By Charlie Forbes

CBS Detroit – The Line 5 pipeline run by Canadian oil company Enbridge that runs under the Straits of Mackinac could be on its last days. According to the Detroit Free Press, Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Michigan DNR Director Dan Eichinger announced on Friday they are revoking Enbridge’s easement that allows it to pump petroleum and other fossil fuels under the straits.

Line 5 has come under scrutiny after various groups who dived on the pipeline found breaks in the protective out covering, along with large segments where the pipeline wasn’t properly supported, a violation of the original easement. It is reported Enbridge knew about the damaged outer covering but failed to disclose it to the state until three-years later. The pipeline has been in operation since 1953 and can pump as much as 23 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids per day from the upper to lower peninsula. The pipeline splits into two lines under the straits, then combining back into one as it continues in the lower peninsula where it leaves Michigan at the Sarnia, Ontario border crossing.

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A lawsuit was filed by Whitmer and Eichinger in Ingham County Circuit Court under their authority that Line 5 violates Public Trust Doctrine. That they say Line 5 is a hazard to the Great Lakes. Michigan’s Public Trust Doctrine says that the state has a duty to preserve and protect lands along the shores of the Great Lakes for future generations.

According to the Detroit Free Press, the Governor’s office wrote in a statement, “Moreover, the state is terminating the easement based on Enbridge’s persistent and incurable violations of the easement’s terms and conditions,”. They are demanding Enbridge cease all their operations by May 2021, and calls for an orderly transition to protect Michigan’s energy needs in the coming months.

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The press release wrote, “Enbridge has routinely refused to take action to protect our Great Lakes and the millions of Americans who depend on them for clean drinking water and good jobs. They have repeatedly violated the terms of the 1953 easement by ignoring structural problems that put our Great Lakes and our families at risk.” Whitmer added, “Most importantly, Enbridge has imposed on the people of Michigan an unacceptable risk of a catastrophic oil spill in the Great Lakes that could devastate our economy and way of life. That’s why we’re taking action now, and why I will continue to hold accountable anyone who threatens our Great Lakes and freshwater.”

According to Enbridge vice president and president of liquids pipelines, Vern Yu, Line 5 is still very viable. “Line 5 remains safe, as envisioned by the 1953 Easement, and as recently validated by our federal safety regulator,” which according to the Detroit Free press is the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). Enbridge also maintains that the DNR did its assessment of their easement in a “non-public manner”, further saying the DNR never consulted their experts during the review process.

Yu told the Detroit Free Press, “We will continue to focus on the safe operation of the dual Line 5 pipelines at the Straits of Mackinac, ensuring the Great Lakes are protected while also reliably delivering the energy that helps to fuel Michigan’s and the region’s economy,”.

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In July of 2010, Enbridge had a leak near Marshall Michigan that turned into one of the largest oil spills in U.S. history. More than 38 miles of the Kalamazoo River was affected, and after 4 years and $1 billion in cleanup costs, Enbridge agreed to a $177 million settlement between the Department of Justice and the EPA. They also racked up $62 million in penalties over that spill and another spill in Romeo, Illinois. This has eroded the public’s trust in Enbridge.

Critics of Enbridge say a break in Line 5 would do irreversible damage to the Great Lakes and negatively impact communities along the shores of the Great Lakes. Enbridge still maintains Line 5 is safe.

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While many applaud the Governor’s decision to file to revoke Enbridge’s easement of Line 5, others say this will affect obs here in Michigan. Justin Donley, president of United Steelworkers Local 912 told the Detroit Free Press, “Without Line 5, these family-sustaining jobs will be gone, and all of the employment we support will be at risk,”. his union represents a little under 400 who work for PBF Toldeo Refining Complex located in Oregon, Ohio. That facility gets the majority of its supply from Line 5 and also supplies most of the jet fuel for Detroit Metro airport.

U.S. Senator Gary Peters weighed in on the governor’s decision saying, There’s no question an oil spill in the Straits of Mackinac would have catastrophic and long-term consequences to the economic and environmental health of Michigan and the Great Lakes,” Peters continued, “Unfortunately here in Michigan, we already know from the Enbridge pipeline leak in the Kalamazoo River just how devastating and costly spills are to our state.

“Given the structural integrity and age concerns around Line 5 – particularly in recent years – and Enbridge’s failures and inability to be transparent with Michiganders, it’s clear that Line 5 poses too serious of a threat and must be removed in the coming months.”

Separate from this issue is Enbridge’s new plan to build a new pipeline encased in a tunnel underground of the Straits of Mackinac. No one is sure how that will be affected. Enbridge is still in the process of getting the required permits from federal and state authorities.

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Charlie Forbes