Enbridge, state of Michigan extend Line 5 battle into courts

July 23, 2019 By    

Enbridge Inc. and Michigan’s attorney general have exchanged lawsuits in an escalating battle over the company’s Line 5 crude oil and natural gas liquid pipelines running under the Straits of Mackinac.

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The Mackinac Bridge spans the Straits of Mackinac, connecting the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan. (Photo: iStock.com/JamesBRey)

Enbridge, as well as propane industry officials, say Line 5 is critical to the energy needs of Michigan and the surrounding regions. According to the company, the line provides 540,000 barrels per day of light crude oil and propane. It serves an estimated 55 percent of Michigan’s propane needs, including about 65 percent of the propane needed in the Upper Peninsula and northern Michigan.

On June 6, Enbridge filed a legal action with the Michigan Court of Claims to establish the constitutional validity and enforceability of agreements that it signed in 2017 and 2018 with the state of Michigan, under the previous administration. The agreements relate to the construction and operation of a tunnel underneath the Straits of Mackinac to house a replacement Line 5 pipeline. Enbridge says the state affirmed in those agreements the company’s right to continue to operate the existing Line 5 until a replacement line has been completed.

“We are taking this action in order to protect Michigan consumers. We require a court review of the enforceability in order to remove obstacles to building the tunnel as quickly as possible and ensure energy security and environmental protection for Michigan,” says Guy Jarvis, Enbridge executive vice president of liquids pipelines.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel responded to the Enbridge lawsuit, saying she was taking the first step to decommission the 66-year-old dual pipelines by filing a lawsuit in Ingham County Circuit Court. The attorney general filed the lawsuit June 27, the same day she filed a motion to dismiss Enbridge’s lawsuit seeking to enforce agreements made in the last months of the Rick Snyder administration.

“I have consistently stated that Enbridge’s pipelines in the Straits need to be shut down as soon as possible because they present an unacceptable risk to the Great Lakes,” Nessel says.

Nessel’s lawsuit asks the Ingham County Circuit Court to find that Enbridge’s continued operation of the Straits pipelines under the easement granted by the state in 1953 violates the public trust doctrine, is a common law public nuisance and violates the Michigan Environmental Protection Act because it is likely to cause pollution and destruction of water and other natural resources. The attorney general’s lawsuit identifies a potential anchor strike as the most significant risk to Line 5. It seeks an order from the court to shut down and decommission the Straits pipelines as soon as possible after a reasonable notice period to allow orderly adjustments by affected parties.

Enbridge says it has been operating Line 5 safely for 65 years but remains prepared to improve safety by investing $500 million to construct and operate a concrete-walled tunnel 100 ft. below the Straits in which a new Line 5 would be housed by 2024. Enbridge believes the tunnel can be under construction in 2021, assuming no further delays in the permitting process.

“Enbridge remains fully committed to moving forward in a constructive manner with the administration to reach our mutual objective of replacing the existing Line 5 crossing as soon as possible,” the company says in a prepared media statement. “We believe that the most effective path forward is to work expeditiously toward permitting and construction of the tunnel, rather than through the courts.”

In early June, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer created a UP (Upper Peninsula) Energy Task Force as a way to explore alternatives to propane distribution through Line 5.

*Featured photo courtesy of Enbridge

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