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Michigan judge orders one leg of Line 5 temporarily restarted, keeps other leg closed

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

An Ingham County judge on Wednesday temporarily allowed the reopening of Line 5's west segment of pipeline while keeping the east line closed until the owner Enbridge has complied with the requirements of federal regulators. 

Circuit Judge James Jamo held a more than five-hour hearing Tuesday about the dual pipeline's continued closure, which he ordered shuttered June 25 due to damage to one of the anchor supports holding the pipeline in place on the bottomlands of the Straits of Mackinac. 

The initial temporary restraining order will remain in place until a full opinion and order is issued regarding the state's motion for a longer closure, but Jamo made adjustments Wednesday to the closure. 

Enbridge, the Canadian oil company, can restart the west line to perform an in-line investigation and continue operating based on the results of the investigation, Jamo wrote. The results of the probe must be provided to the state within seven days of the west line's restart. 

The east line must remain closed until the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has completed an investigation of the line and Enbridge has complied with all federal requirements stemming from that investigation, Jamo wrote. 

Enbridge and the state also must negotiate what documentation still is needed and when it will be produced, with an outline of that plan filed in court by July 7, he ruled.

Attorney General Dana Nessel said Wednesday the judge's decision guaranteed the state "the vital information surrounding this incident that we need to complete an informed analysis of the damage and evaluate the threat this pipeline poses to our environment if left to operate in its current state."

Enbridge anticipated operations in the west segment of the pipeline "will soon return to normal." The company said it would work with federal regulators to ensure all safety reviews are complete.

"Enbridge is committed to sharing this information with the State of Michigan to keep them informed regarding our inspections of the east segment," company spokesman Ryan Duffy said in a statement.

Line 5, which transports up to 540,000 barrels a day of light crude oil, light synthetic crude and natural gas liquids, has been the subject of a years-long dispute over a possible rupture of the 66-year-old pipeline in the Great Lakes. 

Nessel moved to close the pipeline last year but was stymied by the Ingham court. Separately, the Michigan Court of Appeals unanimously upheld the constitutionality of a 2018 law that allows Enbridge to build an underground tunnel to house the pipelines beneath the Straits. 

Nessel again asked in June to have the pipeline closed temporarily, filing an addendum to her existing suit in Ingham County, after Enbridge on June 18 reported damage to the east leg anchor support and west leg segment.

Based on drag marks on the lake bottom, an Enbridge lawyer said the company believes the damage to the west leg was probably done by a vessel dragging an object — likely a thin, light item such as a cable — moving east to west across the straits. But damage to the east line anchor support may have been caused by a vessel dragging something parallel to the line. 

Enbridge said it had shut down the dual pipelines after discovering the damage but restarted the west leg June 20 after inspections found the problem was isolated to the east leg. Jamo granted Nessel's motion and issued on June 25 a temporary restraining order. 

Jamo's Wednesday ruling comes a day after Nessel's office argued that Enbridge hadn't disclosed enough information about the damage sustained to either leg of Line 5. Assistant Attorney General Robert Reichel told Jamo the flow should be suspended until it is "reasonably prudent" to resume operations. 

Enbridge argued that the state was interfering in the regulation of an interstate pipeline that fell under the purview of federal agencies and federal law. The company is complying with an investigation by the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, attorney David Coburn said. 

The company maintained that PHMSA had reviewed footage of the west leg and found no safety concerns. But Jamo questioned the thoroughness of the analysis.

Staff Writer Melissa Nann Burke contributed.