Judge Temporarily Halts Line 5 Operations
June 30, 2020
Enbridge Energy must cease all transport operations of its Line 5, which carries crude oil and liquid natural gas in the Straits of Mackinac, an Ingham County judge ruled Thursday.
Circuit Judge James S. Jamo also ordered Enbridge to disclose information in its possession related to the recent damage caused to the pipeline’s eastern segment.
“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 (Enbridge’s) continued operation of the west line until a hearing on the state’s request,” Jamo wrote.
That hearing on Attorney General Dana Nessel’s request for a preliminary injunction is set for 1:30 p.m. June 30.
Vern Yu, Enbridge’s executive vice president and president of liquids pipelines, said Enbridge is “disappointed” with the ruling as the company believes Line 5 is safe. However, as ordered, the company has shut down the pipeline’s west leg.
He cautioned that an extended shutdown 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.”
Enbridge temporarily turned off the spigot on the portion of Line 5 that runs under the Straits of Mackinac as a precaution after the company discovered a support anchor on the east portion of the dual line had shifted. In investigating the situation, damage to the screw anchor assembly was found.
Enbridge agreed not to restart the east line — which has been shut down since June 18 — until after Jamo hears oral arguments, but the company argued that engineering reports show no damage or risk to allowing the west line to continue operating. They also said the federal regulator, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), stated “no objection” to restarting the west line.
Jamo ordered Enbridge to cease operations on the west line immediately, but within no more than 24 hours.
In making his ruling, Jamo referenced the 1953 Easement Agreement and 2018 agreement, which Enbridge argues governs the pipelines operation, indicates a guarantee from Enbridge about the operation of the pipelines and that it will provide the state with “all requested information . . . concerning the operation, integrity management, leak detection, and emergency preparedness” needed.
However, by its own admission, Enbridge has “failed to provide such documentation, leaving the state of Michigan or the Court unable to assess the risk to state-owned bottomlands and the Great Lakes generally, as a public resource.”
Yu said Enbridge will provide the court with the information requested related to PHMSA’s approach to assessing the current situation, including restarting the west leg.
“Inspections have determined that the west segment of Line 5 crossing the Straits is safe for operations and which PHMSA did not object to restarting,” he said. “Enbridge is committed to protecting the environment and the waters of the Great Lakes, while keeping energy flowing safely and reliability to the people who need it.”
Meanwhile, the Department of Natural Resources and Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy Thursday released Enbridge’s reports on the recent damage, including engineering reports and photographs prepared by Enbridge for both legs of the pipeline.
The documents, which can be found here, however, do not include potential causes of the damage or steps Enbridge may undertake to protect the pipeline from potential future damage.
Patrick Anderson, CEO of Anderson Economic Group, also expressed concern about the “serious impacts” of the shutdown, especially “at a time when the state’s economy is already reeling” from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-home orders, issued in an effort to stop the coronavirus from spreading.
Anderson said he’s concerned about supply disruptions to Detroit-area users, including refineries in Michigan and Ohio, effects on the Canadian industry and added costs to consumers and Enbridge.
Anderson said he’s also concerned about possible supply disruptions among propane customers, including those wanting to use their homes and cabins in the summer to heat and cool as well as generate electricity.
“The ‘shutdown’ ordered by the judge doesn’t, by itself, stop all propane,” he said. “However, it may make it very expensive to get propane into parts of Michigan.”
However, numerous groups and government leaders supported Jamo’s ruling, including the Great Lakes Business Network, which called it a “tremendous statement” from the judge.
The National Wildlife Federation called it a “major victory” and the Michigan League of Conservation Voters said Enbridge was “held accountable . . . for its blatant defiance” of state leaders and disregard for safety of the Great Lakes.
Whitmer also applauded the decision in a statement released by her office, which notes that Enbridge “owes a duty to the people of Michigan and must answer to the state for how it treats our Great Lakes.”
Sean McBrearty, Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign coordinator, called Jamo’s ruling a “clear victory” for the Great Lakes and he called on Whitmer to take action to revoke Enbridge’s 1953 easement agreement with the state.
“Revoking the easement has always been the right move to protect the Great Lakes from the urgent and immediate threat from Line 5, but the judge’s order specifically cites violations of the 1953 easement and agreements they made with the state in his decision,” he said. “. . . Clearly there is urgency for Gov. Whitmer to take appropriate steps to revoke the easement and decommission Line 5.”
U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn) also praised the ruling. On Wednesday, she led the Michigan Democratic Congressional Delegation in pressing U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to stop Line 5’s full operation until a full investigation is completed and the dual pipeline is deemed safe.