Enbridge Inc.’s yearlong battle with Michigan officials over a pipeline that runs through the Great Lakes is flaring up again after damage to a support structure prompted the state to try to shut down the conduit.
The most recent skirmish started last week, when Enbridge discovered that a screw anchor support for Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac, where Lake Huron and Lake Michigan connect, had shifted from its original position. The company says it shut down the line and notified the state and federal regulators the day it found the damage.
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer then wrote the company asking for all information it has on the damage, including engineering reports, photos and videos. Days later, the state’s attorney general, Dana Nessel, asked a court to order the pipeline’s operations suspended until the state conducts a full review of that information. The east leg of the line, where the damage occurred, remains shut down while the west leg has resumed operation.
“One close call with Line 5 is one too many, which is why I am calling on Enbridge to proceed with the utmost caution and care,” Whitmer said in a statement on her website. “At this point in time, Enbridge has provided no reason to think this damage could not happen again, but next time with oil gushing into the Great Lakes.”
Enbridge plans to fight the request to shut down the whole line, which it called unnecessary and “legally unsupportable.” The company said it’s working closely with the Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration on the incident and that it has provided engineering assessments and other materials to the state.
Line 5 runs along a 1,040-kilometre route from Superior, Wis., to Sarnia, Ont., transporting as much as 540,000 barrels a day of light crude, synthetic crude and natural gas liquids that are refined into propane. The pipeline was built in 1953 and consists mostly of 30-inch diameter pipe. The line splits into two 20-inch diameter lines for the 4.5 miles it runs under the straits.
Enbridge and Whitmer have fought over the line since shortly after the Democrat took office at the start of last year. Her attorney general has sued the company, saying that its 1953 easement was unconstitutional, and challenged a law passed by the previous administration that gave Enbridge permission to replace the segment of the line in the straits and enclose it in a tunnel. Whitmer ordered work on the $500 million tunnel project stopped.
Enbridge won the challenge to the replacement project, as well as an appeal of the lower court’s ruling. Nessel’s office will seek to have the Michigan Supreme Court review the matter.
The lawsuit over the 1953 easement remains active.
© 2020 Bloomberg L.P.