Enbridge Files Lawsuit In Response To Michigan’s Efforts To Shut Down Line 5

A Canadian energy firm filed a lawsuit Tuesday in response to recent legal action by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to shut down a pipeline running through the Straits of Mackinac. 

Enbridge’s Line 5 carries up to 23 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids per day from Superior to Sarnia, Ontario, through the Straits of Mackinac, which connect Lakes Michigan and Huron.

Enbridge said the move interferes with federal regulation by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and “burdens interstate and foreign commerce” in violation of federal law. 

In a statement, Enbridge said the state’s legal challenge was the latest attempt to interfere with operations by “assuming authority it does not possess.”

“In the face of continued roadblocks by this Administration it’s time for the State to stop playing politics with the energy needs and anxieties of US and Canadian consumers and businesses that depend on Line 5,” said Vern Yu, Enbridge’s executive vice president of liquid pipelines.

On Nov. 13, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel filed the lawsuit in state court on behalf of Michigan’s governor and state environmental regulators. The suit seeks to stop the flow of oil in Line 5 within 180 days. Whitmer is arguing Enbridge has made repeated violations under a 1953 easement agreement for maintenance of Line 5 within the Straits of Mackinac.

Enbridge filed its complaint Tuesday in federal court for the Western District of Michigan. The company is attempting to move the state’s lawsuit to federal court as part of its argument that the issue is a federal rather than state matter.

Whitmer’s spokesperson Tiffany Brown issued a statement saying the lawsuit defies the people’s right to protect the Great Lakes from a potential oil spill.

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“In short, Enbridge claims it can continue to pump oil through the Straits of Mackinac indefinitely, posing enormous risk to our economy and way of life — and that the people of Michigan have no say in the matter,” said Brown. “The company that spilled nearly one million gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River and made Michigan the home of the largest on-land oil spill in American history has again demonstrated it cares only about its bottom line.”

Environmental and tribal groups oppose the pipeline’s operation and have urged Whitmer’s administration to shut down Line 5. 

Enbridge has argued its 67-year-old pipeline has never leaked in the Great Lakes and is a vital source of energy for the region. 

Enbridge has said a shutdown would create a propane shortage in Michigan and the region.

A report from an energy task force for Michigan’s Upper Peninsula found 8 percent of the state uses propane for heat while 18 percent of residents use propane for home heating in the UP. Around 58 percent of UP residents use natural gas.  The report recommends lawmakers explore increasing capacity to receive propane by rail although it noted rail accidents have increased with increased oil and gas production.

Enbridge entered into an agreement with former Republican Gov. Rick Snyder in 2018 to build a $500 million tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac to house a new pipeline. The Canadian energy firm has been moving forward with permitting of the project.

Enbridge is also seeking permitting to reroute Line 5 in northern Wisconsin south of the Bad River reservation in response to the tribe’s lawsuit to shut down the pipeline across its reservation.