Future of Line 5 Uncertain After Enbridge Ignores Whitmer’s Order to Shut Down

Despite passing the state’s deadline to shut down, not much has happened to Enbridge while it continues to pump oil and natural gas through the pipeline.

Oil and gas are still flowing through Enbridge Energy’s Line 5 pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac. That’s despite Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s order to shut it down.

MichMash hosts Cheyna Roth and Jake Neher talk with Garret Ellison, who covers Michigan environment, natural resources and Great Lakes issues for MLive, about what happens next.

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Line 5 is the oil and natural gas liquids pipeline that runs through Michigan and, crucially in this case, through the Straits of Mackinac. 

In November, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration announced that it was revoking the state’s easement with Enbridge — the Canadian oil pipeline giant that runs Line 5 — and would shut down the line in May. But that deadline has come and gone, and Enbridge is still operating Line 5. 

Whitmer rationalized the order by saying Enbridge was not complying with the rules of the easement. The 67-year-old line has had some anchor strikes and other incidents over the last few year that has led environmental activists and others to call for a complete shutdown. 

Enbridge was quick to respond, Ellison says, claiming that the governor didn’t have the authority to order the line be shut down — only the courts or the federal government. 

On top of that, Ellison says Enbridge has been getting Canadian officials on its side to ramp up the rhetoric about what they say is a crucially needed pipeline. 

“In terms of legal action, not much happened.” –Garret Ellison, MLive

“So, you’ve got the mayor of Sarnia, and then you have politicians in Ontario, and then you have the Canadian federal government going, ‘Hey, we really rely on the fuel that this pipeline transports and you can’t just shut it down. That would mean job loss in Canada, and that would pinch fuel supplies that could cause shortages,’” Ellison says.  

It all sort of culminated last week when the deadline to shut it down, that had been imposed by Governor Whitmer, came and went and obviously the pipeline is still operating,” says Ellison.

But despite passing the deadline, not much has happened to Enbridge while it continues to pump oil and natural gas liquids through the pipeline.  

“In terms of legal action, not much happened,” Ellison said. “There was some rhetoric by Enbridge. And Governor Whitmer’s side, she threatened to seize profits from the continued use of the pipeline after May 12 … The state of Michigan hasn’t moved to do that yet. They’re still in mediation with Enbridge.” 

While all this continues to play out, there’s still the question on whether Enbridge will be able to build a replacement segment of the line. In 2018, Enbridge and then-Gov. Rick Snyder worked out a deal to house a new section of Line 5 inside a multi-use tunnel and then bury the tunnel under the bedrock of the Straits. That plan has been in litigation since Attorney General Dana Nessel took office.

More from MichMash:

Redistricting Commission Needs Michigan Residents’ Help To Define “Community of Interest”
State’s Approach to Unemployment Lawsuit Puts Victims in Limbo
Michigan Needs To Grow Faster. How Can We Attract More People?
Michigan Falling Behind Other States, Countries in Ending ‘Period Poverty’

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  • Cheyna Roth
    Cheyna has interned with Michigan Radio and freelanced for WKAR public radio in Lansing. She's also done some online freelancing and worked on documentary films.
  • Jake Neher
    Jake Neher is senior producer for Detroit Today and host of MichMash for 101.9 WDET. He previously reported on the Michigan Legislature for the Michigan Public Radio Network.