No, Nessel’s Line 5 lawsuit isn’t over

AG resolves 2 pending motions related to pipeline damage

By: - September 25, 2020 2:36 pm

Mackinac Bridge | Susan J. Demas

All parties involved in Nessel vs Enbridge et al, the ongoing suit brought against Canadian oil company Enbridge by Attorney General Dana Nessel last year, agreed Thursday to resolve two pending motions related to damage discovered along the controversial Line 5 pipeline earlier this summer.

Although the pending motions for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunctions are now resolved, Nessel’s lawsuit seeking to decommission Enbridge’s Line 5 remains open and active, contrary to some news reports.

After both lines were inspected following significant damage to a support anchor discovered in June, federal regulators and an expert retained by the state “determined there was no damage to the pipeline itself from the recent events that would justify requiring Line 5 to remain closed, so we are only resolving the motions for the temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction we filed based on those events,” said Nessel spokesperson Ryan Jarvi.

“However, that does not in any way change the attorney general’s position in the lawsuit she filed last year, that the pipelines are a clear and present danger and that this recent incident, along with the anchor strike in 2018, demonstrate the continuing risk that a catastrophic accident could occur. The attorney general’s office continues to pursue the decommissioning of Line 5 to protect the public health, safety and welfare of Michigan’s residents and its natural resources,” Jarvi added.

Circuit Court Judge James Jamo signed off on the stipulation agreement Thursday, according to court records.

The motions for a preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order (TRO) were brought by Nessel in late June, soon after Enbridge revealed it had found damage to an anchor support that props up the east leg of the dual underwater pipelines.

Jamo granted the TRO on June 25 and ordered the west leg shut down until July 1, when Jamo allowed the segment to restart as long as an in-line inspection was performed. Expedited results the following week showed that the west leg was not damaged.

The east segment remained shut down from June 25 until Sept. 10 — nearly three months. An amended TRO from Jamo allowed the line to restart in late August for an in-line inspection.

That inspection also showed no signs of damage, and with both the court’s approval and the OK of federal regulators at the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), Line 5’s east leg began normal operations once again at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 10.

Since the TRO and preliminary injunction were filed based on support anchor damage and the possibility that there could have been further damage to either leg of the pipeline, there was no need to keep those legal motions in play after no damage had been found.

Enbridge spokesperson Ryan Duffy said in a statement that the company’s investigation determined “conclusively” that there was no internal or external metal loss, dents or safety issues with either segment.

Duffy said Enbridge has since implemented a number of further safety measures at the Straits of Mackinac to prevent future incidents. These include patrol boats on the water over the pipelines, as weather permits, and an electronic system to identify approaching vessels and issue a safety notification regarding the pipelines.

The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) issued a statement after Thursday’s stipulation was announced, calling once again for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to revoke Enbridge’s 1953 easement with the state.

“While this news is disappointing, the decision does not impact the overall case with Enbridge and Line 5, and we continue to support Attorney General Dana Nessel in her effort to shut down Line 5 and call on Gov. Whitmer to join her effort,” said Beth Wallace, Great Lakes freshwater campaigns manager for the NWF.

“These incidents, and Enbridge’s behavior since, continue to show Enbridge can’t be trusted to operate these pipelines in the Great Lakes. Michigan’s best protection against a potential spill is to revoke the Line 5 easement. That is why we urge Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to use her executive power to protect our Great Lakes for future generations by revoking the easement immediately,” Wallace said.

Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) are currently in the process of finalizing the DNR’s yearlong review of Enbridge’s compliance with the 1953 easement, which is the original agreement allowing Enbridge to operate pipelines in the environmentally sensitive Straits of Mackinac.

If that review is damning, Whitmer could use her executive authority to order the DNR to dissolve the agreement.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

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.