnel or adding more safeguards and state oversight to the tunnel project, Enbridge CEO Al Monaco told the Canada-U.S. Business Association Thursday in Detroit.

The state’s insistence on a construction timeline — two years — that’s shorter “than is physically possible” is ironic given its reliance on legal action that is sure to delay that work, he said.

“The administration has said that we walked away from the table and that we put profit above all else,” Monaco said, according to a copy of his prepared remarks. “I would submit to everyone in this room that our actions to date and our commitments indicate exactly the opposite. And we’ve put our money where our mouth is.”

Enbridge has been proceeding with roughly $40 million of work this year on the Straits tunnel despite state litigation and the uncertainty of gaining future state and federal permits for the work. So far, the company’s work has consisted largely of soil borings from the Straits of Mackinac bottom in preparation for engineering, design and construction.

Monaco announced at the gathering that Enbridge Energy would install new monitoring and communications systems in the Straits to prevent an anchor strike or identify damage to its pipeline.

The Vesper Marine Guardian system will notify approaching vessels of the no-anchor zone in the Straits, while high-resolution cameras will monitor ship traffic and serve as an early warning system of problems in the Straits crossing.

The Canadian pipeline giant also will place two vessels in the Straits to monitor ship activity, Monaco told attendees at the Canada-U.S. Business Association.

“We can protect the environment and provide the energy that people, businesses and industries of Michigan and this region need,” Monaco said.

The heightened awareness surrounding anchor strikes on the line come nearly a year and a half after a tug and barge inadvertently dragged anchor through the Straits in April 2018, severing electrical cables and gouging Line 5.

The 66-year-old pipeline has been controversial for years among environmentalists, who fear the catastrophic effects in the Great Lakes should a leak occur similar to a separate Enbridge pipeline rupture in Marshall, Michigan, in 2010.

Last year, Republican former Gov. Rick Snyder and the GOP-led Michigan Legislature entered an agreement with the company to build a 4-mile tunnel on the Straits lake bottom to house the line. Whitmer, who vowed on the campaign trail to close the pipeline, expressed concerns about the roughly 10-year window in which Enbridge initially said it could complete the tunnel.

Attorney General Dana Nessel opined in March that the Legislature’s lame duck effort to create a framework and governing authority over the tunnel was unconstitutional. When the governor was unable to get Enbridge to agree to a two-year timeline for tunnel construction, the company asked a judge to counter Nessel’s opinion and rule the tunnel agreement valid and enforceable.