Line 5 accord imperfect but step in right direction

The agreement that has been reached between the state of Michigan and Enbridge Energy is a step in the right direction, but whether that is truly the best deal will be determined in the coming years.

Enbridge’s Line 5 has long been an environmentalist’s nightmare, as the threat of spewing millions of gallons of oil and natural gas liquids into our Great Lakes has come under some intense scrutiny lately, particularly since 2010 when one of the Canadian company’s pipelines failed, causing a natural resources catastrophe at the Kalamazoo River in downstate Calhoun County.

Obviously, no one wants something like that to happen again, especially to the Great Lakes, which provide so many recreational and economic benefits to our country and its people.

The plan that was announced last week is an attempt to preserve that resource. It calls for drilling a tunnel through bedrock beneath the straits in which a new pipeline would be placed. It could take between seven and 10 years for construction of the tunnel to be complete, and cost anywhere between $350 million and $500 million, all of which would be paid by Enbridge.

The company is also being required to maintain financial coverage of at least $1.878 billion, an estimate from the independent risk analysis of a worst-case scenario cost if Line 5 were to rupture.

The fact that Michigan taxpayers won’t be on the hook for this endeavor, or for the potential disastrous cleanup, is heartening. And relocating the pipeline to an underground tunnel beneath the straits is preferable to allowing it to remain at the bottom of the waterway, where weather and vessels may cause issues.

A benefit to the tunnel is that it could house other utility lines, such as electric cables, that could help support the Upper Peninsula’s electric grid and, we hope, reduce or stabilize, our electric rates.

The pipeline is now 65 years old and only getting older.

We could potentially have another 10 years full of dangerous storms and other unpredictable events that could weaken Line 5 until the new pipeline is completed and the old one decommissioned.

If other viable options become evident in the near future, then a more immediate closure of Line 5 could be reconsidered. If they exist, legislators and regulators should take a good hard look at those possibilities. If the options appear reasonable, more cost-effective and environmentally safer than continuing to allow the operation of Line 5 for up to another decade, then our statewide discourse about closing the pipeline should continue.

This plan appears to be a step in the right direction, but we hope Michigan’s regulators and officials keep walking that way with their eyes open.