Energy Company Rejects Demand to Shut Down Michigan Pipelines

Enbridge argues state officials have no authority to revoke a 1953 easement for its twin pipelines.

Fresh nuts, bolts and fittings sit ready to be added an Enbridge pipeline in Mackinaw City, Mich., in June 2017. (Dale G Young/Detroit News via AP)/Detroit News via AP)

(CN) — Energy company Enbridge said Tuesday it intends to ignore a demand from Michigan officials to shut down its controversial dual pipelines through the Straits of Mackinac, arguing the equipment poses no danger to the public.  

Responding to a lawsuit from Governor Gretchen Whitmer and the state’s Department of Natural Resources seeking to end a decades-old easement, Enbridge Executive Vice President Vern Yu sent a letter to state officials saying there is no reason to cease operations.

“Our dual lines in the Straits are safe and in full compliance with the federal pipeline safety standards that govern them,” he wrote.

The letter said Enbridge is seeking to dismiss the lawsuit and intends to adhere to an existing agreement with the state, under which a replacement pipeline would eventually be installed.

“We believe that it would be in the best interest of the state to find an agreement that would achieve the state’s long-term goals rather than pursue litigation that ultimately is unlikely to succeed,” Yu said. “To that end, we propose that the parties begin technical discussions promptly in order to better define the issues that the state believes require attention.”

He added, “In the meantime, the dual pipelines will continue to operate safely until they are replaced on completion of the tunnel project, as per the 2018 agreements.”

Governor Whitmer, a Democrat, and the Department of Natural Resources sued last November after revoking the 1953 easement for the dual pipelines, alleging a lack of compliance with safety standards.

The complaint filed in Ingham County Circuit Court sought a declaratory judgment that the easement was properly terminated and an injunction stopping Enbridge from operating the twin pipelines.

The state accused the company of deliberately ignoring mandates for the construction of the pipeline from the very beginning, going to back when Dwight D. Eisenhower was president of the United States and Enbridge was known as the Lakehead Pipe Line Company.

In a statement on the lawsuit, Whitmer accused Enbridge of refusing to “take action to protect our Great Lakes and the millions of Americans who depend on them for clean drinking water and good jobs.”

“They have repeatedly violated the terms of the 1953 easement by ignoring structural problems that put our Great Lakes and our families at risk,” the governor said in November. “Most importantly, Enbridge has imposed on the people of Michigan an unacceptable risk of a catastrophic oil spill in the Great Lakes that could devastate our economy and way of life. That’s why we’re taking action now, and why I will continue to hold accountable anyone who threatens our Great Lakes and fresh water.”

Yu disputed those assertions in his letter, saying the state’s attempt to terminate the easement failed to consider that past issues were corrected and officials did not show any current violations exist.  

“The notice ignores scientific evidence, and is based on inaccurate and outdated information,” he wrote.

The Great Lakes region supplies drinking water for 5 million Michiganders and 48 million people overall. It holds 21% of the world’s fresh surface water. Whitmer said an oil spill accident could potentially affect up to 350,000 jobs in the Wolverine State.

Enbridge has struggled to maintain a safe environment for the pipelines in recent years. In April 2018, the lines were struck and dented in three different locations when an anchor was accidently dropped and dragged by a commercial vessel. In June of last year, Enbridge announced they were damaged again by anchors or cables deployed by nearby vessels that chipped away at pipeline coatings. Four of the five vessels potentially responsible for the impacts were operated by Enbridge’s own contractors. 

In June 2019, Whitmer directed the Department of Natural Resources to undertake a review of Enbridge’s compliance with the 1953 easement. The completion of that review triggered the notice and lawsuit.

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