- This July 19, 2002, file photo, shows the Mackinac
Bridge that spans the Straits of Mackinac from Mackinaw
City, Mich. Enbridge Inc. said Monday, June, 17, 2019,
it’s moving ahead with collection of rock and soil
samples in the Straits of Mackinac while preparing for a
court battle with Michigan’s governor over a planned oil
pipeline tunnel there.
LANSING, Mich. — Michigan's
attorney general sued Thursday to shut down twin 66-year-old oil
pipelines in the Great Lakes, saying they pose an "unacceptable
risk" and the state cannot wait five to 10 years for Enbridge Inc.
to build a tunnel to house replacement pipes running through the
Straits of Mackinac.
Democrat Dana Nessel's move came the same day she also sought to
dismiss the Canadian company's request for a ruling on the legality
of a deal it struck last year with former Republican Gov. Rick
Snyder to encase a new segment of its Line 5 in the proposed tunnel.
"I have consistently stated that Enbridge's pipelines in the Straits
need to be shut down as soon as possible because they present an
unacceptable risk to the Great Lakes," Nessel said.
Nessel said she acted after it became clear talks between Enbridge
and Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer had broken down. Whitmer was
pushing to finish the tunnel in two years, while Enbridge was
insisting it could not be done before 2024, when it would
decommission the existing pipes.
"The continued operation of Line 5 presents an extraordinary,
unreasonable threat to the public because of the very real risk of
further anchor strikes, the inherent risks of pipeline operations
and the foreseeable, catastrophic effects if an oil spill occurs at
the Straits," Nessel said.
The pipelines are part of Enbridge's Line 5, which carries 23
million gallons (87 million liters) of crude oil and propane daily
between Superior, Wisconsin, and Sarnia, Ontario.
Enbridge spokesman Ryan Duffy said decommissioning the pipes would
result in a "serious disruption" to the energy market, saying the
line meets 55% of Michigan's propane needs, including 65% used in
northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula. Refineries served by Line
5 also supply a large portion of the aviation fuel at Detroit Metro
"We remain open to discussions with the governor, and we hope we can
reach an agreement outside of court," he said. "Enbridge is deeply
committed to being part of Michigan's future. We believe the Straits
tunnel is the best way to protect the community and the Great Lakes
while safely meeting Michigan's energy needs."
Enbridge insists the dual pipes, which have been in place since
1953, are in sound condition and could operate indefinitely. But the
company, based in Calgary, Alberta, said it is willing to install a
tunnel in bedrock 100 feet beneath the lakebed and foot the
estimated $500 million bill to eliminate virtually any possibility
of a leak.
Opponents contend Enbridge's refusal to shut down the pipelines
until the tunnel is completed means the Straits area would be
endangered for at least another five years. They point to a vessel
anchor strike in April 2018 that dented both pipes while damaging
three nearby electric cables, which leaked 800 gallons of insulating
Nessel's suit, which was applauded by environmental groups and
criticized by Republican lawmakers, identifies a potential anchor
strike as the most significant risk to Line 5. It asks an Ingham
County judge to rule that the operation of the Straits pipelines
under a state easement violates the public trust doctrine, is a
public nuisance and violates the Michigan Environmental Protection
Act because it is likely to cause pollution and destroy water and
other natural resources.
Earlier this year, Whitmer ordered her administration not to
implement the tunnel plan after Nessel said authorizing legislation
enacted in December violated the state constitution.
"Although the governor remains willing to talk with Enbridge, her
commitment to stopping the flow of oil through the Great Lakes as
soon as possible — and Enbridge's decision to sue the governor
rather than negotiate — will at some point require her to take legal
action, as well," said spokeswoman Tiffany Brown.
Whitmer directed the Department of Natural Resources to review
Enbridge's compliance with the 1953 easement.
Enbridge said Thursday it asked Whitmer last week to resume talks,
offering to suspend the lawsuit it filed earlier this month and
jointly appoint an independent moderator to help facilitate
discussions. The company also pointed to safety actions that have
been taken to prevent anchor strikes.
Supreme Court backs Enbridge in Dane County case
FILE - This June 29, 2018 photo shows tanks at the
Enbridge Energy terminal in Superior, Wis.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled Thursday that
Canada-based Enbridge Energy doesn't need to carry
additional insurance for a pipeline project in Dane
County, despite the local government's insistence that
it do so in case of an accidental spill.
Dane County officials made a $25 million environmental
liability policy a requirement for Enbridge's permit for
a project to triple the flow of crude oil from its Line
61 pipeline to 1.2 million barrels per day. The pipeline
runs from northern Wisconsin to Illinois.
The Court's conservative majority ruled in favor of
Enbridge 4-1, with two liberal justices abstaining.
Dane County approved the permit in 2015 with the
insurance requirement. In asking for additional
insurance, Dane County officials cited the 2010 Enbridge
oil spill in southwest Michigan that cost $1.2 billion
and has resulted in ongoing insurance litigation. In
that case, the U.S. government fined Enbridge more than
$1.8 million after accusing the company of missing
deadlines for pipeline inspections following the
gigantic oil spill that polluted nearly 40 miles (64.37
kilometers) of the Kalamazoo River, shorelines and
wetlands. Cleanup lasted four years.
Enbridge appealed Dane County's insurance requirement,
but Wisconsin lawmakers intervened before the company's
challenge was decided, passing a last-minute provision
in the state budget that blocked municipalities from
imposing additional liability requirements when a
pipeline operator already carries comprehensive
In this June 29, 2018, file photo, pipeline used to
carry crude oil is shown at the
Superior terminal of Enbridge Energy in Superior, Wis.
Dane County required
the extra insurance anyway, prompting Enbridge to appeal
at the circuit court level, where they won, only to have
an appeals court decide that Enbridge hadn't proven it
carried enough insurance.
The high court reversed that Thursday, writing that
Enbridge already had sufficient insurance.
"Enbridge is pleased with the decision of the Supreme
Court to uphold the Dane County Circuit Court's decision
to strike unenforceable insurance requirements from the
(conditional use permit)," Enbridge spokeswoman Jennifer
Smith said in a statement.
While the court battle played out, Enbridge finished its
$1.5 billion upgrade to its pipeline and built the
needed pumping station, since state lawmakers made Dane
County's requirement unenforceable.
"The Waterloo pump station is critical infrastructure
for the state of Wisconsin and for the region, helping
to ensure a reliable source of energy for decades to
come," Smith said.
Enbridge has said that it has $860 million worth of
general liability insurance that includes coverage for
sudden and accidental pollution, but the county and
landowners involved in the case say the company hasn't
provided sufficient proof.
An attorney for Dane County, David Gault, called the
court's ruling "primarily the result of an ill-conceived
and poorly worded special interest statute."
Patricia Hammel, one of the attorneys representing the
landowners, said in a statement that the court's
"decision allows Enbridge to operate the largest tar
sands pipeline in the U.S across Wisconsin without
adequate insurance and exposes our people, land and
water to the consequences of a catastrophic spill."
In ruling in favor of Enbridge, the conservative
justices concluded that lawmakers "rendered Dane
County's extra insurance conditions unenforceable, and
the proper remedy is to strike the illegal conditions."
Dissenting from the majority, Justice Ann Walsh Bradley,
echoed the arguments from landowners and the county,
saying that Enbridge has not shown that it carries the
needed insurance that would make what the county is
asking for moot.
"In sum, I determine that Enbridge did not demonstrate
that it 'carries' insurance that includes 'sudden and
Enbridge has disputed that claim.
Enbridge, which operates Line 3 in Minnesota, is going
through a legal battle there as well as it tries to
replace the aging crude oil pipeline that runs through
the northern part of the state. Earlier this month, two
state agencies said they would hold up approval of the
project's permits until problems with its environmental
review are resolved.