Enbridge Energy will not comply with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s order to shut down the controversial Line 5 pipeline by May, a company executive told state officials Tuesday.
In a letter to Whitmer and Department of Natural Resources Director Dan Eichinger, Vern Yu, Enbridge’s executive vice president and president of liquids pipelines, questioned Michigan’s rationale for ordering the shutdown and maintained that “the Dual Pipelines will continue to operate safely until they are replaced on completion of the Tunnel Project.”
- With Line 5 closure, a ‘game of chicken’ over how to heat Upper Peninsula
- Q&A: What Michigan’s move to shut down Enbridge Line 5 means
- Enbridge sues Michigan over Line 5 shutdown order
- Experts: Whitmer has upper hand in Line 5 case, but May shutdown is uncertain
Enbridge is awaiting permits in that project, which aims to replace the aging dual span pipes at the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac with a new pipe running through a tunnel beneath the lakebottom. Enbridge officials have said they plan to start building the tunnel this year and finish by 2024, but the company is still awaiting state and federal permits it needs to begin construction.
Citing a litany of easement violations and broader concerns that the pipeline poses a dire risk of an oil spill, Whitmer notified Enbridge in November that she was revoking and terminating the 1953 easement that allows the company to operate Line 5 in the Straits. Whitmer ordered the Straits portion shut down by May.
In a statement Tuesday, Eichinger called Enbridge’s letter an “attempt to power wash” a history of easement violations and said state officials “look forward to making our case in court, not via letters and press releases.”
“Enbridge cannot unilaterally decide when laws and binding agreements apply and when they do not,” Eichinger said. “We stand behind our efforts to protect the Great Lakes, and we stand behind the substance of the November 2020 revocation and termination of the Easement.”
After campaigning for office in 2018 on promises to shut down Line 5, Whitmer had faced mounting pressure to act since the company revealed in June that the pipeline had sustained “significant damage” from what was later revealed to be a probable anchor strike from a vessel owned by one the company’s contractors.
In tandem with Whitmer’s shutdown order, state Attorney General Dana Nessel filed a lawsuit in Ingham County Circuit Court seeking to back up Whitmer’s action.
“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,” Whitmer said in a statement at the time. “That’s why we’re taking action now.”
Enbridge responded quickly with a federal lawsuit seeking a ruling that federal pipeline safety regulations trump Michigan’s authority over Line 5. The company has asked the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan to dismiss Nessel’s Ingham County suit.
But on Tuesday, Yu proposed an alternative to litigation: “Technical discussions” between the state, Enbridge and federal regulators to “better define the issues that the state believes require attention.”
Yu’s Tuesday letter claims the list of easement violations the state used to justify revoking the easement “ignores scientific evidence and is based on inaccurate and outdated information.”
Spokespeople for Whitmer and Nessel did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter.
Specifically, Yu contends the state’s list of alleged violations is based mainly on past issues that have been resolved, fails to acknowledge safety improvements Enbridge has made in the Straits, and misinterprets data about Line 5.
Line 5 opponents, however, contend that even if Enbridge has cleared up some past easement violations, the company’s long history of violations proves that it is incapable of operating Line 5 with the “due care” that the easement requires.
“Enbridge can claim that they’re in line with the easement right now,” said Sean McBrearty, coordinator of the anti-Line 5 coalition Oil & Water Don’t Mix, but repeated anchor strikes to the line prove that Enbridge cannot operate it safely.
“The fact is, their long-term negligence is an incurable easement violation,” McBrearty told Bridge Michigan.
Mike Shriberg, regional executive director of the National Wildlife Federation, called Enbridge’s request for “technical discussions” an act of desperation.
“They see that they’re very likely to lose in the legal battle, so they're trying to head that off through a negotiation,” Shriberg said. “It seems like a desperate and destined-to-fail strategy.”
Enbridge proponents, meanwhile, lauded the company’s letter as further evidence that the pipeline is safe.
“Line 5 is safe, and it means the difference between a job and the unemployment line for a lot of Michigan workers,” Geno Alessandri, business manager for the Michigan Laborers District Council, said in a statement. “The best solution is right in front of us, and it’s already been approved by an overwhelmingly bipartisan majority of the state legislature – build the Great Lakes Tunnel.”