EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated with a statement from Enbridge.
The state is moving to terminate an agreement that has allowed the Line 5 pipeline to operate in the Straits of Mackinac for the past 67 years, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a bombshell environmental announcement Friday.
In a complaint filed against pipeline owner Enbridge Inc. in Ingham County Circuit Court Friday, the state claims the 1953 easement is “void from its inception” because it violates the public trust doctrine and never found that the project would provide a public benefit.
Additionally, the state claims Enbridge has had “persistent and incurable violations” of the easement’s terms.
The state essentially argues that Line 5 poses a significant risk to the Great Lakes while the project has used public resources primarily for the benefit of a private company.
The Whitmer administration seeks to shut down the 4.5-mile underwater stretch of the twin pipeline within 180 days. The suit was filed against three Enbridge affiliates doing business in Michigan.
Enbridge said in a statement the company is reviewing the state’s action but added there is “no credible basis” for revoking the easement.
“This notice and the report from Michigan Department of Natural Resources are a distraction from the fundamental facts,” said Vern Yu, Enbridge’s executive vice president and president, liquids pipelines. “Line 5 remains safe, as envisioned by the 1953 Easement, and as recently validated by our federal safety regulator.
“We will continue to focus on the safe operation of the dual Line 5 pipelines at the Straits of Mackinac, ensuring the Great Lakes are protected while also reliably delivering the energy that helps to fuel Michigan’s and the region’s economy.”
Whitmer said in a statement Friday that 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. That’s why we’re taking action now, and why I will continue to hold accountable anyone who threatens our Great Lakes and fresh water.”
Enbridge has argued that the 1953 easement doesn’t violate the public trust doctrine, that the company has not violated its easement, and that a late-2018 agreement approved by lawmakers and the administration of former Gov. Rick Snyder allows the company to continue to operate the pipeline in the Straits until a pipeline tunnel project is completed.
Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources are seeking a declaratory judgment from the Lansing-based circuit court on the dispute.
Meanwhile, state officials say the easement revocation doesn’t prevent the company from seeking necessary approvals to build a tunnel for Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac.
The Line 5 pipeline traverses 645 miles from Superior, Wis. across the Upper Peninsula and back south through the Lower Peninsula, ending in Sarnia, Ontario. It transports light crude oil and natural gas liquids.
Attorneys for the state argue that the continued operation of Line 5 in its current form conflicts with the state’s duty to protect the Great Lakes, particularly after an April 2018 incident in which a commercial tugboat and barge inadvertently dragged an anchor along the lakebed, severing transmission cables and denting the pipeline. A circuit court judge ordered Enbridge to temporarily shut down Line 5 in June as part of a separate case filed by Attorney General Dana Nessel.
Enbridge then disclosed in June of this year that the pipelines had been previously hit by external objects that damaged pipeline coatings.
“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,” according to the state’s easement revocation notice.
DNR Director Dan Eichinger said the state spent the past 15 months “reviewing Enbridge’s record over the last 67 years.”
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