LANSING, Mich. (Michigan News Source) – Try as they might, Michigan Democrats have not been able to shut down the Enbridge Line 5 Pipeline. Traveling under the Straits of Macinac, Line 5 diverges into two, 20-inch diameter, parallel pipelines. According to the Enbridge website, they start underground onshore, taper deep underwater and cross the Straits for 4.5 miles. The company says about the pipelines, “The products moved on Line 5 heat homes and businesses, fuel vehicles, and power industry in the state of Michigan.”
They go on to say, “Line 5 supplies 65% of propane demand in the Upper Peninsula, and 55% of Michigan’s statewide propane needs. Overall, Line 5 transports up to 540,000 barrels per day (bpd) of light crude oil, light synthetic crude, and natural gas liquids (NGLs), which are refined into propane.”
They also state that Line 5 has operated without incident at the Straits of Mackinac for more than 65 years. Enbridge states, “We’re working hard to keep it that way. We monitor the Line 5 Straits crossing 24/7, using both specially trained staff and sophisticated computer monitoring systems. We also carry out regular inspections of the line, using inline tools, expert divers, and remote operating vehicles (ROVs), going above and beyond regulatory requirements.”
However, even with a 65+ year track record of the pipeline not experiencing a leak, Line 5 has long been a target of Michigan democrats and they have spent much time and effort on trying to get them shut down through legal channels.
On Wednesday, Attorney General Dana Nessel asked a Wisconsin federal court to take emergency action to protect Lake Superior from an imminent threat posed by Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline. Nessel filed an amicus brief in support of an emergency motion filed last week by the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians of the Bad River Reservation.
Rapid erosion of a riverbank starting in early spring has led to the Wisconsin tribe to seek an emergency shutdown and purge of Line 5 before any more erosion can occur.
Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office says, “The rising waters of the Bad River near Superior, Wisconsin have caused extreme erosion along the banks of the river and dramatically increased the likelihood that the Line 5 pipeline will rupture. In 2022, the court concluded that the presence of Line 5 on the Bad River Reservation constitutes a trespass, but the court did not order an immediate shutdown or rerouting of the pipeline. At that time, more than 30 feet of riverbank separated the pipeline from the water’s edge. But intense recent erosion has rapidly eaten away the bank, with one location losing over 10 feet of bank in a single week. As a result of this erosion, there are presently locations with as little as 11 feet of riverbank between the pipeline and the water’s edge. If the bank continues to erode and the water reaches the pipeline, the pipeline will be vulnerable to rupture due to the force of currents, debris strikes, or erosion of the ground beneath the pipeline leaving it suspended without adequate support.”
Nessel office continues to say, “If the pipeline ruptures, it will release oil and natural gas liquids into the Bad River, which flows directly into Lake Superior a mere 16 miles downstream. The Band has asked the court to order an emergency shutdown of the pipeline, and Nessel’s brief today supports that request.”
Michigan News Source contacted Enbridge spokesman Ryan Duffy, about the tribe’s emergency motion. Duffy said, “Line 5 continues to operate normally and safely across the Bad River Reservation. Enbridge’s filing asks Judge Conley to reject the Bad River Band’s request to shut down Line 5 because the pipe is not exposed, it is completely covered by multiple feet of soil; there is no pipeline safety issue, no emergency, and no reason to shut down Line 5.”
He went on to say, “Line 5 remains in full compliance with all applicable codes and regulations established by the pipeline safety regulator, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). PHMSA is fully aware of the same facts on which the Band relies in its injunction motion. As Enbridge’s filing with the court makes clear, PHMSA has chosen not to order the pipeline closed or take any other action. The Government of Canada made its concerns about the Bad River case clear, stating in part ‘the energy security of both Canada and the United States would be directly impacted by a Line 5 closure.’ Instead, in its statement the Canadian government supported ‘appropriate, science-based efforts to ensure the safety of the pipeline’ led by the appropriate U.S. regulatory authorities to be implemented before ‘any shutdown is considered.’”
Duffy continued, “A permanent injunction at the Bad River would effectively terminate Line 5’s operations in whole, causing severe consequences for people and industries in both the U.S. and Canada, as was demonstrated by the evidence submitted during the trial in this case. Such an injunction would also violate the treaty between the U.S. and Canada designed to protect the flow of energy between the nations.
In declarations supporting Enbridge’s opposition to Bad River’s motion for preliminary injunction, Plains Midstream writes that shutting down Line 5 would force the closure of their facilities at Rapid River and Superior and would have a ‘devastating impact on consumers and propane prices in the region.’ Other refineries state they would either face the same fate or have to severely curtail operations, and consumers would face shortages and price spikes. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce predicts “thousands of jobs would be lost in both Canada and the United States.”
Duffy explained, “Enbridge has proposed numerous plans to reinforce the riverbank and stop erosion at what’s known as the Meander on the Bad River. The company needs the Band’s approval to move forward with these plans, but the Band has refused to approve any of Enbridge’s erosion control measures to date and given no timeframe for when it may allow this work. As a permanent solution, Enbridge submitted federal and state permit applications in 2020 to re-route this segment of Line 5 around the Bad River Band reservation. Enbridge has acquired the necessary landowner permissions and is prepared to start the relocation project as soon as all permits are received.”
In February of 2023, RPS Group, shared a report with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, which examined more than 13,000 spill scenarios and found no “credible scenario” where a significant rupture on a proposed reroute of its oil and gas pipeline around the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa’s reservation would reach Lake Superior.
Enbridge spokesperson Juli Kellner said in a statement, ”In the one in 15 million chance there is a full-bore rupture on this segment, crude oil would not reach Lake Superior even after 48 hours with no emergency response at all.” Bad River Tribal Chairman Mike Wiggins Jr. said, however, that he didn’t trust any science or data coming from Enbridge or its consultant.