MTU students help out with Line 5 Tunnel concept

HOUGHTON — Michigan Legislators Last week gave final approval to plans that will build an oil pipeline tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac for the Enbridge Line 5 crossing. The concept for that tunnel originated with a group of Michigan Tech students who presented their design to legislators after an oil leak that occurred earlier this year in the Straits.

At some point in the upcoming year construction will begin on a tunnel that crosses these waters, known as the Straits of Mackinac. Its a direct result of an ongoing controversy and is a solution recently adopted by Michigan legislators that allows various forms of crude oil to continue to flow from Wisconsin to Canada along the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline.

“It started because the Enbridge pipeline is aging and people are concerned about it rupturing or getting hit by an anchor or something,” said Michael Prast, a graduate student at Michigan Tech. “Back in April there was an anchor strike that hit an Enbridge line and tore the ATC transmission line, which leaked hundreds of gallons of their fluid. So we have seen that this thing is a very feasible issue. It’s something that could happen.”

This group is a team of Michigan Tech Students, who conceptualized a tunnel design and presented it to legislators, with the presence of Enbridge officials who are using the presentation and its research as a “starting point” for the upcoming build.

“They were very confident in our information,” added Prast. “They felt good about using that information to try to make their point, and so it was really nice, just being under graduate students to be taken very seriously.”

Currently the line crosses the Straits in two parallel tubes about 3 miles west of the Mackinac bridge and allows for the transport of petroleum products to Sarnia, Canada, traveling along US -2 in the UP and I-75, in the lower, for much of it’s journey. Once construction of the tunnel is completed, those lines would be removed from the lake bed and placed in the tunnel where it would be isolated from the natural waters, theoretically preventing a disaster, if a line failure were to occur in the crossing.

“It wouldn’t leak out or at least into the environment and they could easily clean it up with in a contained tube, basically.”

While conducting their research, Michael and his team discovered that there are other things that cross the straits in that area as well, and the design that they presented legislators would allow for safe crossing of those lines through the same tunnel.

“There are many electrical lines, there’s a natural gas line and there’s the Enbridge oil line and so there are quite a few down there that would be good to encapsulate them all so we don’t have any leakage of any of them,” said Prast.

Currently those lines are simply lying and the lake floor and building such a tunnel is uncharted territory in the Straits. The only known bedrock borings are more than sixty years old, from the construction of the Mackinac Bridge’s tower bases.

“We took the borings that we knew of and stuff on the surface and we tried to predict what it would be like,” said Prast. “The team that did that did a very good job. They went down there on a surface visit with Enbridge, because they were doing surface borings on the land. They were able to confirm that what they predicted was very close. So it was cool to figure out what was down there and from there we could figure out the tunnel structure and how strong it needs to be and how good the rock is down there.”

Although it’s likely that Enbridge will alter the design, or create a different blue print all together, Michael and his team mates are proud to have played a part in creating a solution to environmental concerns that come with pumping million of gallons of crude oil across the Straits of Mackinac each day.

“I think it’s really cool for me, a student, to have worked on something that, maybe my direct engineering isn’t going to be implemented, but the concept and the idea that it kind of started it all. “