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Enbridge Line 5 shut down after anchor support incurs ‘significant damage’

June 21 update: Enbridge rebuffs Whitmer, won’t close Line 5 after damage to anchor support

Enbridge Energy has shut down the Line 5 petroleum pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac following “significant damage” to an anchor support on the lakebottom pipeline, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced Friday evening.

In a letter Friday to the Canadian company’s CEO, Al Monaco, Whitmer expressed dismay about the damage, which Enbridge reported to state officials late Thursday. She asked Monaco to turn over “all information available” about the incident, including reports, photos and video, and directed Enbirdge to provide “affirmative evidence” of the dual pipelines’ integrity. 

It’s not clear what caused the damage, Whitmer wrote, “although it appears the anchor support was subject to considerable force.”

A spokesman for Enbridge said the incident did not result in a spill

In an email to Bridge Friday, spokesman Ryan Duffy said company officials discovered Thursday during seasonal maintenance work that the support had "shifted from its original position." 

"We immediately shut down the line as a precaution," Duffy wrote, and notified state and federal officials. Duffy said Enbridge will provide the information Whitmer requested.

Line 5 opponents have long expressed concerns that the 67-year-old pipeline, which transports oil and natural gas liquids between Wisconsin and Ontario, could pose a catastrophic hazard to the Great Lakes and inland waterways if it sustains damage resulting in a spill. Friday’s news prompted renewed calls to shut down the pipeline. 

“We don’t even know what Enbridge knew and when in relation to the new damage,” said Sean McBrearty, coordinator of the group Oil & Water Don’t Mix, in a statement. “Enough is enough.”

Mike Shriberg, Great Lakes regional executive director for the National Wildlife Federation, called for a third-party determination of the pipeline’s safety, and said the company “cannot be trusted with Michigan’s most valuable natural, economic and cultural resource.”

The damaged support is about 150 feet from a section of the pipeline where coating covering the pipe was reported damaged on May 26. Enbridge has shut down the pipeline and is using divers and a remotely-operated vehicle to gather more information, according to Whitmer’s letter to Monaco.

“One close call with Line 5 is one too many,” the governor said in a news release Friday evening, “which is why I am calling on Enbridge to proceed with the utmost caution and care.”

Whitmer scolded Monaco for “many unanswered questions” about the “catastrophe that may have been narrowly avoided.” She noted that the 1953 state easement granting Enbridge permission to run its pipeline along the lakebottom comes with a duty to use “due care” in operating and maintaining Line 5. 

News of the damage comes a day after Enbridge announced a settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that includes $6.7 million in fines for failing to quickly address pipeline safety issues within its Lakehead Pipeline System, which includes Line 5 and other Midwest pipelines.  

This is not the first time Line 5 has sustained damage in recent years. In 2018, a boat anchor struck the pipeline, denting it and spurring renewed calls to shutdown the aging pipeline for fear that it is vulnerable to accidents that could release oil into the Straits.

The debate over Line 5’s fate continues today. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel continues to pursue lawsuits against Enbridge in hopes of shutting down the pipeline. Meanwhile, the company is proceeding with permit applications for a planned underground tunnel to house a replacement pipeline that it says would carry petroleum products between Michigan’s peninsulas without risk of a spill in the Straits.

In a statement Friday, Nessel renewed her call to shut down the pipeline, calling news of the anchor damage evidence that “Line 5 is a clear and present danger to our Great Lakes and to the millions of Michiganders who rely on those lakes for recreation, business and tourism.”

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