Enbridge settles with tug and barge firm 3 years after anchor strike on Line 5

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Three years after a tug and barge accidentally dragged its anchor over the controversial Line 5 oil pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac, Enbridge and the tug company have reached an undisclosed settlement. 

The settlement money was wire-transferred from Van Enkevort to Enbridge Thursday, and the parties are expected to submit a proposed order of dismissal of the federal case in the coming days, according to a Thursday court filing. 

The court record contains no other information about the settlement, which comes almost six months after Van Enkevort Tug & Barge and MOM Erie Trader argued that Enbridge should be held at fault because it failed to locate its dual pieline in an environment protected from anchor strikes.

Enbridge would not comment on the settlement except to say it was reached through mediation.

"The risk of an incident in the Straits involving a vessel’s anchor is extremely small and has been made even smaller through implementation of Enbridge’s coordinated system of safety measures," Enbridge spokesman Ryan Duffy said. 

Three years after a tug and barge accidentally dragged its anchor over the controversial Line 5 oil pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac, Enbridge and the tug company have reached an undisclosed settlement.

Enbridge sued the tug and barge company in July 2018, almost four months after the Erie Trader barge and Clyde S. Van Enkevort tug accidentally dropped and dragged a 12,000-pound anchor through the Straits of Mackinac. 

The anchor scraped and gouged the dual oil pipeline and severed three transmission cables, releasing dielectric fluid from the cables into the Straits of Mackinac.

The U.S. Coast Guard determined the cause of the inadvertent anchor deployment was a mix of the improper installment of an anchor brake pad, the unexplained disengagement of two backup brakes, a series of communication errors and icy, rough waters that jostled the anchor loose.

Enbridge argued in its 2018 suit that Van Enkevort Tug and Barge and MOM Erie Trader should pay any interest, costs or attorneys fees associated with the anchor drag because the companies were negligent when they "failed to take all necessary actions and precautions to avoid the allision."

The tug and barge company responded more than two years later in November 2020 in federal court, arguing that Enbridge was the one guilty of negligence. Van Enkevort argued Enbridge should have better located, maintained or shielded its pipelines in a way that would have avoided anchor strikes.

The Canadian company also should have had a protective cover of gravel over the pipeline or should have had a system to warn vessels of the pipelines, Van Enkevort wrote in its response.

"The aforementioned negligence, misconduct, wrongdoing and/or fault of Enbridge contributed in whole or in part to proximately cause the alleged injuries and damages for which it seeks recovery," the company said.

The 2018 anchor strike heightened an already fevered debate over Line 5's future. Environmental advocates have long urged the closure of the roughly 4-mile dual pipeline segment along the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac, arguing an oil spill in the straits would be catastrophic to the Great Lakes. 

Republican then-Gov. Rick Snyder entered an agreement with the Canadian oil giant in late 2018 that required Enbridge to pay about $500 million to construct a tunnel beneath the straits that would house a new segment of Line 5. 

But Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has been battling the company since taking office in January 2019, urging to it build the tunnel faster — in half of the four years estimated by Enbridge. In November, Whitmer revoked the pipeline's 67-year-old easement and ordered it closed by May 12. 

Enbridge is in federal court fighting the shutdown order, arguing that federal regulators have the final say over the pipeline's reliability. The state and Enbridge are expected Friday to hold an initial mediation session.

Republican former Attorney General Bill Schuette also sued Van Enkevort after the anchor strike. The office eventually reached a $200,000 settlement with the company that would require it to undertake measures to ensure it never happened again. 

American Transmission Company, whose cables were severed during the 2018 anchor strike, settled with Van Enkevort and their case was dismissed in December, according to court filings. The settlement details were not listed.