Michigan Judge Temporarily Blocks Pipeline in Great Lakes

DETROIT (CN) — Enbridge Energy was ordered to shut down an underwater dual pipeline that carries crude oil and liquid natural gas in northern Michigan, after a state judge found the company did not disclose previous damage to the line.

Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat, praised Ingham County Circuit Court Judge James S. Jamo’s decision Thursday to grant her motion for a temporary restraining order shutting down Enbridge’s Line 5.

The Mackinac Bridge spanning the Straits of Mackinac as seen from Mackinaw City, Mich. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Nessel sued Enbridge a year ago to void an easement from 1954 that allowed the construction of the dual pipelines on the grounds that the chances for land contamination were too high.

The attorney general said she was “very grateful” for the court’s ruling, claiming Enbridge did not give Michigan relevant information about Line 5.

“While the fact that Enbridge reactivated one of the lines before consulting with the state is concerning, the fact that the company has failed to disclose the cause of this damage is equally alarming, considering the impact a breach in the pipeline could have to our state residents and economy,” Nessel said in a statement.

She added, “With the continued operation of this pipeline, the risk of severe and lasting environmental damage to Michigan’s most important natural resource continues to grow every day. However, this ruling, while significant, is only a short-term fix. If the lines are put back into operation, one mismanaged incident or accident would result in a historic catastrophe for our state. Work must continue toward complete removal of Line 5 from our waters.” 

Enbridge disclosed last week that damage was found near the eastern segment of the pipeline – located near the intersection of Lakes Huron and Michigan – and shut down both east and west legs of Line 5 to inspect but did not immediately alert state officials of the incident. The company restarted the line on June 20 without state approval and despite Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s requests for information on the cause of the damage.

According to the lawsuit filed by Nessel, an anchor dragged in the Straits of Mackinac last year, denting the pipelines and damaging electrical lines as a ship made its way to Chicago.

“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,” she said in a statement at the time.

Bryan Newland, tribal chairman of the Bay Mills Indian Community in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, said in a statement that Enbridge is not cooperating in the case.

“The court’s decision today was a great step forward in protecting our Great Lakes from this uniquely dangerous pipeline. Bay Mills will not stop until this threat to our waters and treaty rights is removed,” Newland said. “In addition, this situation shows once again that Enbridge cannot be trusted to safely operate any pipeline. Enbridge continues to withhold information from us, from regulators, and from the public. We want to know what they’re hiding and why they’re hiding it.”

Enbridge did not immediately respond Thursday to a request for comment.

In granting the order, Judge Jamo said the energy company was required to exercise due care and operate the pipelines as a reasonably prudent person would. He noted the parties had previously agreed that Enbridge would share information about previous incidents as requested by Whitmer.

“Plaintiff retains a duty to protect public trust lands, and it is currently unable to do so as a result of defendants’ failures,” the ruling states.  

The judge added, “The severe risk of harm that may result from defendants’ operation of the West Line if wrong in its conclusion that it can safely do so in spite of recent damage to Line 5 of unknown origin is so substantial and irreparable, and endangers so many communities and livelihoods and the natural resources of Michigan, the danger far exceeds the risk of financial loss to defendants if the west pipe of Line 5 is shut down pending hearing.”

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