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Pipeline Faceoff: Enbridge plans to defy Gov. Whitmer's order to close pipeline

Posted at 8:13 AM, May 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-13 08:13:52-04

(WSYM) — There's a midnight deadline for Enbridge to shut down its Line 5 pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac. The company says they have no intention of shutting down.

Enbridge says only the federal government has the authority to order a shutdown. The Canadian company and its supporters say doing so would risk the same fuel disruptions experienced on the East Coast following a cyberattack against a pipeline there.

Opponents say the two situations are different and accuse Enbridge of flouting the law.

RELATED: Whitmer threatens profit seizure if pipeline keeps operating

The road to this critical moment began in 1953. The State of Michigan issued an easement to allow the construction of a dual pipeline segment that crosses the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac.

Running through those lines today is up to 22.68 million gallons per day of light crude oil and natural gas liquids – about 540,000 barrels worth. The line stretches from Wisconsin through Michigan over to Sarnia, Ontario.

Relatively little attention was paid until 2010 when another Enbridge pipeline spilled into the Kalamazoo River near Marshall.

It's one of the largest inland spills in U.S. history, and cleanup still continues today.

The state-estimated, billion-dollar environmental disaster sparked the state, and others to draw attention to other potential risks, including Line 5.

The National Wildlife Federation dove to the pipeline, as a state advisory board looked at risk assessments. The footage and the board found damage to the pipeline's protective coating and anchor damage from passing commercial vessels.

In 2018, the state and Enbridge reached an agreement that would permanently shut down the section of Line 5 and build a tunnel beneath the straits to house a new section.

Then, in 2019, a changing of the guard. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer assumes office and signals opposition to the pipeline.

In 2020, Whitmer takes action, revoking the 1953 easement for "violation of the public trust doctrine," effective midnight on May 12.

“Kind of like a landlord and tenant issue. Enbridge is the tenant. The Landlord has decided that Enbridge is a threat to their property,” said David Holtz, environmental advocate with Oil and Water Don't Mix.

Critics of the pipeline like Holtz point to a potentially catastrophic environmental disaster where the pipeline leaks.

However, Enbridge argues that the pipeline provides 55% of Michigan's propane and its shutdown would leave a massive propane and petrol shortage while canceling refinery jobs.

They say the regulatory federal agency has deemed the pipeline safe, and in a state that prevails in court continued operation constitutes an intentional trespass.

The state will pursue all profits Enbridge derives from the use of the pipeline after May 12.

There's still a battle over whether this case belongs in federal or state court, that likely won't be resolved this week. The current judge on the case ordered both parties to work with a mediator. The next session of that mediation is scheduled for May 18.