Michigan Sues to Close Oil Pipeline in Great Lakes

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

(CN) – The state of Michigan went to court Thursday to shut down an underwater oil pipeline near the intersection of Lakes Huron and Michigan, claiming it is vulnerable to anchor strikes that could cause a devastating spill.

Attorney General Dana Nessel sued Enbridge Energy Co. in Ingham County Circuit Court, seeking an injunction to stop its operation of its Line 5 dual pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac.

The location of the pipelines “combines great ecological sensitivity with exceptional vulnerability to anchor strikes like those that occurred in 2018, making it uniquely unsuitable for oil pipelines,” the 28-page lawsuit states.

Nessel is asking the court to void a 1954 easement that authorized the construction and operation of the dual pipelines, and declare that their operation “is likely to cause pollution, impairment and destruction of water and other natural resources.”

The Enbridge Line 5 pipeline system stretch from Superior, Wisconsin, across Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas to Marysville, before dipping through the St. Clair River to Sarnia, Ontario.

Enbridge transports 22.7 million gallons of oil and natural gas everyday on the twin pipelines, which were built in 1954.

“Most of each pipeline was placed on or above the lakebed, and remains exposed in open water, with no covering shielding it from anchor strikes or other physical hazards,” the complaint states.

Nessel’s lawsuit stresses the “enormous public importance” of the Straits of Mackinac and says an oil spill would threaten fish, beaches, wildlife, wetlands and aquatic plants.

The attorney general argues that the 1954 easement was void from its inception and continued operation of the pipelines is a violation of the public trust.

With multiple shipping lanes converging in the area, she claims, the pipelines are vulnerable to anchor strikes.

“So long as oil flows through the pipelines, the associated threat of a catastrophic spill will continue,” the lawsuit states.

The complaint also cited a report from Dynamic Risk Assessment Systems that estimated a 1-in-60 chance of the pipelines rupturing in the next 35 years.

An anchor dragged in the Straits last year, denting the pipelines and damaging electrical lines as the ship made its way to Chicago, according to the lawsuit.

“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,” Nessel said in a statement Thursday.

The lawsuit also cites an Enbridge gas pipeline exploded in 2018 in British Columbia, while another pipeline in Ohio failed earlier this year, “with the resulting fireball visible from 15 miles away.”

The complaint asserts claims of nuisance and violation of the Michigan Environmental Protection Act.

Nessel also moved to dismiss Enbridge’s lawsuit filed June 6, as part of the company’s effort to build a tunnel and continue operating the pipeline.

“The debate over Line 5 has been raging for over five years,” Nessel said. “Real-world events have shown me we can’t wait another five to ten years for Enbridge to build a tunnel.  We cannot prevent accidental or emergency anchor deployments in one of the busiest shipping channels in the Great Lakes.”

Based in Calgary, Alberta, Enbridge said in a statement that it has been operating the Line 5 pipelines safely for 65 years.

“During that time there have been no releases from the lines into the Straits. Additionally, the Straits lines are subject to the most extensive operating and risk management plan of any section of pipe in our system. Our program exceeds federal regulatory requirements, reflecting the priority we place on protecting the Great Lakes and the environment,” the company said. “Notwithstanding the safety of Line 5, Enbridge has continued to listen carefully to the concerns of Michiganders and committed to further actions including the entire replacement of the Straits crossing at a cost of $500 million.”

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