- In this July 19, 2002 file photo, the Mackinac
Bridge that spans the Straits of Mackinac is shown
from Mackinaw City, Mich. A federal judge has ordered
The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety
Administration to take a closer look at pipeline
company Enbridge’s plans for dealing with a
potential oil spill in the waterway connecting Lakes
Huron and Michigan. In a ruling Friday, March 29,
2019, U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith instructed
the agency to provide more information about its
reasons for approving the plans.
TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — A
federal judge has ordered a government agency to take a
closer look at pipeline company Enbridge's plans for dealing
with potential oil spills in the waterway connecting Lakes
Huron and Michigan.
U.S. District Judge Mark
Goldsmith instructed the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials
Safety Administration to provide more information about its
reasons for approving the Canadian company's spill response
strategies for areas including its Line 5, which carries oil
and natural gas liquids between Superior, Wisconsin, and
Goldsmith's ruling Friday was
in response to a lawsuit by the National Wildlife
Federation. The group contended the plans omitted key
details about personnel, equipment and methods that would be
used to contain and clean up oil that could be released from
a rupture of a 4-mile-long (6.4-kilometer long) underwater
segment of the pipeline that extends through the Straits of
PHMSA responded that Enbridge
had satisfied the requirements by contracting with oil spill
removal organizations that the U.S. Coast Guard recognized
as having necessary resources.
Enbridge had an extensively detailed "master service
agreement" with the contractors. But the Detroit-based
judge said PHMSA still "did not articulate a
satisfactory explanation for its decision to approve the
The wildlife federation also
said the pipeline agency was legally required to prepare an
environmental analysis and consider potential effects on
endangered species but had failed to do so. Goldsmith
ordered PHMSA to do both.
"This ruling confirms
what we've known for years — Enbridge is not prepared for
an oil spill, and the federal government is not doing enough
to protect the Great Lakes," Beth Wallace of the
wildlife federation said Monday.
The pipeline agency was
reviewing the decision and had no immediate comment,
spokesman Bobby Fraser said.
"We have thoroughly
reviewed the response plan in place for the straits on the
off-chance that anything were to happen, although we've
never had an incident in the straits in 65 years,"
Enbridge spokesman Ryan Duffy said.
PHMSA endorsed Enbridge's
spill contingency plans for the pipeline network that
includes Line 5 in 2015 and 2017. The latter plan covers the
underwater section, which is divided into two pipes 20
inches (50.8 centimeters) in diameter.
University studies have
projected that a worst-case release of oil in the swirling
straits could foul hundreds of miles of shoreline.
Enbridge has said repeatedly
the submerged pipes are in good condition and could last
indefinitely. But the company, based in Calgary, Alberta,
reached an agreement last year with former Michigan Gov.
Rick Snyder to decommission that section of Line 5 in favor
of a new pipe that would be routed through a tunnel drilled
in bedrock beneath the straits.
However, Michigan's recently
elected attorney general, Dana Nessel, ruled last week that
a law enacted in December to carry out the agreement
violates the state constitution. Snyder's successor,
Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, then ordered state
agencies not to issue permits or take other steps toward
implementing the deal.
Enbridge says it plans to
discuss its next steps with Whitmer administration