Judge opens part of Line 5, orders investigation

West line can restart for safety tests, east line remains halted

By: - July 1, 2020 4:53 pm

Enbridge Line 5 anchor support damage | Laina G. Stebbins graphic

One underwater segment of the controversial Line 5 pipeline will remain shut down Wednesday as another is allowed to restart, on orders from a circuit court judge that Canadian oil company Enbridge must conduct an investigation on that line and share its findings with the state.

“Today’s Court decision allows the State to receive the vital information surrounding this incident that we need to complete an informed analysis of the damage and evaluate the threat this pipeline poses to our environment if left to operate in its current state,” Attorney General Dana Nessel said in a statement. 

“A breach of the Line 5 pipeline or a similar incident would result in devastating consequences for a wide range of industries and countless Michiganders. The long-term risk this pipeline poses to not only Michigan, but the Great Lakes region, cannot be taken lightly.”

Displaced anchor support on east leg of Line 5 | Enbridge photo

The entirety of Line 5 has been shut down since Thursday, when Judge James Jamo first granted Nessel’s request for a temporary restraining order on the pipeline until her preliminary injunction request could be addressed at a hearing.

The state’s argument for halting the pipeline’s operation stems from damage discovered on one of the underwater support anchors on June 18. Despite Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s written requests that Enbridge keep both lines of the dual pipeline shut down until the company and state determine what happened, Enbridge restarted one leg of the pipeline two days later without providing evidence to the state that it was safe to do so.

Oral arguments Tuesday did not result in an immediate decision on Nessel’s motion from Jamo. He asked that Enbridge submit further information about the company’s inspection reports by Wednesday, which Enbridge provided, according to court filings.

Jamo’s amended temporary restraining order Wednesday will remain in effect until a complete opinion and order is issued regarding the motion for preliminary injunction. That amended order provides that Enbridge can restart the west line for the purpose of conducting an “in-line investigation” (ILI) on the segment.

Line 5 still halted as judge deliberates

“The West Line may continue to operate thereafter subject to the results of the ILI and further Order of this Court,” the filing reads. The ILI must include an “area of interest” on the west line, which Enbridge says was caused by a vessel dragging a lightweight cable along the bottomlands.

The full results of the ILI must be shared with Nessel and the state of Michigan within seven days of the date Enbridge restarts the west line.

Enbridge is still prohibited to restart the east leg of Line 5 until federal regulators at the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) complete their investigation of the line, Enbridge has made all necessary repairs and Jamo orders that it can be restarted.

All information Enbridge shares with PHMSA must also be shared contemporaneously with Nessel and the state of Michigan.

Nessel’s preliminary injunction ultimately seeks a complete suspension of Line 5 until all terms and conditions requested by the state are met.

Nessel got Line 5 shut down, for now. Enviros say Whitmer can shut it down for good.

Enbridge spokesperson Ryan Duffy said in a statement that the company intends to adhere to the amendments and keep the state of Michigan informed about its investigation findings.

“Enbridge will now begin safely restarting the west segment and anticipates operations will soon return to normal. Pursuant to the court order, we will conduct an inline inspection tool run on the west segment and share our findings with the State in accordance with the court’s orders,” Duffy said.

“The east segment of Line 5 will remain shut down as we work with our safety regulator, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, to ensure all of the safety assessments are complete and data provided prior to restarting the east segment. Enbridge is committed to sharing this information with the State of Michigan to keep them informed regarding our inspections of the east segment.”

The ruling was praised by environmentalists as an accountability measure.

“We applaud Ingham Circuit Judge James Jamo for holding Enbridge accountable and ordering more testing, more transparency and more accountability. The Michigan LCV will continue to hold Enbridge accountable and urge policymakers in both parties to shut down Line 5 once and for all,”said Bob Allison, deputy director of Michigan League of Conservation Voters (LCV).

Enbridge: Boat anchor, wire cable may have caused Line 5 damage

Business groups celebrated the re-engagement of the pipeline.

“The best solution for Line 5 remains the Great Lakes Tunnel,” said John Dulmes, executive director of the Michigan Chemistry Council and a member-spokesman for Great Lakes Michigan Jobs.

“The pipeline safely delivers the energy products Michigan businesses and families rely on daily to power their homes and job sites, and to make the products we count on every day. Today’s ruling is an important step from the Court to reengage the safe pipeline,” Dulmes said.

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Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins

Laina G. Stebbins is a former Michigan Advance reporter. A lifelong Michigander, she is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service.