Enbridge says governor’s attempt to revoke Line 5 easement is unlawful and ignores science

CALGARY – Enbridge Energy has indicated that it has no plans to stop operations on its Line 5 oil and natural gas pipeline through the Straits of Mackinac despite the Michigan government revoking the pipeline’s easement and a May deadline set by the government for the line’s closure. 

Enbridge Energy, in a release Tuesday, disclosed the company responded to Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s attempt to terminate an easement that has been in place since 1953 and thereby close Enbridge’s Line 5 dual pipelines located in that easement. Line 5 enables the safe transport of fuel to heat homes and provides energy to Michigan, neighbouring states as well as Ontario and Quebec. 

In a letter responding to the state’s November 13 notice, Vern Yu, Enbridge executive vice-president and president, Liquids Pipeline, wrote, “our dual lines in the Straits are safe and in full compliance with the federal pipeline safety standards that govern them.” 

Both lines were reviewed and approved for operation by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) back in June and September of 2020.

Mr. Yu further wrote that Enbridge has no intention of shutting down the pipelines based on the state’s unspecified allegations and its violation of federal law.

The company has requested that the Untied States District Court dismiss the State of Michigan’s action in that the revocation of the easement is contrary to federal law and that pipeline safety resides with the federal Pipeline Safety Act and its enforcement is the responsibility of an expert federal agency (PHMSA).

“The notice ignores scientific evidence and is based on inaccurate and outdated information,” Mr. Yu wrote of the State’s Action. He noted repeated offers by Enbridge over the past year to meet with Michigan officials to discuss pipeline issues of concern, information and discuss matters that might be helpful to the State’s review of the easement have mostly been ignored and dismissed. Consequently, the State made its claim on “ill-informed, inaccurate and out of date and unsupportable opinion.”

In his letter, Mr. Yu wrote that the state acted unlawfully in issuing the notice to revoke and terminate the 1953 easement by attempting to upend federal jurisdiction. He wrote that Enbridge’s response further underscores that the governor and Department of Natural Resources (DNR) director cannot disregard Michigan laws authorizing the original 1953 easement and the replacement tunnel, nor displace PHMSA, the federal agency responsible for the safety of interstate pipelines. The company, consistent with the past, is offering to meet with the state to resolve any differences.

“In the meantime, the dual pipelines will continue to operate safely until they are replaced on completion of the tunnel project,” wrote Mr. Yu.

Line 5 has had inland spills in Wisconsin and Michigan over the years, some close enough to the lakes to affect the Great Lakes watershed, reported the reported the Detroit News January 12, 2021. It reported the state DNR said Tuesday that it stood behind its easement revocation and said Enbridge could not “unilaterally decide which laws and binding agreements apply and when they do not.” 

Opponents of the Straits pipelines, including those on Manitoulin Island, have argued that a spill between Lakes Michigan and Huron, where the dual span transports as much as 540,000 barrels of light crude oil a day, would devastate the Great Lakes, including Lake Huron and could potentially reach the south shore of Manitoulin.