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Enbridge rebuffs Whitmer, won’t close Line 5 after damage to anchor support

June 25, 2020: Michigan judge orders temporary Enbridge Line 5 shutdown
June 22 update: Nessel asks for temporary shutdown of Line 5 after damage

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is asking Enbridge to shut down the second leg of Line 5 after the company reported the pipeline suffered “significant damage” to an anchor support.

Enbridge shut down both legs of the oil and natural gas pipeline that runs through the Straits of Mackinac after maintenance workers discovered the damage Thursday. But the company resumed operation of the west leg Saturday afternoon after determining it was not damaged. 

“Given the gravity of this matter, I was taken aback to learn the company has unilaterally resumed operation of the west leg without even opportunity for discussion,” Whitmer wrote Saturday. 

“At this moment, Enbridge is pumping crude through the Great Lakes on state-owned bottomlands without any explanation for the cause of this damage to the pipeline structure and no assurance that Enbridge has taken sufficient steps to mitigate future harm.”

The company indicated in a statement, also released Saturday, it did not plan to shut down the second leg as the damaged leg is reviewed. 

“Our federal regulator, (the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration), has no objections to this plan,” wrote spokesperson Ryan Duffy. 

Duffy told Bridge Friday that the company discovered an anchor support on the east leg of the pipeline had “shifted from its original position” during seasonal maintenance work. 

In a letter to Whitmer sent Saturday, Enbridge CEO Al Monaco said the company is assessing damage to the pipelines by deploying divers and using a remote-operated vehicle. Whitmer asked that the company provide engineering reports, photographs, video and other evidence of the damage to the state by Monday and said the “incident leaves many unanswered questions as to the cause of this damage.”

The company said that when it first became aware of the damage it immediately shut down operation of the 67-year-old pipeline that transports oil and natural gas between Wisconsin and Ontario, but news of the damage has renewed calls to shut it down permanently. 

Line 5 critics have long said they are concerned that the pipeline could do irreparable damage to the Great Lakes should it be damaged enough to cause a spill. Sean McBrearty of advocacy group Oil & Water Don’t Mix said the incident shows “enough is enough,” while Mike Shriberg of the National Wildlife Federation said the company “cannot be trusted with Michigan’s most valuable natural, economic and cultural resource.”

Controversy over the pipeline continues at the state and federal level. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel is still fighting the energy company in court in an attempt to prove the law passed in 2018 authorizing the tunnel violates the state constitution. Earlier this week, the company reached a settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and agreed to pay $6.7 million after it failed to quickly address safety problems in the Lakehead Pipeline System, which includes Line 5.

It’s not the first time Line 5 has been damaged: In 2018, a six-ton anchor hit the pipeline, denting it. The incident also caused $100 million in damages to another company’s underwater power cables and for 800 gallons of oil to be spilled into the Straits.

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