Carbon emissions will be on the agenda when the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) begins hearings on May 18 into Enbridge Inc.’s $500 million plan to save its 540,000 b/d Line 5 oil conduit.

line 5

“The need for a robust record in this case is crucial,” said an MPSC procedural ruling Wednesday. The ruling regards the proposal to keep the Canadian-owned pipeline open by replacing its four-mile underwater Straits of Mackinac crossing with a new utility tunnel.

The MPSC now wants the review to include a look at the potential greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from Line 5. The Michigan Environmental Protection Act requires an emissions review because it was meant “to cover not just the construction of pipelines for the sake of building pipelines, but also their purpose and the products flowing through them,” said the MPSC.

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“GHGs are widely recognized as pollutants that trap heat in the atmosphere and contribute to climate change, thereby polluting, impairing, and destroying natural resources.”

The MPSC overturned a February ruling by Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Dennis Mack against injecting climate change issues into the case. However, it upheld the ALJ’s decision that public necessity had been established for the 68-year-old pipeline.

Fossil fuel foes called the procedural ruling by the MPSC a victory. The contested hearings are liable to be longer, regulators noted

The commission acknowledged that the order to undertake a GHG review “likely changes the nature and scope of the testimony,” MPSC said.

The Line 5 tunnel project would not increase Line 5 deliveries, and a national counterpart to the MPSC may have set a precedent that favors Enbridge, according to analysts with ClearView Energy Partners LLC.In a comparable pipeline replacement case by Northern Natural Gas Co., the ClearView analysts noted that the first significant finding by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission found that the project had no climate change effect because it did not increase fossil fuel deliveries.