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Michigan sues Enbridge to close pipeline through Great Lakes

28 June 2019

The state of Michigan’s Attorney General has sued Enbridge Inc. in order to shut down the company’s Line 5 oil pipeline which runs under the Straits of Mackinac, through the Great Lakes. The lawsuit was filed on June 27 and calls for the twin 66-year old pipelines to be decommissioned due to the potential for catastrophic environmental damage should a leak occur.

Enbridge head office - Image: Shutterstock
Enbridge head office - Image: Shutterstock

According to Reuters, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s lawsuit says that Enbridge’s pipeline is a common law public nuisance and violates the Michigan Environmental Protection Act. The lawsuit suggests the most likely cause for an accident is an anchor strike as it runs under the Straits of Mackinac where Lakes Huron and Michigan meet, a major shipping lane. 

In a statement, Nessel said: “This situation with Line 5 differs from other bodies of water where pipelines exist because the currents in the Straits of Mackinac are complex, variable, and remarkably fast and strong.”

The Line 5 pipeline is one of Enbridge’s most important in its mainland network and delivers the bulk of its crude oil exports from Canada into the US. The pipeline ships 87 million litres (540,000 barrels) of light crude oil and propane a day. The state is seeking a court order to shut the pipeline down as soon as possible after a reasonable notice period.

The state said that the pipeline poses an unacceptable risk to the environment and that it will not wait for up to 10 years for Enbridge to build a tunnel to house replacement pipes running under the Straits of Mackinac. Although the current pipes have been in place since 1953, Enbridge has insisted that they are in good condition and full working order. However, the Calgary-based company has said it is willing to install a new tunnel under the lakebed of the Straits to encase the pipeline and eliminate the possibility of a leak at a cost of $500 million.

The lawsuit was lodged by Nessel, a Democrat, on the same day that she also sought to dismiss Enbridge’s request for a deal it made with the previous Governor, Republican Rick Snyder, to be enforced. That deal meant that Enbridge would encase a new segment of the Line 5 pipeline in the proposed tunnel and keep the pipeline running.

Nessel’s filing came after Enbridge and Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer failed to come to an agreement about when the pipeline would be decommissioned. Whitmer wanted the proposed tunnel to be finished within two years, whereas the Canadian energy company said it could not decommission the current pipes until at least 2024. 

A spokesman for Enbridge, Ryan Duffy, said in a statement: “We believe the Straits tunnel is the best way to protect the community and the Great Lakes while safely meeting Michigan’s energy needs”.

There have been no known oil spills in the history of Line 5, however there was a near miss when an anchor struck the pipeline in 2018 without rupturing it.

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