Michigan court orders Line 5 to temporarily cease operations after damage discovered to pipeline

Ingham County Circuit Court grants Michigan AG's motion requiring the oil pipeline to cease operations

FILE - In this June 8, 2017, file photo, fresh nuts, bolts and fittings are ready to be added to the east leg of the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline near St. Ignace, Mich., as Enbridge prepares to test the east and west sides of the Line 5 pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac in Mackinaw City, Mich. The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled Thursday, June 11, 2020, that legislators did not violate the state constitution by allowing construction of an oil pipeline tunnel beneath a channel linking two of the Great Lakes. A three-judge panel affirmed a ruling last November by the Michigan Court of Claims, which upheld a law authorizing a deal between former Republican Gov. Rick Snyder and Canadian pipeline company Enbridge. (Dale G. Young/Detroit News via AP, File) (Dale G. Young)

LANSING, Mich. – The Ingham County Circuit Court ordered Thursday that Enbridge Energy must cease all operations of the Line 5 oil pipeline located in the Straits of Mackinac.

The court’s ruling comes after Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel filed a motion for a temporary restraining requiring Enbridge to cease operations on Monday. Enbridge must shut down the west leg of the pipeline within the next 24 hours, officials said. The east leg has ceased operations since last week after damage was discovered on Line 5.

“Enbridge has failed to provide the state with information about the cause of this significant development involving Line 5, and so I’m very grateful for the court’s decision today,” Nessel said. “While the fact that Enbridge reactivated one of the lines before consulting with the state is concerning, the fact that the company has failed to disclose the cause of this damage is equally alarming, considering the impact a breach in the pipeline could have to our state residents and economy. With the continued operation of this pipeline, the risk of severe and lasting environmental damage to Michigan’s most important natural resource continues to grow every day. However, this ruling, while significant, is only a short-term fix. If the lines are put back into operation, one mismanaged incident or accident would result in a historic catastrophe for our state. Work must continue toward complete removal of Line 5 from our waters.” 

The Alberta, Canada-based company discovered damage to the pipeline’s anchor support on June 18. Enbridge disclosed the information to Michigan officials and closed off the damaged leg of the pipeline in response, but the state was concerned about the impact the damage might do to the surrounding area.

According to Whitmer the damaged anchor support lies approximately 150 feet (46 meters) from a section of the pipeline where damage to the pipeline coating was discovered on or around May 26. She previously said the company is gathering more information through divers, the use of a remotely operated vehicle and other means.

“As Governor of the Great Lakes State I carry an immense burden to protect this priceless treasure that defines the contours of our state and our way of life,” Whitmer wrote in her letter to Enbridge CEO Al Monaco last week. “I anticipate and expect your full cooperation.”

Whitmer demanded answers from Enbridge, who promptly responded saying that an investigation was underway to determine the cause of the damage and the extent of its impact.

In Thursday’s ruling the court said Enbridge’s “failure to provide sufficient documentation to the state of Michigan related to the nature, extent, and cause(s) of the newly-discovered damage to Line 5 and its supporting infrastructure has resulted in the state’s inability to review or assess any risk of harm arising from the identified damage.” 

The company has been ordered to share information related to the recent damage of the pipelines with the state of Michigan. Officials say both legs of the pipeline must remain closed through June 30, when a hearing is scheduled on Nessel’s motion for preliminary injunction.

Whitmer’s office issued a statement Thursday afternoon in favor of the court’s decision:

“Governor Whitmer applauds the court’s decision to issue a temporary restraining order to shut down Line 5 immediately, following severe damage to an anchor support. Enbridge’s decision to continue pumping crude oil through the Straits of Mackinac with so many unanswered questions was reckless and unacceptable. Enbridge owes a duty to the people of Michigan and must answer to the state for how it treats our Great Lakes. The governor will continue working to keep our water safe.”

Reports on the problem with Pipeline 5 come after Enbridge reached an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to pay a $6.7 million fine for allegedly failing to quickly fix pipeline safety issues. The EPA determined that Enbridge neglected to properly evaluate thousands of “shallow dents” on its Lakehead Pipeline System, which runs across northern Minnesota and northwestern Wisconsin.

Enbridge signed a consent decree in 2017 with the U.S. Justice Department to resolve claims in 2010 from a massive oil spill in Michigan and another pipeline leak in Illinois. The company paid $177 million and pledged to improve pipeline safety under that agreement.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this month ruled Enbridge has legally acceptable plans for dealing with a potential spills from pipelines under the Straits of Mackinac. A strategy for dealing with an oil spill in the event of a Line 5 failure is required under the Clean Water Act.

RELATED: Enbridge: Broken pipe in Mackinac Straits is 200 feet long

The pipeline carries oil and natural gas liquids used in propane from Superior, Wisconsin, to Sarnia, Ontario. A four-mile (6.4 kilometer) segment divides into two pipes that lie across the bottom of the straits, which connect Lakes Huron and Michigan.

Mike Shriberg of the National Wildlife Federal and a former member of Michigan’s Pipeline Safety Advisory Board says the problems with Line 5 reported Thursday should result in its demise.

“How many more shoes have to drop until we stop putting the Great Lakes, our drinking water, our economy and our way of life at risk?” Shriberg said in a statement Friday. “The National Wildlife Federation applauds Governor Whitmer and Attorney General Nessel for requiring Enbridge to prove that Line 5 is safe.”

MORE: Enbridge hires companies to design, build Great Lakes tunnel

Shriberg contends there have been at least 33 spills from the land-based segments of the 67-year-old pipeline.

About the Authors:

Cassidy Johncox is a senior digital news editor covering stories across the spectrum, with a special focus on politics and community issues.