Whitmer, Nessel move to shut down Enbridge's Line 5 Great Lakes pipeline by 2021

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click to enlarge In 2013, the National Wildlife Federation sent divers to look at Enbridge, Inc.'s aging straits pipelines, finding wide spans of unsupported structures encrusted with exotic zebra mussels and quagga mussels. - National Wildlife Federation
National Wildlife Federation
In 2013, the National Wildlife Federation sent divers to look at Enbridge, Inc.'s aging straits pipelines, finding wide spans of unsupported structures encrusted with exotic zebra mussels and quagga mussels.

Canadian oil giant Enbridge Inc. violated its 1953 easement agreement with the state of Michigan for its controversial Line 5 oil and gas pipeline in the Great Lakes and must cease operations by May 2021, say Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Department of Natural Resources director Dan Eichinger.

The two presented Enbridge with a letter notifying it of the violation on Friday, and also filed a lawsuit in Ingham County Circuit Court.

"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," a statement from Whitmer's office reads. "The dual pipelines are vulnerable to anchor strikes, similar dangerous impacts, and the inherent risks of pipeline operations. "

The pipeline has become controversial in recent years because Enbridge was found to be violating the 1953 easement agreement with the state, which orders the dual pipelines to be anchored to the bottom of the Straits of Mackninac every 75 feet. After underwater photos revealed that parts of the structure were unsupported, Enbridge blamed shifting sands due to erosion, and placed new anchors.

However, it's those currents that have caused environmental activists to sound the alarms. One scientific model forecasted that should an oil spill occur at Line 5, it would flow into both Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, causing untold damage to the state's environment.

The Great Lakes are home to 21% of the world's fresh surface water and supply drinking water for 48 million people, including 5 million in Michigan. The Lakes also provide 1.3 million jobs that generate $82 billion in wages annually across the U.S., including more than 350,000 jobs in Michigan, according to Whitmer's office.

Plus, Enbridge doesn't have the greatest track record. July marked the 10-year anniversary of its Line 6B spill near Marshall, where nearly 20,000 barrels — or 840,000 gallons — of heavy crude oil flowed into Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River. At the time, it was the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history.

More recently, in April 2018, the pipelines were struck and dented by an anchor from a commercial vessel. In June 2020, Enbridge disclosed that the pipelines had again been struck again sometime in 2019 by anchors, potentially from vessels belonging to the company's own contractors.

"Here in Michigan, the Great Lakes define our borders, but they also define who we are as people," Whitmer said in a statement, adding, "Most importantly, 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."

The letter says Whitmer and the DNR made the decision to terminate the easement after reviewing Enbdirge's record for more than 15 months. On June 27, 2019, the governor directed the DNR to undertake a comprehensive review of Enbridge's compliance with the 1953 easement.

"I commend Gov. Whitmer and Director Eichinger for their forceful actions today to address the grave threat posed by Enbridge's unlawful operation of its pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac," Attorney General Dana Nessel said in a statement. "With the steps they took today, Gov. Whitmer and Director Eichinger are making another clear statement that Line 5 poses a great risk to our state, and it must be removed from our public waterways."

In a statement, Enbridge denied wrongdoing and said it is reviewing the documents. The company is seeking permit approval to replace the pipelines with an underground tunnel, which they say would be safer.

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About The Author

Lee DeVito

Leyland "Lee" DeVito grew up in the suburbs of Detroit, where he read Metro Times religiously due to teenaged-induced boredom. He became a contributing writer for Metro Times in 2009, and Editor in Chief in 2016. In addition to writing, he also supplies occasional illustrations. His writing has been published...
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