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Judge orders Enbridge to temporarily shut down Line 5 within 24 hours

ROV footage of the pipeline along the Straits of Mackinac.

Updated 1:14 p.m., June 25, 2020: 

Ingham Circuit Judge James Jamo Thursday ordered Enbridge to fully shut down the Line 5 pipeline at the bottom of the Mackinac Straits within 24 hours.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel requested the shutdown after Enbridge reported damage to an anchor support.

Enbridge discovered the damage on an anchor support on the eastern stretch of the dual pipelines, and notified the state on June 18. The pipeline was shut down while the situation was investigated. After the state was informed, Governor Gretchen Whitmer requested Enbridge keep the pipeline shut down until they provided the state with details of how the damage occurred. 

Nessel spokesman Ryan Jarvi says there are still a lot of questions about what happened.

“The cause of the damage is still unknown as far as I’m aware, and the risk to the state’s residents and natural resources is just too great to let that continue to be operated without knowing the answers.”

Jarvi says the ultimate goal is to have Line 5 permanently decommissioned.

“But, in the meantime, we’re just pleased that the judge saw the risk of operating the pipelines with so many unanswered questions that are still out there.”

Enbridge restarted the western stretch of the pipeline over the weekend, leading Attorney General Dana Nessel to seek a temporary restraining order against the company. 

According to Jamo, Enbridge is "not in compliance with the 1953 easement that grants it authority to use the straits bottomlands for the pipeline." Further, Jamo wrote that Enbridge had not provided enough documentation regarding the damage to the state. 

"Since the risk of harm to the Great Lakes and various communities and businesses that rely on the Great Lakes would be not only substantial but also in some respects irreparable, this court grants a temporary restraining order against the defendants' continued operation of the West Line until a hearing on the state's request for a preliminary injunction and further related court order," Jamo wrote.

The judge said in the order that the danger outweighs financial damage to Enbridge until the next hearing. That hearing will take place Tuesday.

Enbridge said in a statement that an extended shutdown would threaten reliable fuel supplies in Michigan and Ohio. The statement also says it would cause an increase in the cost of fuel.

Original post, Monday, June 22, 2020:

Michigan’s Attorney General is seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against the operator of the controversial Line 5 oil pipeline.

The motion is tied to a dispute between Enbridge and the state of Michigan over aproblemwith an anchor support for part of the pipeline.

Last week, Enbridge shut down the pipeline temporarily after discovering a problem. The company restarted half of the twin pipeline over the weekend. The cause of the damage has not been released. 

Michigan officials, including Governor Gretchen Whitmer, demanded Enbridge keep the pipeline offline to give time for an investigation into the problem and why it occurred.

But Enbridge ignored the state’s request.

“It is evident by the pictures we’ve seen that there has been significant damage to an anchor support on the east leg of the pipeline. To date, Enbridge has provided no explanation of what caused this damage and a woefully insufficient explanation of the current condition and safety of the pipeline as a result of this damage,” says Attorney General Dana Nessel.

Nessel is asking a state court to order Enbridge to provide all of the information in its possession related to the nature, extent, and causes of the newly-discovered damage to Line 5. She also requests that the court order that operations of the pipeline be suspended until the state of Michigan has conducted a full review of the information provided with the assistance of independent experts.  

Gov. Whitmer supports the Attorney General's legal action.

“Enbridge has not timely complied with the state’s request for full and complete information and resumed operation without even consultation,” says Whitmer. “This brazen disregard for the people of Michigan and the safety and well-being of our Great Lakes is unacceptable.” 

As expected, Enbridge opposes the Attorney General's motion. 

"Enbridge believes the temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction sought by the Attorney General of Michigan is legally unsupportable, unnecessary, and will be vigorously opposed by Enbridge," says spokesman Ryan Duffy. 

Duffy defends the company’s handling of the pipeline’s issues.

“We have been working very closely with our safety regulator, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), to ensure that PHMSA is informed and in a position to assess the safety of the dual Line 5 Straits pipelines,” Duffy said in a written statement.

Duffy says Enbridge will not resume operation on the east leg without further discussion with the state of Michigan and approval from federal regulators.

Meanwhile, environmental groups are calling on Gov. Whitmer to revoke Enbridge’s easement to operate the Line 5 oil pipeline through the Straits of Mackinac.

“The only prudent option remaining is for Gov. Whitmer to immediately begin proceedings to revoke the 1953 easement and end this threat to our Great Lakes for good but finally decommissioning Line 5,” says Sean McBrearty from the group Oil & Water Don’t Mix.

Enbridge’s oil pipelines in Michigan have been the focus of multiple controversies for the past decade.

Environmentalists and others have been concerned about the potential for a catastrophic oil leak in the Straits of Mackinac from the decades old Line 5. The company is moving forward with a plan to build a tunnel to contain Line 5.  

This summer marks a decade since another Enbridge pipeline sprung a leak in southern Michigan. The result was roughly a million gallons of crude oil fouling miles of the Kalamazoo River. Enbridge paid more than a billion dollars on the cleanup. The company has also paid millions in fines and other legal penalties.

Editor's note: Enbridge is a corporate sponsor of Michigan Radio.

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Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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