Michigan governor orders Enbridge Line 5 shutdown
LANSING, Mich. — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is shutting down Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline, citing multiple violations by the company of the 1953 easement with the state, along with a duty to protect the Great Lakes.
Enbridge now has until May 2021 to stop the flow of oil and natural gas through the Great Lakes, according to a statement from Whitmer.
“Here in Michigan, the Great Lakes define our borders, but they also define who we are as people,” Whitmer said in a statement. “Enbridge has routinely refused to take action to protect our Great Lakes and the millions of Americans who depend on them for clean drinking water and good jobs.”
Since last summer, the state Department of Natural Resources has been reviewing the giant Canadian oil company’s easement compliance. A portion of the 645-mile pipeline runs through the Straits of Mackinac. The controversial Line 5 carries crude oil and natural gas liquids from Wisconsin to Ontario, across both Michigan peninsulas.
The 1953 easement gives Enbridge authority to use the state-owned lake bottom to transport oil and gas. But Whitmer said Enbridge has repeatedly violated the easement “by ignoring structural problems that put our Great Lakes and our families at risk.”
“Most importantly, Enbridge has imposed on the people of Michigan an unacceptable risk of a catastrophic oil spill in the Great Lakes that could devastate our economy and way of life," she said.
Along with Whitmer’s actions, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel also filed a new complaint in Ingham County Circuit Court, asking a judge to uphold the governor’s actions and enforce the revocation of the easement. The new lawsuit is in addition to Nessel’s lawsuit filed in 2019 seeking the shutdown of Line 5, which remains pending in the same court.
In a statement, Nessel said Whitmer and DNR Director Dan Eichinger, “are making another clear statement that Line 5 poses a great risk to our state, and it must be removed from our public waterways.”
“Simply put, Michigan law requires that the pipelines be shut down and the Notice provides a timely and orderly process for achieving that,” she said.
RELATED: Read more about Enbridge Line 5 pipeline
Whitmer said Enbridge violated the public trust doctrine — an area of law that makes the state the “trustee” of public bottomlands, including the Great Lakes.
According to the notice sent to Enbridge terminating the easement, the easement violated the public trust “from its inception.” The risks of a rupture and spill are too high, it said.
“Transporting millions of gallons of petroleum products each day through two 67-year old pipelines that lie exposed in the Straits below uniquely vulnerable and busy shipping lanes presents an extraordinary, unreasonable threat to public rights because of the very real risk of further anchor strikes and other external impacts to the Pipelines, the inherent risks of pipeline operations, and the foreseeable, catastrophic effects if an oil spill occurs at the Straits,” the notice said.
In the spring 2018, a freighter dragged an anchor across the line and caused some damage. No oil was spilled, but then in June 2020, Enbridge disclosed that the pipelines had been struck again in 2019 by anchors or cables.
The notice goes on to say that Enbridge has repeatedly violated the easement by not exercising due care and maintenance when operating the pipeline.
Environmental groups have long called on Whitmer to revoke the company’s easement, getting the portion of the line out of the water.
“This is a brave and just decision for the Great Lakes,” said Mike Shriberg, regional executive director, Great Lakes, for the National Wildlife Federation. “It’s going to benefit the Great Lakes by removing what is probably the single biggest threat to water quality in the region.”
But Enbridge has long maintained that the aging pipeline is safe.
Opponents of shutting down the line say it would cut off energy to residents of Michigan, especially those in the Upper Peninsula. The line transports 22.68 million gallons per day of crude oils and natural gas liquids to later become propane. According to Enbridge, Line 5’s resources supplies 65% of the propane used in the Upper Peninsula.
Whitmer signed an executive order in 2019 creating the Upper Peninsula Energy Task Force. Its members routinely meet to assess the energy needs of the UP and look for alternative energy supplies and methods of distribution.
The move does not immediately impact the ongoing work by Enbridge to replace the same section of the line with a new pipeline and house that section in a multi-use tunnel buried under the bedrock of the straits, which is the subject of other ongoing litigation.