Keith Matheny

May 12, 2021

-Detroit Free Press


In defiance of an order by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to cease operations by Wednesday, Canadian oil transport giant Enbridge continued to flow 23 million gallons of crude oil and natural gas liquids through Line 5, its controversial, 68-year-old twin pipelines on the Straits of Mackinac lake bottom.

Whitmer on Tuesday, in a letter to Vern Yu, Enbridge’s executive vice president for liquids pipelines, said continued operation of the line after Wednesday “constitutes an intentional trespass” and that the company would do so “at its own risk.”

“If the state prevails in the underlying litigation, Enbridge will face the prospect of having to disgorge to the state all profits it derives from its wrongful use of the easement lands following that date,” she said.

Whitmer in November moved to revoke Enbridge’s 1953 easement to situate the pipelines on state-controlled bottomlands near where Great Lakes Michigan and Huron connect, citing repeated violations of the easement’s terms on pipeline safety measures and an unreasonable risk to the Great Lakes from the aging pipes’ continued operation. The governor gave Enbridge 180 days to arrange for shutdown of the pipes, a deadline that ends Wednesday.

But Enbridge is continuing to operate Line 5, saying Whitmer’s order amounts to attempting to regulate interstate pipeline safety, which the company believes is the sole jurisdiction of the federal government.

As of Wednesday, Enbridge’s continued operation of Line 5 in the Straits is “unlawful,” Whitmer Press Secretary Bobby Leddy said.

The battle over Line 5 is playing out in both state and federal courts, and in the court of public opinion. Enbridge, with allies including many Republicans in the state Legislature, business and industry groups and labor unions for refinery workers, says a Line 5 shutdown would devastate Michigan’s and the region’s energy supply and economy — and the company has spread that message far and wide across television, the web and print in an expensive media blitz.

Line 5 opponents, however, say the real risk to Michigan’s economy is a Line 5 oil spill in the Straits, similar to the catastrophic spill from a leaking Enbridge oil transmission line near Marshall in 2010, which fouled more than 38 miles of the Kalamazoo River and took four years and $1 billion to clean up.

“We cannot risk the devastating economic, environmental and public health impacts of a catastrophic oil spill in the Great Lakes,” Leddy said. “These oil pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac are a ticking time bomb, and their continued presence violates the public trust and poses a grave threat to Michigan’s environment and economy.”

Enbridge spokesman Ryan Duffy said operations will continue.

“We will not stop operating the pipeline unless we are ordered by a court or our regulator, which we view as highly unlikely,” he said.

“Line 5 is operating safely, reliably and is in compliance with the law. The state of Michigan has never presented any concrete evidence to suggest otherwise. The U.S. agency in charge of pipeline safety, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), has confirmed on multiple occasions that the pipelines are fit for service.”

On Tuesday, members of United Steelworkers International, the union representing employees of a Toledo refinery that relies upon Line 5-provided oil, laid out more than 300 hard hats on the state Capitol lawn in Lansing to represent lost jobs if the pipeline is shut down.

In the state House Transportation Committee, Christopher Douglas, an associate professor of economics at the University of Michigan-Flint, used Congressional Budget Office and Biden administration statistics on carbon emissions to calculate the costs if 2,150 tanker trucks transported oil and natural gas liquids through Michigan, instead of Line 5.

According to the CBO, an 80,000-pound, 5-axle tractor-trailer does 20 cents of pavement damage per mile to a rural road — a figure that likely underestimates the actual cost, Douglas said. Burning a gallon of diesel fuel emits 22 pounds of carbon dioxide, he said. And according to the Biden administration, a ton of carbon dioxide being emitted does $51 in estimated environmental damage.

“Line 5 stretches from Superior, Wisconsin, to Sarnia, (Ontario), approximately 600 miles of this trip takes place on Michigan’s roads,” he said. “One tanker truck making this trip would cause $120 in pavement damage, $24 in congestion costs, $18 in accident costs, for $162 in costs each way, or $324 in costs round-trip.”

The total cost of replacing Line 5 with tanker trucks is $916,000 per day, or $334 million per year because of road damage, congestion, accidents and carbon dioxide emissions, Douglas said.

“A key principle in economics is that every action involves a trade-off,” he said. “Any action needs to be evaluated against the next-best alternative. Whatever benefits are associated with closing Line 5 must be evaluated against the next-best alternative. As these estimates indicate, the next-best alternative is likely to be extremely costly.”

Said State Rep. Jack O’Malley, R-Lake Ann, the House Transportation Committee Chairman, “We’ve heard a lot about science and data from the governor in the last year, but when it comes to Line 5 — as we heard (Tuesday) — there is a lot of science and data that the governor is choosing to ignore for the sake of her environmental base.”

A 2017 analysis by Dynamic Risk, a pipeline safety consulting firm based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and The Woodlands, Texas, commissioned by the state of Michigan under then-Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration, found that using existing pipeline networks to shift the flows of Line 5 out of the Straits of Mackinac was infeasible — a contention environmental groups dispute. The study found feasible alternatives included transporting the oil and natural gas by rail, tanker truck or oil barges on the Great Lakes; constructing new pipelines away from the lakes; a tunnel under the Straits such as the one Enbridge proposes, or Line 5’s continued operation on the Straits bottom.

Among the opponents to Line 5’s continued operation in the Straits are American Indian tribes in the region. On Monday, the Bay Mills Indian Community’s Executive Council passed a resolution “banishing” Enbridge and Line 5’s dual pipeline from the tribe’s reservation “and the lands and waters of their ceded territory, including the Straits of Mackinac.

The tribe, based near Brimley, has more than 2,000 members, according to its website.

The council noted that in the Treaty of 1836 with the U.S. government, it “reserved for all time the right to fish, hunt and gather in the ceded land and waters of the state of Michigan.”