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Michigan judge orders temporary Enbridge Line 5 shutdown

Enbridge Energy must temporarily cease operations of the Line 5 pipeline beneath the Straits of Mackinac, an Ingham County judge ruled Thursday. 

Circuit Court Judge James Jamo has granted Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s request to temporarily shut down the pipeline after Enbridge Energy last week reported “significant damage” to an anchor support on one of the pipeline’s two legs.

In a decision issued Thursday, Jamo ordered Canadian oil company Enbridge to cease operations “as immediately as possible,” and no more than 24 hours from the order’s issuance.

Nessel campaigned for office in 2018 on a promise to shut down Line 5. She is pursuing separate lawsuits intended to permanently shutter the pipeline and asked for the temporary restraining order and injunction Monday.

In a statement Thursday, Nessel said she was grateful for the ruling, but it is “only a short-term fix.”

“If the lines are put back into operation, one mismanaged incident or accident would result in a historic catastrophe for our state,” Nessel said in the statement. “Work must continue toward complete removal of Line 5 from our waters.” 

Nessel said she remains alarmed that Enbridge still hasn’t said what damaged the anchor support. In response to questions from Bridge earlier this week, an Enbridge spokesman said the matter is still under investigation.

Jamo’s order forces both legs of Line 5 to remain closed until he rules on the injunction request. A hearing is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Tuesday.

After discovering the damage last Thursday, Enbridge stopped petroleum transports in both legs of the pipeline and used divers and a remote-operated vehicle to investigate. 

By Saturday afternoon, Enbridge had reopened the west leg after saying it had determined it was not damaged. The east leg remains closed.

That prompted outcry from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Nessel, both of whom said Enbridge had failed to fully involve the state in its response. 

In a letter Saturday, Whitmer asked Enbridge CEO Al Monaco to shut down the line until and provide the state with engineering reports, photographs, video and other evidence of the damage, as well as a full report about what caused the damage and how Enbridge will prevent it from happening again.

Enbridge continued to operate the west line. In court filings, Enbridge lawyers argued the company answers to federal regulators with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, or PHMSA, and not to the state. 

Federal regulators had “no objections” to reopening the west leg, Enbridge spokesman Ryan Duffy said in a statement.

In his order Thursday, Jamo disagreed.

Jamo noted that under a 1953 state easement that grants the company permission to site the pipeline in the bottomlands, Enbridge must exercise “due care” in its Line 5 operations.

Enbridge failed to “provide sufficient documentation to the State of Michigan related to the nature, extent, and cause(s) of the newly-discovered damage,” Jamo wrote, which left the state unable to assess any lingering risk of harm. 

“The severe risk of harm that may result from [Enbridge’s] operation of the West Line if wrong in its conclusion that it can safely do so in spite of recent damage to Line 5 of unknown origin is so substantial and irreparable, and endangers so many communities and livelihoods and the natural resources of Michigan, the danger far exceeds the risk of financial loss,” of a temporary shutdown, Jamo wrote.  

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