Both legs of Line 5 now back in operation after OK from court, regulators

East portion had been shut down for 83 days

By: - September 9, 2020 6:00 pm

Straits of Mackinac State Harbor | Susan J. Demas

After being out of commission for nearly three months, the east segment of Enbridge’s Line 5 dual oil pipeline reopened Wednesday following approval from both federal regulators and a circuit court judge.

The eastern leg of the underwater pipeline, which runs for about four miles under the choppy Straits of Mackinac, had first been shut down by the Canadian oil company on June 18 as a precaution after damage to one of its support anchors was discovered.

Circuit Court Judge James Jamo granted Attorney General Dana Nessel’s request for a temporary restraining order the following week. That kept the west line shut down until July 1, and the east line shut down until both the court and federal regulators at the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) could determine it was safe.

Now, 83 days after the line was first shut down, both of those entities have given the OK for Enbridge to resume operations in the east leg. 

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

“The decision to allow the restart of the east segment of Line 5 is very positive for the many residents and businesses in Michigan and the Great Lakes region who depend on the energy Line 5 delivers,” Vern Yu, Enbridge executive vice president and president of liquids pipelines, said in a statement.

In its statement, Enbridge notes that the company has kept the state of Michigan “fully advised of the status of the west and east segment investigations” throughout this time period and will continue to do so.

The west line was determined safe by an internal investigation on July 1, and results for the east line came back on Aug. 25.

PHMSA reviewed those results, issuing a letter stating that it had not identified any “integrity issues” and therefore had “no objection” to Enbridge restarting the line.

Tests show west leg of Line 5 pipeline isn’t damaged

But the segment could not be restarted until the circuit court also approved, which Jamo did Wednesday.

“Line 5 was only shut down in the first place due to the Attorney General’s quick action in securing a temporary restraining order when evidence of damage to the pipelines was first discovered,” Nessel spokesperson Ryan Jarvi said in an email.

“Our stipulation that Line 5 wasn’t structurally damaged, after review of the in-line inspection data by PHMSA and an expert retained by our office, doesn’t change the Attorney General’s position in her lawsuit that the pipelines are a clear and present danger and that this recent discovery, along with the anchor strike in 2018, demonstrate the continuing risk that a catastrophic accident could occur,” Jarvi continued.

Jarvi added that Nessel’s office will continue to pursue its lawsuit filed last year that seeks an orderly decommissioning of Line 5.

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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.