Michigan judge allows restart of disputed oil pipeline
By John Flesher
July 6, 2020
By John Flesher
(AP) TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. – A Michigan judge Wednesday allowed Enbridge to resume pumping oil through a Midwestern pipeline, nearly a week after shutting it down because of damage to a structure that anchors a section of the line running through a Great Lakes channel.
Enbridge’s Line 5 moves crude oil and liquids used in propane from Superior, Wisconsin, to Sarnia, Ontario, passing through parts of Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas. A four-mile-long (6.4-kilometres-long) segment divides into two pipes that cross the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac, which connects Lakes Huron and Michigan.
Circuit Judge James Jamo granted a request from state Attorney General Dana Nessel to close the line June 25 after Enbridge, the Canadian company that operates it, reported that an inspection had found damage to an anchor supporting the underwater section’s eastern line. The pipe itself was unharmed, the company said.
During a hearing Tuesday, Enbridge attorneys urged Jamo to lift the restriction for the underwater western line so oil could resume flowing. The company says the interruption threatens supplies for customers of refineries that receive Line 5’s oil in Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania, as well as the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec.
Nessel’s office argued for keeping the 645-mile-long (1,038-kilometres-long) line shut down until Enbridge provides additional information that would ensure it is being operated in a “reasonably prudent” manner.
In his amended order Wednesday, Jamo said the company could restart the western line to conduct a safety test and could keep it running “subject to the results of the (test) and further order of this court.”
Within a week of the restart, Jamo said, Enbridge must provide the state with test results for a particular area of the western line that a recent inspection found had apparently been scraped by a vessel cable or similar object. Test data for the rest of the line must be turned over “as soon as practical,” he said.
The east line, meanwhile, will remain out of operation until the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has completed an investigation of the damaged support and Enbridge has complied with all the agency’s repair and maintenance requirements, Jamo said.
He also ordered the company and Nessel’s office to compile a list of documents and other materials sought by the state by next Tuesday.
Pledging to comply, Enbridge said it “will now begin safely restarting the west segment and anticipates operations will soon return to normal.”
The volume of liquids moving through the line will be lower than normal because just one of the underwater segments will be active, “but we will be able to meet demand,” spokesman Ryan Duffy said.
“Enbridge’s Line 5 has served Michiganders safely without incident at the Straits crossing for more than 65 years,” the company said in a statement. “We remain willing to work with the state going forward to address issues of concern about the safety of Line 5 and its ultimate replacement with The Great Lakes Tunnel that will contain a new section of pipeline.”
The company reached a deal with the administration of former Republican Gov. Rick Snyder in 2018 to place a new underwater segment in a tunnel that would be drilled through bedrock beneath the straits. His Democratic successor, Gretchen Whitmer, has joined Nessel in criticizing the agreement, which awaits permits from state agencies.
Nessel said in a statement that Jamo’s ruling “allows the state to receive the vital information surrounding this incident that we need to complete an informed analysis of the damage and evaluate the threat this pipeline poses to our environment if left to operate in its current state.”
Environmental groups have long pushed to shut down Line 5, which they contend is a safety hazard. They described Jamo’s ruling as a rejection of Enbridge’s contention that the state has no regulatory authority over interstate pipelines.
“Today’s ruling sends a clear message to Enbridge that it is not above state law and cannot continue to ignore the safe and well-being of our Great Lakes, our local businesses and our communities,” said Beth Wallace of the National Wildlife Federation.
Business groups praised the decision to let Line 5 partially reopen and urged Michigan agencies to quickly approve permits for the tunnel project.
“The pipeline safely delivers the energy products Michigan businesses and families rely on daily to power their homes and job sites, and to make the products we count on every day,” said John Dulmes, executive director of the Michigan Chemistry Council.