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Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel moves to shut down Line 5 oil pipelines

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Posted at 11:10 AM, Jun 27, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-27 12:01:04-04

(WXYZ) — Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has filed a lawsuit to shut down the Line 5 oil pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac.

Nessel also filed a motion to dismiss Enbridge's lawsuit that seeks to enforce agreements made in the last five months of the Snyder administration that purported to authorize Enbridge to build a tunnel and continue operating Line 5.

"I have consistently stated that Enbridge’s pipelines in the Straits need to be shut down as soon as possible because they present an unacceptable risk to the Great Lakes,” Nessel said in a release. “Governor Whitmer tried her best to reach an agreement that would remove the pipelines from the Straits on an expedited basis, but Enbridge walked away from negotiations and instead filed a lawsuit against the state. Once that occurred, there was no need for further delay.”

Nessel's lawsuit asks the court to find that Enbridge's continued operation of the Straits Pipelines violates the Michigan Environmental Protection Act because it is likely to "cause pollution impairment and destruction of water and other natural resources."

“The location of the pipelines – which carry millions of gallons of oil each day and lie exposed in open water at the bottom of the Straits – combines great ecological sensitivity with exceptional vulnerability to anchor strikes,” said Nessel. “This situation with Line 5 differs from other bodies of water where pipelines exist because the currents in the Straits of Mackinac are complex, variable, and remarkably fast and strong.”

Nessel also said: “The continued operation of Line 5 presents an extraordinary, unreasonable threat to the public because of the very real risk of further anchor strikes, the inherent risks of pipeline operations, and the foreseeable, catastrophic effects if an oil spill occurs at the Straits. We were extraordinarily lucky that we did not experience a complete rupture of Line 5 because, if we did, we would be cleaning up the Great Lakes and our shorelines for the rest of our lives, and the lives of our children as well.”

Governor Whitmer's office released the following statement on the legal filings:

The governor’s primary goal has always been and remains to get the Line 5 dual pipelines out of the Straits of Mackinac as soon as possible. The risk of a catastrophic oil spill in the Great Lakes, and the harm that would follow to Michigan’s economy, tourism, and our way of life, is far too great to allow the pipelines to continue to operate indefinitely. As a recent National Transportation Safety Board report documented, any doubt as to the risk posed by Line 5 was erased in April 2018 when a barge dragging a 12,000-pound anchor nearly caused disaster.
“The governor has never viewed litigation as the best solution to this problem, and for this reason she entered negotiations with Enbridge about the possible construction of a tunnel. Her reasonable requirement has been that the dual pipelines through the Straits cease operation at a date certain, after allowing for a period of transition. Enbridge, however, has insisted that it be allowed to run oil through the Great Lakes indefinitely. Rather than negotiating, Enbridge walked away and filed a lawsuit. Today, Governor Whitmer filed her response asking the court to dismiss Enbridge’s lawsuit.
“For several months the attorney general has indicated she would use her independent authority to seek to shut down the dual pipelines through the Straits if Enbridge did not reach an acceptable agreement with the governor. Today, the attorney general followed through on her promise by filing a separate action.
“Although the governor remains willing to talk with Enbridge, her commitment to stopping the flow of oil through the Great Lakes as soon as possible – and Enbridge’s decision to sue the governor rather than negotiate – will at some point require her to take legal action, as well. For that reason, today the governor has directed the Department of Natural Resources to begin a comprehensive review of Enbridge’s compliance with the 1953 Easement, and other factors affecting its validity. The 1953 Easement created the terms and conditions under which Enbridge could operate the dual pipelines on the bottomlands of the Great Lakes. Possible violations of the easement are just one of several grounds by which the state could seek to shut down the pipelines, some of which the attorney general has already invoked today.

Enbridge released the following statement in response:

Enbridge will need time to fully evaluate the Attorney General’s filing.

We are disappointed the State chose not to accept our offer to advance talks on the Straits tunnel, a project that would make a safe pipeline even safer. The State also ignored our offer to suspend litigation and jointly appoint an independent, Michigan-based moderator to help facilitate the discussions. We also committed to making additional safety enhancements to the current line.

We remain open to discussions with the Governor, and we hope we can reach an agreement outside of court. Enbridge is deeply committed to being part of Michigan’s future. We believe the Straits tunnel is the best way to protect the community and the Great Lakes while safely meeting Michigan’s energy needs.

Line 5 is a critical source of 540,000 barrels per day of propane and crude oil supply for Michigan and surrounding areas, and shutting it down would lead to a serious disruption of the energy market. Line 5 serves an estimated 55% of the state’s propane needs, including approximately 65% of the propane used in the Upper Peninsula and northern Michigan, for which no viable alternatives exist.

Line 5 also supplies Michigan and regional refineries that provide the state with various fuels its residents rely on in their day-to-day lives. Refineries served by Line 5 supply a large percentage of the aviation fuel at Detroit’s Metropolitan Airport, an important contributor to the state’s economy.

Shutting down the line would impact the pocketbooks of Michigan residents, the competiveness of the state and could lead to job losses for those working at refineries.

Line 5 is critical infrastructure that Michigan residents depend on every day, and it would be irresponsible to shut it down. It is safe and well maintained, and we intend to continue to operate it for decades to come.