The Line 5 Mackinaw Straits Pipeline confrontation is entering a new phase as Enbridge takes the state to court after a new round of negotiations broke down with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. The new governor took some heat from the environmental community and Bill McKibben in the Detroit Free Press on May 12th for entering into negotiations with the Canadian firm to build the tunnel agreed to by the previous Republican governor Snyder - especially after Whitmer’s attorney general successfully challenged the constitutionality of Public Act 359, which amended the Mackinaw Bridge Authority Law and opened the doors to building a tunnel to fix the unstable Pipe Line rather than decommission it.
Now Enbridge Energy is taking legal action to circumvent Whitmer after they were unable to reach a deal on shutting down the Line 5 oil & gas pipeline in the Straits of Mackinaw. On Thursday, June 6th, the energy company announced it is asking the Michigan Court of Claims to effectively reinstate the Line 5 Tunnel Deal they made with Snyder.
Enbridge Executive Vice President Guy Jarvis says they are unable to negotiate with Whitmer, claiming she is holding firm to shutting down the controversial pipeline within two years. Jarvis told reporters that to shut down Line 5 in two years without a replacement would cause a “serious disruption of the energy market in the state”, despite the fact that 95% of the oil goes to Sarnia, with about 2% stripped out at Rapid River in the UP for propane use (about one railcar or three propane trucks a day).
To further underscore its minimal impact on Michigan energy needs, the Dynamic Risk Alternative study of 2017, paid for by Enbridge, determined a shutdown would mean temporary per gallon cost increases of mere pennies. Meanwhile, a 2018 study by Michigan Tech (again paid for by Enbridge) indicated a worst case spill of 2.5 million gallons in the Straits. University of Michigan studies (Schwab and Richardson) indicate 700 miles of shoreline would be oiled and the damage figure would be well above $6 billion.
A Line 5 replacement housed in a utility tunnel underneath the Straits wouldn’t be operational until 2024, the company has previously said.
In a statement, Whitmer’s office said the governor “remains committed to protecting the Great Lakes and getting Line 5 out of the water as quickly as possible.”
“Enbridge walked away from the negotiating table and has now chosen to pursue litigation rather than negotiate in good faith to find a reasonable solution that includes a date certain for decommissioning Line 5.”
“It is now abundantly clear that Enbridge - which is responsible for the largest inland oil spill in American history in Marshall, Michigan - is only interested in protecting its bottom line,” the statement continues.
Enbridge’s move to circumvent Whitmer could prompt attorney general Donna Nessel to begin shutdown proceedings on the portion of Line 5 that crosses the Straits. Nessel threatened to do so if Whitmer couldn’t reach an agreement by the end of June. Nessel said her office looks “forward to seeing Enbridge in court.”
The agreements Enbridge wants to reinstate were finalized with Snyder just days before he left office and call for Enbridge to construct and pay for a $500 million tunnel under the Straits that would house Line 5 and other utilities.
Enbridge wants the Michigan Court of Claims to “establish the constitutional validity and enforceability” of these agreements with the previous administration, but have not yet filed their request as this issue goes to press.
The tunnel was seen as a way to protect Line 5 and other utilities from anchor strikes, like the one in April 2018 that dented the oil and gas pipeline in three places. Here is a link to the National Travel Safety Board (NTSB) report on the anchor strike in the Straits last year https://www.ntsb.gov/investigations/AccidentReports/Reports/MAB1912.pdf. It is an eye-opening story and clearly shows how a similar strike could easily happen again.
Line 5 has leaked 29 times so far, spilling over a million gallons of oil to date and is now approaching 66 years of age, despite a 50-year life expectancy. Enbridge’s integrity management system has had four gas pipeline explosions in other states in the last year.
Huge risk for being a permanent shortcut for Canadian oil.
9th February, 2024