Citing repeated and routine refusals by Calgary-based Enbridge to address safety concerns surrounding the 6.4-kilometre Straits of Mackinac section of its Line 5 pipeline, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has terminated the easement that allowed the submarine pipeline to operate.
In addition to terminating the 1953 easement, which permitted Line 5 to send oil and gas through the straits that connect Lake Huron and Lake Michigan, the Detroit Free Press says the state is asking the local circuit court “to recognize the validity of this action, citing violation of the public trust doctrine, given the unreasonable risk that continued operation of the dual pipelines poses to the Great Lakes.”
The notice gives Enbridge until May 2021 to cease operations in the straits, in order to ensure “an orderly transition that protects Michigan’s energy needs over the coming months.”
The governor’s office lays out the grounds for this termination, stating that Enbridge “has routinely refused to take action to protect our Great Lakes and the millions of Americans who depend on them for clean drinking water and good jobs,” and “repeatedly violated the terms of the 1953 easement by ignoring structural problems that put our Great Lakes and our families at risk.”
Vern Yu, Enbridge’s executive vice president and president of liquids pipelines, asserted “no credible basis” for Whitmer’s decision, telling the Free Press that both the notice and the pending lawsuit “are a distraction from the fundamental facts”—namely, that “Line 5 remains safe.”
Yet Line 5 has, “for years, been a source of contention,” the Free Press notes, recalling the infamous 2010 spill that led to the fouling of nearly 65 kilometres of the Kalamazoo River—a disaster that took four years and more than US$1 billion to clean up.
There have also been ongoing concerns about the Mackinac section of the pipeline, including serial problems with the support anchors that secure the pipes to the lake bottom. The Free Press cites an instance where Enbridge took three years to inform state officials of the need to refurbish a mandatory protective coating on a section of the underwater pipeline.
Mike Shriberg, regional executive director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes Regional Center, praised the Michigan governor’s decision to terminate the easement as both “brave” and “correct”. He said Whitmer is “standing on the side not only of clean water, but of clean energy and the jobs that go along with the transition to a renewable energy economy.”
Jobs are also front and centre in the outcry against the easement termination, reports the Free Press. The industry-funded Consumer Energy Alliance—of which Enbridge is a member—described Whitmer’s decision as an “irresponsible, reckless, and purely political” action that “puts millions of families and the economies of Midwestern states at risk in the middle of a pandemic, for absolutely no reason.” The Alliance also claimed the termination put both regional and interstate fuel supplies in jeopardy.
Weighing in from Canada, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney forecast the impact of the pending closure will be “devastating,” reports Global News. Describing Line 5 as “the single largest supply of gasoline ultimately in southern Ontario, for aviation fuel out of the Detroit airport, for heating fuel in northern Michigan, for the refineries in northern Ohio that fuel much of the Midwest U.S. economy,” Kenney loudly condemned Whitmer’s action as “a very very big deal” on a Toronto-area radio news show.
But Michigan Live reports the termination of the easement may well end up revealing that, Kenney’s comments notwithstanding, the eventual closure of Line 5 may not be such a big deal.
“I suspect that what we will see when Line 5 shuts down is that the sky does not fall and the impacts on Michigan and the Midwest are nowhere near as dire as those predicted by Enbridge,” said Margrethe Kearney, a senior attorney at the Environmental Law and Policy Center, which has been supporting a lawsuit against further expansion of the Enbridge tunnel. “The fact is that fossil fuels are being outcompeted by better, cleaner, cheaper options.”
Liz Kirkwood, director of FLOW (For Love of Water), questioned “whether Enbridge is actually serious about wanting to build a tunnel, or whether the company is just going through the motions in order to extend operation of the existing, highly profitable pipeline.” Despite the company’s fervent promotion of the project, she told MLive, its SEC filings suggest that “they aren’t even that committed to this type of capital investment.”