Michigan Democratic congressional members seek Enbridge Line 5 shutdown

Enbridge Energy on June 18 reported “significant damage” to an anchor support on one leg of the dual-span Line 5 pipeline beneath the Straits of Mackinac. (Courtesy photo)

Democratic members of Michigan’s congressional delegation have joined Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel in calling for a temporary shutdown of the Line 5 pipeline beneath the Straits of Mackinac until more is known about what damaged an anchor support on one of the line’s two legs.  

Congressional members led by Rep. Debbie Dingell, of Dearborn, sent a letter Wednesday to U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao asking Chao to shut down the pipeline until a full investigation is completed and both legs of the line are deemed safe.

Congressional members led by Rep. Debbie Dingell, of Dearborn, sent a letter Wednesday to U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao asking her to shut down the pipeline.

The request comes two days after Nessel asked an Ingham County Circuit Court judge to order a temporary shutdown.

Enbridge Energy, the Canadian petroleum company that owns Line 5, notified state officials last Thursday that an anchor support on the line’s east leg had sustained “significant damage” from an unknown source. The company stopped transporting petroleum products on both legs of the dual-span pipeline while workers investigated. 

But by Saturday afternoon, Enbridge had resumed operations of the west leg. The east leg remains closed, a company spokesman said Wednesday.

The partial reopening prompted an outcry from Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who criticized Enbridge for a lack of transparency in describing the circumstances of the damage and acting “unilaterally” to reopen over her objections.

Enbridge responded that it had consulted with federal regulators at the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, or PHMSA, which regulates pipelines. Those regulators had “no objections” to the pipeline’s partial reopening, the company said in a statement. 

PHMSA officials have not responded to questions from Bridge about the agency’s response to the damage, other than to say the agency is monitoring the situation and continues to communicate with Enbridge.

It is still unclear what caused the damage, or when.

In their letter to Chao, who oversees PHMSA, Michigan legislators called for a federal investigation into the circumstances surrounding the damaged anchor support. 

“All the people who call this region home deserves to know what happened and to have federal regulators undertake an investigation to determine whether imminent threat of harm to the Great Lakes exists,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter. 

That includes, they said, knowing that PHMSA has inspected both legs of the pipeline, that “documentary evidence” about the incident is made public, and that there is a clear plan to address the damage and “ensure that this will not happen again.”

In a statement Wednesday, Rep. Elissa Slotkin, who co-signed the letter, accused Enbridge of refusing to answer “basic questions” about the incident.

“Michiganders deserve answers, and fast,” Slotkin said in the statement.

Representatives Dan Kildee of Flint, Andy Levin of Bloomfield Township, Brenda Lawrence of Southfield, Rashida Tlaib of Detroit, and Haley Stevens of Rochester Hills also signed onto the letter.

They asked Chao to answer a series of questions by July 9 about PHMSA’s response to the damage. Many of the questions seek to gain a better understanding of how closely federal regulators reviewed the damage and what authority PHMSA has to order Line 5 shut down. 

Both Whitmer and Nessel oppose the 67-year-old pipeline, which transports 540,000 barrels daily of crude oil and natural gas liquids between Wisconsin and Ontario, and campaigned on promises to shut it down for fear that it could sustain damage that would cause a catastrophic oil spill in the Straits.

In a statement Wednesday, company spokesman Ryan Duffy defended the pipeline’s safety record. 

“Line 5 has operated reliably and safely in the Straits since 1953 and continues to do so today,” the statement read.

In an interview Wednesday with Bridge, Nessel said she is concerned that the federal agency’s review of the incident may not have been thorough. Enbridge has made clear that it believes it answers to PHMSA, and not the state, when responding to incidents like the anchor support damage.

Nessel said she believes the state has oversight authority, too, and she doesn’t believe the pipeline should resume operations until state officials have confirmed that the line is safe and that similar incidents won’t happen in the future. She wants a third-party investigation into the damage.

“Imagine if [the damage to the anchor support] had happened just a few feet lower,” she said. “We’d be figuring out how to clean up an oil spill.”

While the lawmakers await answers from Chao, Nessel and Enbridge are awaiting word from Ingham County Circuit Court Judge James Jamo about whether he will grant Nessel’s request for a temporary shutdown.

Enbridge has called Nessel’s shutdown motions “legally unenforceable” and vowed to fight them. 

As of Wednesday afternoon, Jamo had not responded to Nessel’s request.

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Steve Jagerman
Wed, 06/24/2020 - 11:10pm

SMH ... just another example of our do-nothing governor adding some political edge to a perfectly innocent issue. Sure, fight to take all of those jobs away from hard-working Michiganders; I bet big daddy Biden will give you a piece of candy for it! Why not use that political muscle to investigate the chemtrails OBVIOUSLY causing all of those riots in Lansing and Ann Arbor? Priorities, sheeple.

Thu, 06/25/2020 - 8:10am

Amazing how little curiosity by Leftists about who perpetuated this act of sabotage but big interest in punishing the victim. Possible ties need to be investigated.

John Chastain
Thu, 06/25/2020 - 1:10pm

Hey Matt got some "facts" to backup your claim of "sabotage"?
Oh right you live in an "alternate facts" universe.
Maybe it was some "Leftists" with "possible ties" ? eh.
The conservative trolling here gets sillier and sillier.
It takes quite a stretch to imagine Enbridge as a "victim". Don't quite see the company that spilled all that oil into the Kalamazoo river as a "victim", a despoiler of watersheds and wildlife maybe. But victim, nah. Could be those "Leftists and possible ties" had something to do with that spill as well, maybe in the alternate fact universe.

Thu, 06/25/2020 - 9:29pm

Would inconvenient truths really matter to you, would they change anything in you thinking. When was Kalamazoo incident when was there and equivalent incident in the straits. It seem 67 years of experience isn't a truth or fact. Tell me about all the events that have happened to the pipeline and describe why they didn't create the catastrophic event you claim is on the verge of happening or how the 'tunnel' will fail to prevent that most fear event. You seem to live in that alternate universe where science and technology doesn't count for anything.
I wonder if you have ever consider why significant spills, releases, severe unplanned events are fewer and less severe and becoming ever less so while the nature of the chemicals is getting ever more complex with greater potentials. I wonder if you have ever be involved in investigating unplanned events such as the Kalamazoo pipeline failure with the purpose of prevention of such events happening again.
The reality is that science/technology/disciplined thinking does work.
The choice that seems to be happening those that use science and technology do so to solve/prevent/mitigate problems. The "Leftists" seem more about leverage fear of events into personal political power and keeping those problems credible to sustain that personal political power.

middle of the mit
Fri, 06/26/2020 - 5:50pm

Where have I heard this thinking before about how there is nothing wrong.......until there is?

Oh! Right here.


Township Supervisor William Clark said the suit seeks an injunction against Boyce lowering water levels until financing is in place. He is not in favor of the flood project. “Almost everybody believes it’s ridiculous, but we’re not fighting that. It’s too big. They’ve done years of engineering studies.”]]]

That was 2013!

Then they got the State to sue because they couldn't fish in the winter. Enter what mussels can do for lakefront owners.

Then when you don't want to extend your dock and boat launches to the -3 foot level, what do you do? You raise the level to 0.

What is the problem that 'rightists' can't comprehend this?

And why can't they extend that to the very same company that told us nothing was wrong and then the largest in land oil spill in MI history and the Nation happened.

The problem duane? No one wanted to believe an 95 year old dam had problems, Enbridge didn't want to admit problems with the Kalamazoo line. Miners want to dump the mountain tops they blow off into the streams and rivers and you rightists just look the other way, until something happens and then you blame Government and democrats, or are we allowed to be called leftists without the media thinking that is a derogatory term?

And as far as using fear to motivate people? Don't let the dead vote! Counterfeit ballots! Do the police save you or do you need a weapon to protect yourself? Leftists are all around you...........and they are taking your freedom and asking for special rights because they want to be treated just like us.

If science and tech work, and rightists listen, then why do the rightists listen to Trump instead of the doctors that tell them to wear masks?

Tue, 06/30/2020 - 6:50pm

Everyone believe the 95 year old dam had problems, the wanted multi-million dollar fines so it want to protect its case by keeping the water level high, the Feds knew their were problems because that's why the decertified the Edenville dam could not sell power, the owners knew there were problems because they submitted a report that told the state they were out of compliance with their regulations, local landowners knew there were problems because they were trying to buy the dams so they could tax residents to repair the dams. I have no clue why you would believe that, "No one wanted to believe an 95 year old dam had problems," if you can't get that right what else do you not understand? You must be the only one in Michigan that wasn't concerned about that damn failing.

I understand Enbridge has a disappointing history, and that is why they are willing to construct the tunnel and reroute the pipelines through there. As from the start of these articles in Bridge about the pipeline I have encourage risk assessment/management group that include risk management knowledgeable people, local residents, environment/straits activists, Enbridge, pipeline knowledgeable people, , OSAH [PSM[/EPA RMP] knowledgeable people, state/fed pipeline regulators, be part of the team [no more than a dozen officially designate to sign off on the team report, do a risk assessment and risk management plan for the pipeline crossing the straights. Unlike so many that only say if there is any risk shut it down. When are you going to tell us about any event or condition that you believe will cause the failure of the pipeline?
What am I if I am wearing my mask to grocery store, to the gas station, hardware?

Thu, 06/25/2020 - 8:48am

I really like these strong leadership women who are there to keep it constituents safe. Thank you...

Dan Moerman
Thu, 06/25/2020 - 9:31am

Hello Bridge: what is an "anchor support." Why does the governor say that it would have been much worse if the damage had occurred a bit lower down. Why? Thanks. PS: Close the damn pipeline!

Thu, 06/25/2020 - 10:04am

Enbridge should NEVER have been allowed to drop their dirty lines in the Great Lakes, and then were never made to pull them up when they broke the agreement many times. Whitmer and Nessel are trying to enforce the agreement. Now some commenting on this website pretend Enbridge is saving Michigan's economy. They have problems with strong female authority figures.

Almost perfect
Thu, 06/25/2020 - 2:22pm

Thankfully, those are just a few squeaky wheels that don't represent the majority of voters.

Gary Lea
Thu, 06/25/2020 - 1:14pm

Will the unknown source of this damage return to take out the other leg?

Wake up
Thu, 06/25/2020 - 2:20pm

Republicans only start to minimally care when dams break in their neck of the woods. Imagine the combined disasters of both super high lake levels and a massive oil spill. It would be an especially awful nonpartisan situation affecting all of us.

Thu, 06/25/2020 - 3:53pm

It's an area with strong currents and considerable marine traffic. It's inevitable, something is going cause these lines to leak.

When the Mackinac Bridge was being studied, so was a tunnel. The governor, (Soapy) Williams, chose the bridge; Republicans called it Soapy's Folly at the time. It's a magnificent bridge, an engineering marvel, but expensive to maintain, is closed too often because of bad weather and for some reason can't carry utility pipes or circuits.

In retrospect, a tunnel would have been a more practical option, since maintenance costs would have likely been lower, it would be an all weather solution and the tunnel could have also enclosed utility circuits and pipes.

We may have an opportunity for a do-over here, with Enbridge paying much of the cost for a multipurpose tunnel under The Straights.

Barry Visel
Thu, 06/25/2020 - 7:57pm

I agree, and have commented several times that we are missing the boat by not having Enbridge provide a larger tunnel to accommodate more than just their pipeline. Our elected officials are letting us down by not negotiating value-added opportunities for this tunnel.

Gary Lea
Tue, 06/30/2020 - 11:39am

It seems to me that demand for all fossil resources shall continue declining while renewable energy generation continues increasing - we should grow the future rather than feed the past. Upper peninsula residents might see a drop in propane cost when it’s transported by electric tanker trucks.

Randy Robinson
Tue, 08/04/2020 - 8:27pm

Where you have pipe lines you have leaks. Why in Gods name would they take a chance of poisoning the Great Lakes. The cost of that would be off the charts. I can't understand why anybody would risk such a valuable resource.

It's not like there have never been spills or leaks and poisoned rivers in Michigan before. Right? I think it's insane and all about the money someone can make and who's pockets get lined.