Last November the Department of Natural Resources concluded that Enbridge was in violation of its 1953 easement agreement. That easement was granted by the State of Michigan. It allows Line 5 to lie on the lake bed of the Straits of Mackinac, which links Lakes Michigan and Huron. The DNR said there were persistent and incurable violations of the easement’s terms and conditions.
The DNR cited incidents where Enbridge was slow to reveal damage to the 68-year-old twin pipelines such as an anchor strike by a passing ship, which dented them. Another incident involved a vessel contracted by Enbridge that damaged supports holding the pipelines on the lake bottom.
“We will not stop operating the pipeline unless we’re ordered by a court or our regulator, which we think is highly unlikely.” —Ryan Duffy, Enbridge spokesman
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced she was revoking the easement and gave Enbridge six months to shut down Line 5. That deadline is tomorrow at midnight.
Enbridge spokesman Ryan Duffy says that’s not happening.
“We will not stop operating the pipeline unless we’re ordered by a court or our regulator, which we think is highly unlikely.”
The regulator Duffy referred to is the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, not a state regulator.
Enbridge challenged the Governor’s order in federal court. Enbridge maintains Whitmer’s revocation of the easement is not enough on its own.
“There needs to be a court order going along with that, you know, to force a shutdown.”
“Enbridge can’t be allowed to simply make money on what is essentially an illegal operation after May 12,” says David Holtz, Communications Director for the environmental group Oil and Water Don’t Mix. He was reluctant to say what the state should or could do to stop Enbridge from pumping crude oil and natural gas liquids through Line 5. But he says something must be done.
“There needs to be consequences because it just can’t be that Enbridge can ignore a lawful order and put the Great Lakes and our economy at risk,” he says.
Environmental groups such as Oil and Water point to a massive crude oil spill in 2010. That’s when an Enbridge pipeline burst and oil gushed into a tributary of the Kalamazoo River. Enbridge operators delayed shutting down the pipeline for 18 hours. 840,000 gallons of crude oil spilled into the river. It’s one of the largest inland oil spills in the nation’s history.
Environmentalists say the pipeline company cannot be trusted.
Whitmer’s office said in a statement that Enbridge’s continued operation of the Line 5 pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac would be unlawful after tomorrow. But, the Governor’s office declined to say what it planned to do about it if Enbridge defies her order to shut down Line 5.
Native American tribes have some suggestions. They are also calling for Line 5 to be shut down. The 12 federally recognized tribes in Michigan have all passed resolutions asking for the decommissioning of Line 5. Several First Nations in Canada are also calling for Line 5 to be shut down.
Whitney Gravelle is an attorney and the tribal chair of the Bay Mills Indian Community. She believes the State of Michigan has a few legal options, starting with seeking an injunction. If that doesn’t work, there is another option.
“They also have an eviction option for Enbridge as well as trespassing measures because Enbridge is technically on that easement that belongs to the State of Michigan,” Gravelle says.
But that could take some time.
Attorney General Dana Nessel says something will happen but it has to wind through the courts.
“In our opinion, after May 12, Enbridge is trespassing on property that is owned by the State of Michigan. They are no longer welcome to run their pipeline through the Straits of Mackinac. And so, will we be taking punitive measures? Yes, I think we will be. That will have to be done in state court. When our case has been remanded back following the decision of the federal court.”
So Enbridge won’t be evicted on the 13th. Just like a landlord who wants to throw out tenants who’ve not paid the rent, it can’t be done without a court order.
In the meantime, the federal court has ordered Enbridge and Michigan to continuing talking in mediation.
There are a lot of moving legal parts, but don’t expect Line 5 to shut down by midnight tomorrow.