Michigan introduces energy security plan in expectation of Line 5 closure

Canadian minister: ‘The operation of Line 5 is nonnegotiable’


LANSING, Mich. – The state of Michigan has announced a security plan in an effort to ensure the state’s energy needs are met “when Enbridge’s Line 5 oil pipelines that run through the Great Lakes shut down,” officials announced in a press release Friday.

Over the last few years, Michigan officials have been at odds with the company Enbridge, who owns and operates Line 5 -- a major oil pipeline that runs beneath the Straits of Mackinac. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer argues that the company has neglected to properly care for the pipelines over the years and has put the state at risk for an oil spill.

In November 2020, Whitmer’s office announced that the state was revoking an easement granted in 1953 that allowed an extension of the Line 5 oil pipeline to run through the Straits of Mackinac. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel filed a lawsuit to carry out Whitmer’s decision on Nov. 13, 2020. The revocation would take effect in 180 days from the order, meaning the flow of oil would have to stop by May 12, 2021.

On Friday, March 12, the Michigan Public Service Commission introduced the state’s new Propane Security Plan. As a joint project with the MPSC, and the Michigan departments of transportation; environment, Great Lakes and energy (EGLE); and technology, management and budget, the security plan outlines five steps that are designed to protect consumers and help businesses. Steps include protecting consumers from price gouging, transitioning to electrification and renewable energy to maximize propane efficiency and encouraging the development of alternative energy sourcing options.

“Under Governor Whitmer’s leadership, the U.P. Energy Task Force has been working hard and remains focused on assessing the energy needs for the Upper Peninsula and how those needs are being met. We’ve been working on how to best formulate alternative solutions for meeting those needs while focusing on security, affordability, and environmental soundness,” said EGLE Director Liesl Clark. “This multiagency plan takes the recommendations from the task force and implements them in a real way that will positively impact Michiganders, businesses, and our economy.”

You can read the entire Michigan Propane Security Plan below, or in a new tab by clicking here.

Though the closure of Line 5 appears to be a “when” issue for Michigan officials, Enbridge officials in January said they have no intention of closing the pipeline.

On Nov. 24, 2020, Enbridge filed a federal lawsuit against the state of Michigan, challenging the state’s attempt to revoke the 1953 easement. Enbridge officials argued that shutting down Line 5 is “improper and unlawful,” and that disrupting the oil flow would negatively impact U.S. and Canadian residents and businesses.

Enbridge has also argued that its safety regulator, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, has found the pipelines to be safe and “fit for service.”

“In the face of continued roadblocks by this administration it’s time for the state to stop playing politics with the energy needs and anxieties of US and Canadian consumers and businesses that depend on Line 5,” said Vern Yu, president for liquids pipelines, last November. “It is concerning to see the current administration is willing to compromise these needs. We remain highly committed to protecting the Great Lakes, the environment, and all the people who use these waters while delivering energy that people rely on daily. Enbridge’s Line 5 has served Michiganders safely without spilling a drop of oil at the Straits crossing for more than 65 years, over nine different state administrations.”

Read: Enbridge sues Michigan over state’s attempt to shut down oil pipeline

The announcement of Michigan’s new plan comes just days after Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources Seamus O’Regan said that the “operation of Line 5 is nonnegotiable,” and that the federal government will not shut down the pipeline.

“We are fighting for Line 5 on every front and we are confident in that fight,” O’Regan told a special House of Commons committee on Canada-United States relations, CBC Radio-Canada reports.

“We are fighting on a diplomatic front, and we are preparing to invoke whatever measures we need to in order to make sure that Line 5 remains operational,” O’Regan said. “The operation of Line 5 is nonnegotiable.”

Mike Koby, vice president of U.S. operations for the Calgary, Alberta-based company, said Whitmer has overstepped her authority by attempting to shut down Line 5. Enbridge has “no intention of shutting down the pipelines based on these unspecified allegations,” Koby said in an interview.

Dan Eichinger, director of the state Department of Natural Resources, described a letter written by Enbridge in January as the company’s “attempt to power-wash the company’s long history of violating the terms of the 1953 easement, and their current non-compliance.”

“Enbridge cannot unilaterally decide when laws and binding agreements apply and when they do not,” Eichinger said. “We stand behind our efforts to protect the Great Lakes, and we stand behind the substance of the November 2020 revocation and termination of the Easement.”

More: Enbridge rejects Michigan’s demand to shut down oil pipeline

Line 5 is part of Enbridge’s Lakehead network, which carries oil from western Canada to refineries in the U.S. and Ontario. The pipeline moves about 23 million gallons (87 million liters) daily between Superior, Wisconsin, and Sarnia, Ontario, traversing parts of northern Michigan and Wisconsin.

The underwater section beneath the Straits of Mackinac, which connects Lake Huron and Lake Michigan, is divided into two pipes that are 20 inches (50 centimeters) in diameter. Enbridge says they are in good condition and have never leaked.

Environmental activists, native tribes and some elected officials began pushing to decommission Line 5 after an Enbridge pipeline spilled at least 843,000 gallons (3.2 million liters) of oil in the Kalamazoo River in southern Michigan in 2010.

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

Pressure grew as the company reported gaps in protective coating and installed supports when erosion opened wide spaces between sections of pipe and the lake bed. An anchor dragged by a commercial tug and barge dented both pipes in April 2018. One of the pipeline supports was damaged during the summer of 2020, apparently by a boat cable.

Then, the Alberta, Canada-based company was ordered to temporarily halt operations in June of 2020 after it discovered damage to the pipeline’s anchor support. According to Whitmer the damaged anchor support was approximately 150 feet (46 meters) from a section of the pipeline where damage to its coating was discovered on or around May 26, 2020.

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.

The issues with Line 5 discovered last June came just after the company reached an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 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.

Enbridge officials said last November that ceasing Line 5 operations would result in a daily shortage of millions of gallons of gasoline and other transportation fuels that would impact Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Ontario and Quebec, Canada.

Whitmer believes that the environmental impact of and potential risks posed by the pipeline are too significant to ignore.

In response to Enbridge’s federal lawsuit filed in November, Whitmer’s communications director Tiffany Brown issued the following statement regarding their position on the matter:

“Governor Whitmer was elected to protect and defend the Great Lakes, which are vital to Michigan’s economy and support over 350,000 jobs. Today’s lawsuit filed by Enbridge brazenly defies the people of Michigan and their right to protect the Great Lakes from a catastrophic oil spill. In short, Enbridge claims it can continue to pump oil through the Straits of Mackinac indefinitely, posing enormous risk to our economy and way of life – and that the people of Michigan have no say in the matter. The company that spilled nearly one million gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River and made Michigan the home of the largest on-land oil spill in American history has again demonstrated it cares only about its bottom line.”

Tiffany Brown, Office of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

Michigan officials previously said that the “continued use of the dual pipelines cannot be reconciled with the public’s rights in the Great Lakes and the state’s duty to protect them. Transporting millions of gallons of petroleum products each day through two 67-year old pipelines that lie exposed along the entire span of a busy shipping channel presents an extraordinary and unacceptable risk. The dual pipelines are vulnerable to anchor strikes, similar dangerous impacts, and the inherent risks of pipeline operations.”

Democratic U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, a member of the Senate committee that oversees the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, endorsed Whitmer’s move to shut down Line 5, and said he would work with officials “to swiftly evaluate alternatives to Line 5 while continuing to hold Enbridge accountable.”

Enbridge is currently seeking state and federal permits for a $500 million project to replace the underwater portion with a new pipe that would be housed in a tunnel to be drilled beneath the straits -- an agreement that was reached in 2018 between Enbridge and then-Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. The project is not affected by Whitmer’s shutdown order.

More: EGLE approves permit for new Line 5 tunnel under Straits of Mackinac

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.