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Judge allows Enbridge to restart east segment of Line 5

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

After a months-long closure, Enbridge will restart the east segment of Line 5 with recent permissions from federal regulators and state court.

The Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration noted in a Friday letter that it had "not identified any integrity issues" after scrapes were discovered along the pipeline earlier this year.

Based on that assessment, Ingham County Circuit Judge James Jamo on Wednesday granted the Canadian oil giant permission to restart the segment.

This June 2020 photo, shot from video provided by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy shows damage to anchor support EP-17-1 on the east leg of the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline within the Straits of Mackinac in Michigan.

The order was stipulated to by Enbridge and the state, but the state maintains its overall opposition to the pipeline's continued presence in the Straits of Mackinac. 

Jamo had ordered the east leg to remain closed in early July until federal regulators had a chance to review scrapes along the leg and damage to an anchor support attaching the pipeline to the lake bottom. 

“The decision to allow the restart of the east segment of Line 5 is very positive for the many residents and businesses in Michigan and the Great Lakes region who depend on the energy Line 5 delivers," said Vern Yu, Enbridge's executive vice president and president for liquid pipelines. 

A U.S. Coast Guard official on Friday told environmental groups the scrapes along the line likely were caused by Enbridge-contracted vessels conducting work in the area to prepare for the construction of a utility tunnel. 

Enbridge had noted in a report that it had narrowed down to five the list of "small to moderately sized" vessels that could have dragged a cable in a north-south direction over Line 5, scraped the east leg and damaged an anchor support. 

Four out of the five boats, Enbridge said at the time, had been contracted by the company.

Coast Guard Captain Anthony R. Jones of Port Sault Sainte Marie said his staff conducted its own review and came to similar conclusions. 

"I have concluded that the disturbances found by Enbridge Energy are reasonably attributed to incidental contact by cables or other equipment deployed or handled by vessels contracted by Enbridge to conduct work within the submerged pipeline area," Jones wrote Friday. 

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 67-year-old pipeline in the Great Lakes.

The company is engineering a tunnel to house the pipeline along the Straits and was performing geotechnical work along the planned construction area when the damage allegedly took place.