Gretchen Whitmer orders shut down of Great Lakes oil pipeline for ‘violating public trust’

‘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’

Louise Boyle
Senior Climate Correspondent, New York
Friday 13 November 2020 21:28 GMT
Enbridge pipeline in Great Lakes

Governor Gretchen Whitmer has gone after an oil company with legal action to shut down its pipeline, accusing the firm of a “violation of public trust”. 

On Friday, the Democratic governor’s counsel said in a letter to Enbridge that it was revoking an easement granted in 1953 to extend a roughly 4-mile (6.4km) section of pipeline through the Straits of Mackinac, a channel that links two of the Great Lakes, Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.

The revocation will take effect within 180 days, at which point the flow of oil must stop.

Gov Whitmer’s office said the revocation resulted from “a longstanding, persistent pattern of noncompliance with easement conditions and the standard of due care.”

“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,” Gov Whitmer said in a statement. “They have repeatedly violated the terms of the 1953 easement by ignoring structural problems that put our Great Lakes and our families at risk.

“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 fresh water.”

The news was lauded by Michigan’s Bay Mills Indian Community. The Straits of Mackinac holds religious and cultural significance to the tribe, along with being an important fishing resource. 

Despite long-held concerns over the catastrophic consequences of an oil spill on the community, until earlier this year the tribe had no say in decisions surrounding the oil giant.

“We are thrilled and thankful for Governor Whitmer's decision to revoke the easement for Enbridge’s pipeline to run beneath the Straits”, said President Bryan Newland of the Bay Mills Indian Community in a statement to The Independent.

“Enbridge has consistently shown that it only cares about its profits and not about the communities of the Great Lakes. This is a monumental first step in rectifying the harm that the company has already inflicted upon Bay Mills and other tribal nations for decades."

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel confirmed to the Associated Press that she had filed a lawsuit on Friday.

Enbridge said it had received the notice of legal action and was reviewing. 

In a statement to The Independent, Vern Yu, Executive Vice President and President, Liquids Pipelines, said: “This notice and the report from Michigan Department of Natural Resources are a distraction from the fundamental facts.

“Line 5 remains safe, as envisioned by the 1953 Easement, and as recently validated by our federal safety regulator.

"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."

The move escalates a multiyear battle over Line 5, which is part of Enbridge’s Lakehead network of pipelines that carries oil from western Canada to refineries in the US and Ontario. 

The pipeline carries about 23m gallons of oil and natural gas liquids daily between Superior, Wisconsin and Sarnia, Ontario.

The company says the underwater segment has never leaked.

However environmental campaigners warn that it’s vulnerable to a rupture that would devastate portions of Lake Huron and Lake Michigan.

In 2018, the Canadian oil firm reached an agreement with then Republican Gov Rick Snyder to replace the underwater segment with a new pipe that would be housed in a tunnel to be drilled through bedrock beneath the Straits of Mackinac.

The company is seeking state and federal permits for the project, which is not affected by Gov Whitmer’s shutdown order regarding the existing pipeline.

AP contributed to this report

This article has been updated 

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