The west leg of Enbridge’s Line 5 twin pipeline that carries light crude oil and natural gas liquids under the Straits of Mackinac in Michigan can reopen while the east leg that was reported damaged in mid-June will remain shut down.
Following a lengthy hearing on June 30, Ingham County Circuit Court Judge James Jamo amended a temporary restraining order issued June 25 that had required Enbridge Inc., the line’s Canadian operator, to shut down the west segment.
The new order keeps Enbridge from operating the east leg of the pipelines until the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials and Safety Administration completes an investigation, and until the owner provides agency and state officials with necessary information, completes remaining repairs and receives court approval.
“Enbridge has now safely restarted the west segment and anticipates operations will soon return to normal,” said Ryan Duffy, an Enbridge spokesperson. “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.“
He said the Line 4 east leg 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.”
The controversy over the 67-year-old pipeline surfaced on June 18 when Enbridge, as part of a maintenance and inspection program, informed the state that an anchor support on the east leg had sustained damage. The support lies about 150 ft from a section of the pipeline that showed damage to its coating that was discovered around May 26.
State officials had sought a restraining order to keep both legs of the pipeline shut down because they were concerned about the way the company handled the report of damage to the east leg and how it reopened the west line. The state alleges the company failed to provide information about cause of the damage to the east leg and, while it closed that line, it reactivated the west leg without consulting the state.
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said the newest court order will enable the state to obtain information needed to ensure the structure is safe.
The order requires Enbridge to provide results on the damaged east leg to the state and the court within seven days of restarting its operation, as well as all other information requested by Michigan officials.
“The 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,” Nessel said.
She has called the court ruling a short-term fix, and has said the pipeline eventually needs to be shut down permanently and removed.
“If the lines are put back into operation, one mismanaged incident or accident would result in a historic catastrophe for our state,” Nessel said previously. “Work must continue toward complete removal of Line 5 from our waters.”
Duffy said that Enbridge’s Line 5 has served Michigan safely without incident at the straits crossing for more than 65 years.
“We remain willing to work with the state going forward to address issues of concern about the safety of Line 5 and its ultimate replacement with The Great Lakes Tunnel that will contain a new section of pipeline,” he said. “Enbridge is currently seeking permit approval of the tunnel which, upon completion, will make a safe pipeline even safer. “
Line 5 is set to be replaced by a utility tunnel under the straits large enough to accommodate trucks for service, a tunnel the Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration and Nessel challenged in court, but whose legality was affirmed by an appeals court on June 17.
That construction will not begin until at least this fall and is not expected to finish until 2024 at the earliest.