New: DNR finalizing review of Line 5 easement compliance

Could give Whitmer authority to effectively shut down pipeline

By: - August 11, 2020 1:58 pm

Straits of Mackinac | Laina G Stebbins

After nearly 14 months, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) appears to have wrapped up its intensive review of Canadian oil company Enbridge’s compliance with the key state agreement governing the controversial Line 5 dual oil pipeline.

The contents of that review could unlock Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive ability to shut down the pipeline, which runs for miles beneath the choppy Straits of Mackinac waters.

“We are working with the governor’s office to finalize the review. We don’t know for certain when that process will be complete, but are hopeful it will be soon,” DNR spokesperson Ed Golder told the Advance.

Prior to this week, the DNR had maintained that the process was ongoing with no timeline in place for its completion.

Whitmer ordered the department to conduct a thorough review of Enbridge’s 1953 easement with the state of Michigan last June, after her negotiations with Enbridge fell through and the company filed a lawsuit against the state.

That day June 27, 2019 was also when Attorney General Dana Nessel filed a countersuit against Enbridge to decommission Line 5 on grounds of public trust violations.

That lawsuit remains ongoing in the Ingham County Circuit Court.

Judge opens part of Line 5, orders investigation

The easement in question, agreed to by the state of Michigan and the company now known as Enbridge in 1953, gives the company the authority to transport oil across the bottomlands between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.

That agreement holds as long as Enbridge complies with a set of terms and conditions ensuring the protection of the Mackinac Straits. If the DNR finds that Enbridge has violated those rules, warranting a termination of the agreement, Whitmer has full authority to do just that essentially revoking Enbridge’s right to operate in the Straits of Mackinac at all.

Environmental activists have long been pushing for Whitmer to use her executive action to shut down Line 5. Nessel has so far taken advantage of every legal opportunity to push for the same, but Whitmer holds the most authority with her ability to completely revoke the 1953 easement itself.

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

Whitmer has been clear, like Nessel, about her distrust of Enbridge and frustration with its actions regarding Line 5. But she has not specifically spoken to whether she would take the action to shut down the dual pipelines if the DNR’s report is damaging.

Whitmer spokesperson Tiffany Brown declined to comment further.

“At this time, we don’t have any additional info/update to share outside of what Ed [Golder] provided,” Brown said in an email Tuesday.

Only the west leg of the dual pipeline currently remains operational, as federal regulators continue their investigation into a damaged support anchor on Line 5’s east segment.

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Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins

Laina G. Stebbins covers the environment, Native issues and criminal justice for the Advance. 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. When Laina is not writing or spending time with her cats, she loves art and design, listening to music, playing piano, enjoying good food and being out in nature (especially Up North).