Enbridge Logo

This maritime operations center is watching the Straits of Mackinac nonstop

As the Great Lakes Tunnel Project advances, energy delivery company Enbridge is on alert.

By Enbridge
The Enbridge Straits Maritime Operations Center is staffed by a team that monitors and coordinates multiple Enbridge safety measures while work progresses on the Great Lakes Tunnel.

No matter the day or the hour, an elite operations team is watching over the Straits of Mackinac.

Ever vigilant, the group surveils safety systems, keeps a keen eye on high-definition monitors, coordinates special precautionary measures, and patrols the waters by boat 24/7.

These leaders are highly trained staff members of diversified energy delivery company Enbridge. And they’re guarding the straits as work on the company’s Great Lakes Tunnel Project progresses.

This summer, the Enbridge Straits Maritime Operations Center, or ESMOC, became fully operational. Staffed around the clock, the ESMOC acts as the nerve center for a suite of marine traffic safety systems in the straits that were put in place by Enbridge.

Through ESMOC activities and the privately funded Great Lakes Tunnel, which will be bored deep under the lake bed, Enbridge is helping to protect Michigan’s waters — while continuing to deliver an uninterrupted supply of reliable, affordable energy that Michigan needs.

“Michiganders rely on us to provide transportation fuel and propane through Line 5,” said Mike Moeller, director of Enbridge’s Great Lakes region. “The ESMOC is another measure to help ensure the safety and protection of the Straits of Mackinac as we move ahead with the Great Lakes Tunnel Project.”

‘An emotional issue’

A bird’s eye view of the Mackinac bridge.

Protecting the Great Lakes is paramount for the people of Michigan, noted Bob Lehto, Enbridge’s operations manager for the northern Michigan area.

“It’s an emotional issue for a lot of us,” Lehto said. “There have been a lot of questions asked about what Enbridge is doing to keep the straits safe while we build the Great Lakes Tunnel. What I want people to know is that we take that very seriously. We’re working hard to address those concerns. Establishing the ESMOC demonstrates our commitment in action.”

The ESMOC is staffed by a team that monitors and coordinates multiple Enbridge safety measures designed to prevent an anchor strike on Line 5’s dual pipelines, which are secured along the lake bed. These measures include:

  • Patrol boats on the water 24/7, weather permitting, directly over the Line 5 straits crossing, and additional patrol boats monitoring other vessels passing through the straits to perform visual inspections of anchor positions.
  • The Guardian Protect system, which identifies approaching vessels at the straits and issues a safety notification of the no-anchor zone.
  • Radio contact to vessels to confirm anchor position as needed.
  • Six high-definition cameras currently being installed at both ends of the straits.
  • Weather-monitoring tools for tracking wind speed and wave heights in the straits.

Strategies used worldwide put safety first

The Great Lakes Tunnel will be bored deep under the lake bed.

If any potential risk posed by a passing vessel can’t be resolved by ESMOC staff using the measures above, ESMOC can immediately contact the U.S. Coast Guard or local authorities and order the immediate shutdown of the dual Line 5 pipelines.

“It’s analogous to what government agencies do at ports and waterways throughout the world,” Lehto said.

Ultimately, the Great Lakes Tunnel — to be bored through rock deep below the lakebed, housing a new segment of Line 5 pipe — will virtually eliminate the chance of a pipeline incident in the straits.

This privately funded Great Lakes Tunnel will be built by Michigan labor and harness the knowledge and experience of industry-leading tunnel engineers.

Enbridge is committed to pursuing the Great Lakes Tunnel Project. The company continues to devote significant resources to the project in preparation for successful regulatory approvals. The tunnel project could be under construction by next year.

To learn more, visit enbridge.com.

Members of the editorial and news staff of the USA TODAY Network were not involved in the creation of this content.