Here's where things stand with the controversial Line 5 reroute in northern Wisconsin

Laura Schulte
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

MADISON - Line 5 has become a hot button topic for Wisconsin.

Enbridge Energy, a Canadian oil company, is working to reroute the controversial pipeline around the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa reservation, after their permission to be on the land ran out over 10 years ago. The reroute has been in the works for 10 years, yet the project isn't yet fully permitted.

Here's where things currently stand with Enbridge's Line 5 reroute project, and who's involved in permitting.

What is Line 5 used for?

Line 5 transports 545,000 barrels a day of light crude oil, light synthetic crude oil and natural gas liquids from western Canada through Wisconsin and Michigan and into eastern Canada. The products the 645-mile-long pipeline carries are used to make transportation fuels, as well as fuel used to heat homes and businesses.

The underground pipe is 30 inches in diameter and has been in operation since 1953.

The relocated pipeline will cross 186 waterways and requires the conversion of some wetlands, as well as the permanent and temporary fill of other wetlands along the route. The reroute of the line is expected to cost about $450 million and employ about 700 union workers from Wisconsin and beyond.

The reroute will cross 300 properties where owners granted Enbridge permission, though the company planned originally to invoke eminent domain. It withdrew its application to take land from unwilling owners in August 2020.

Who decides if the project moves forward?

The DNR is responsible for issuing a number of permits for Line 5. Enbridge will need wetland fill permits, Wisconsin Pollution Discharge Elimination System permits, a state endangered resources review and a review for the project's impact on historic and cultural resources.

The DNR is still in the process of putting together a formal Environmental Impact Statement, according to information from the agency, after releasing a draft in December 2021 and holding public hearings. No date has been set for the release of the statement at this point.

The Army Corps of Engineers is in charge of permitting for discharges that could occur in waters of the United States; the reconstructed pipeline will cross or go under many such waters. The agency is also in charge of reviewing the effects of the project on historic properties in consultation with the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer and the State Historic Preservation Office, according to information from the Wisconsin DNR.

The Corps will also review proposed impact on federally listed endangered species, the compliance of the project with tribal water quality standards and the consistency with the state coastal management program.

In May, the Army Corps released a draft of its environmental impact analysis, which looks largely at impacts to water bodies and areas in which the project may have impacts on the habitat of endangered species such as the gray wolf.

The U.S. Department of Transportation, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration sets performance standards for the design, construction, operation, maintenance and safety of pipelines, and will do so for Line 5.

The Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa will review the project for its compliance with its own water quality standards for downstream waters within the Bad River Reservation, according to the DNR.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation will also issue permits for road crossing.

Enbridge may also need permits, approvals or reviews from local governments within the reroute footprint as well.

Where do things stand with the Bad River Band lawsuit?

The Bad River Band in 2019 filed a lawsuit to remove the pipeline after right-of-way easements between the tribe and the company expired in 2013. The pipeline operates on about 12 miles of reservation land.

Tribal officials no longer wanted Enbridge to operate the pipeline on tribal lands and fear that a rupture would pose grave environmental damage.

The case has stretched on for years since its filing.

In 2023, a federal judge told Enbridge that it needed to remove its pipeline from the reservation within three years, a decision both the Bad River Band and the oil giant appealed. In February of this year, the court heard oral arguments on whether the company can continue to transport oil on the reservation with an expired easement, and the federal government broke its silence, coming down in favor of both sides of the argument. The U.S. Department of Justice also placed some of the issues at the center of the debate back to the district courts.

The U.S. DOJ did not ask Enbridge to shut down the pipeline, as the process to get the reroute permitted continues.

Why exactly is Line 5 in need of a reroute?

The reroute is needed because the easements that Enbridge had from the Bad River Band expired in 2013 and were not renewed, meaning that the tribe could seek the pipeline's removal.

The proposed reroute would be 41.2 miles of pipeline that would go around the reservation, but would still lie within the watershed that impacts the lands of the tribe.

How does Line 5 affect Lake Michigan?

Line 5 runs for 4.5 miles across the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac, between Lakes Michigan and Huron.

Great Lakes tribes and environmental groups worry that the portion of the line underneath the Straits has aged to the point where it could put the lakes at risk for an oil spill, due to the location and strength of the currents.

The line was already damaged in 2018, when a ship's anchor struck it. In 2020, another strike from an anchor damaged supports on the pipeline, causing a temporary shutdown.

Enbridge has proposed building a replacement tunnel for the portion under the Straits. The project would replace the existing dual pipelines, which lie on the lakebed exposed to the elements and other risks like anchor strikes, with a single pipeline that will be housed in a tunnel bored through rock and buried beneath the lakebed.

The controversial replacement project has received two key permits from Michigan state agencies, which are being challenged by environmental groups and tribes. It is awaiting one more from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Has Line 5 ever leaked before?

Line 5 has leaked 35 times in its roughly 70-year tenure and released a total of more than 1.13 million gallons of oil into the environment, according to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration database.

Who is Enbridge Energy?

Enbridge Energy, headquartered in Calgary, Canada, owns the Line 5 oil pipeline, which has been in operation since 1953. Enbridge is North America's largest pipeline company, transporting about 125 million gallons of crude oil and liquids every day.

What comes next?

Two hearings will be held on the draft environmental impact analysis on June 4 in Ashland. The morning session will go from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The second session will go from 4 to 8 p.m.

The hearings will be held at the Northwood Technical College, 2100 Beaser Ave., Ashland

Parking is expected to be limited, and a lottery will be held to select those able to speak at the hearing. More information is available at

Written comment will also be accepted. Here's how you can make your voice heard:

  • Drop off at the Information table during the June 4 hearing. Paper will be available to those who are not chosen for the lottery.
  • Comment can be submitted by mail. It must be postmarked no later than July 5, 2024. Send comments to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Paul District, Regulatory Division, 332 Minnesota Street, Suite E1500, St. Paul, MN55101-1678
  • Email by 11:59 pm Central Time on July 5, 2024, to: [email protected].

Spokesperson Juli Kellner said Enbridge applauds the opportunity to comment.

"The hearing and associated comment period present additional opportunity for the public to weigh in on what has already been a lengthy four-year process involving public input, consultation, and numerous studies," she said in an email.

Enbridge will need to await the decisions of the ongoing court case, as well as all of the local, state and federal permits it will need to begin construction. There is no estimation as to when construction could begin, or when it would be completed.

"The project will move forward with construction once all necessary permits are received," Kellner said.

Laura Schulte can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter at @SchulteLaura

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