Enbridge must temporarily shut down Line 5, Ingham Co. judge says

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Enbridge must temporarily cease Line 5's operation in the Straits of Mackinac after damage to an anchor support was revealed last week, Ingham County Circuit Court Judge James Jamo ruled Thursday.

The company had failed to comply with the terms of a 1953 Line 5 easement and a 2018 agreement "by depriving" the state of "certain oversight and documentation due to it by the contractual language," Jamo said.

On Monday, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel asked Jamo to temporarily halt Enbridge's operation of Line 5 after the company informed Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of the anchor support damage from an "unknown" cause on June 18.

The east pipeline of Line 5 suffered damage from an anchor strike in April 2018.  Environmental groups want the 66-year-old pipelines closed to avoid a potential oil spill and environmental disaster.  

Nessel said she was "grateful" for Jamo's order Thursday. Whitmer applauded it, said Tiffany Brown, the governor's spokeswoman.

"Enbridge’s decision to continue pumping crude oil through the Straits of Mackinac with so many unanswered questions was reckless and unacceptable," Brown said. "Enbridge owes a duty to the people of Michigan and must answer to the state for how it treats our Great Lakes."

Enbridge is disappointed in the court’s ruling because it believes Line 5 is safe, said Vern Yu, an executive vice president at the company.

"An extended shutdown of Line 5 would threaten fuel supplies in Michigan and Ohio resulting in critical gasoline supply shortages and gasoline price increases for consumers in Michigan and the surrounding region," a statement from the company added.

Enbridge shut down the entire line, which features two pipelines that run parallel to one another in the Straits of Mackinac, after discovering the problem.

But on Saturday, Enbridge spokesman Ryan Duffy said an inspection of the west leg had been completed and "the issue with the screw anchor assembly" was isolated to the east leg.

According to a fact sheet on Enbridge's website, Line 5 is "fixed in place to the lake bed with a sturdy screw-anchor support system." Steel screws are "augered into the lake bed on either side of the parallel lines and hold a steel saddle that permanently supports the lines."

The company "resumed normal operations" on the west leg about 2 p.m. Saturday

But Whitmer requested that Enbridge leave the dual pipelines shut down until "an investigation into the cause of this incident and the overall risk to the Great Lakes could be completed," Nessel's court filings said.

"The people of the state have an interest in ensuring that privately owned infrastructure that threatens the Great Lakes is operated in a reasonably prudent and legal manner, complete with appropriate government oversight," the court filings added.

As part of an ongoing legal fight with Enbridge over Line 5, Nessel asked Jamo to order Enbridge to provide all of the information in its possession related to the damage to Line 5 and to order that operations of the pipeline be suspended until the state has conducted a full review.

Jamo agreed Thursday.

"The west line operations must cease as immediately as possible upon receipt of this order, but within no more than 24 hours," Jamo's order said. "The west line may not be restarted by defendants until a determination is made on the Motion for a preliminary injunction."

The east line may not be restarted "until a determination is made on the motion for a preliminary injunction," according to the order. The court will hear oral arguments on the injunction Tuesday.

Enbridge had contended that its engineering reports revealed no damage and no risk to operation of the west line. But the company said Thursday afternoon the west line had been shut down as a result of the order.

When it's operating, Line 5 transports up to 540,000 barrels per day of light crude oil, light synthetic crude, and natural gas liquids, according to Enbridge.

The damage to the anchor support is the latest development in years-long debate about the 67-year-old Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac as environmental groups have voiced concern about the potential for a rupture and called for the line to be shuttered for good.