Special edition on Enbridge Energy and Line 5
Welcome to the June 25th edition of Three Things Thursday. I hope this message finds each and every one of you safe and healthy.
I’ve taken a slightly different approach to this week’s Three Things. Given the intensity around the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline over the past few weeks, I decided to focus all Three Things on the issue at hand, providing important background information and context to give you a complete look at this corporation, its behavior and the response from those in charge of protecting the health and safety of our Great Lakes, the State of Michigan and the people who live here.
Before I jump in, breaking news: Attorney General Nessel’s motion for a temporary restraining order was granted today, and Line 5 must be shut down and remain shut down until the state’s requests are met! This is an incredibly important step and enormous credit goes to our Attorney General who has been nothing short of relentless in holding this untrustworthy corporation accountable. You can read our statement on the ruling here. (There’s more info below, too.)
Now, onto this week’s Three Things and all the detail and substantiation for why today’s move, and, as next step, complete revocation of the easement agreement is necessary to protect our majestic Great Lakes, the drinking water for over 15 million residents in the region, our recreational economy and, truly, our way of life in this amazing freshwater state.
1. Enbridge’s Track-Record
Many of us have been working to shut down the damaged, dangerous Line 5 pipeline for a very long time; others are just joining this fight. No matter how long you have been engaged in this battle, it’s important to remember where and why things started, and why we cannot trust Enbridge Energy, the Canadian oil company that owns and operates the line. Enbridge Energy has a long track-record of withholding information about their pipelines–notably Line 5–from state officials. Their history includes numerous and ongoing examples of deception and outright lies. Here are just a few examples:
- 1953 – Enbridge Energy completes construction of Line 5 through the Straits of Mackinac. The pipeline is now 67 years old. Pipelines over 50 years of age become “ticking time bombs”. This is the point at which age corrosion becomes a major concern, especially for pipelines carrying crude oil. Line 5 is 17 years beyond that 50 year mark, and millions of gallons of crude oil continue to flow through the pipeline each day.
- 2010 – Enbridge Energy’s Line 6b pipeline burst, spilling more than 1 million gallons of heavy crude oil into the Kalamazoo River and nearby waterways, creating the largest inland oil “spill” in our nation’s history. Cleanup of the oil spill took 5 years, and environmental restoration continues to this day. Total cleanup costs have exceeded $1.2 billion. In 2016, Enbridge agreed to pay $177 million in both penalties and for improved safety measures in a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice and Environmental Protection Agency.
- 2017 – A report released by the National Wildlife Federation based on federal data found there to have been 29 known spills, ruptures and equipment failures along the land-based portions of Line 5, which resulted in the release of more than 1 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids into the surrounding environment since 1968.
- 2017 – In March, Enbridge lied to state officials by denying there were any gaps in Line 5’s coating. Enbridge later admitted they had known about gaps in coating and numerous patches of bare metal on Line 5 since 2014. This is one of the most blatant examples of outright lies from Enbridge Energy to state officials, with little to no consequence.
- 2017 – In June, it was revealed that a 2016 Enbridge-commissioned engineering report documented unsupported spans–up to 286 feet in length– of Line 5 pipeline in the Straits — a direct violation of the easement, which requires supports no further than 75 feet apart. Some of the data in the engineering report was from a 2003 survey, demonstrating that this violation and safety risk was happening for years.
- 2018 – An anchor from a tugboat dragging along the lakebed struck Line 5 in multiple places, damaging the pipeline and nearby electrical lines, releasing 600 gallons of dielectric fluid into the water. The pipeline was severely gouged and, had there been severe weather and powerful waves (which are common in the Straits), emergency cleanup would have been impossible. Alarming footage of the damage to the pipeline was finally released in 2019 ,providing a visual of the extent of the damage.
- 2018: Enbridge had to pay a $1.8 million fine for failing to thoroughly inspect its pipelines for weaknesses as required under a 2016 agreement that covers Line 5.
- 2019 – A state-commissioned report found the assets of Enbridge subsidiaries are inadequate to meet state requirements to cover remediation of an oil spill from Line 5 (a fact that Enbridge tried to hide). The report also concluded that any payment from the larger parent company, Enbridge Inc., to cover a Line 5 spill would be entirely voluntary. We as Michiganders bear all the risk of an oil spill while Enbridge profits.
- 2019 – It was discovered that Enbridge failed to report debris from broken drilling equipment left at the bottom of the Straits. Enbridge abandoned the equipment two months before finally reporting the incident to state officials.
- 2020 – Just a few days ago the EPA issued a $6.7 million fine to Enbridge for failure to adhere to safety requirements and timelines as agreed to following the 2010 Kalamazoo disaster.
Again, these are just a few key examples;. the full list of Enbridge’s safety violations and incidents is far too lengthy to include in Three Things Thursday.
2. Recent Damage to Line 5
On Thursday June 18, Enbridge Energy notified state officials of new significant damage to the 67-year-old, already-damaged Line 5 pipeline. We still don’t have the whole story, but we know that an anchor-support ripped loose and more areas of damaged coating were found, leaving the pipeline (increasingly) vulnerable in the intense currents of Lake Michigan for who-knows-how-long. The corporation also informed state officials that they had shut the pipeline down. This information, sketchy as it was, came on the tails of a Memorial Day Weekend incident that also caused Enbridge to shut the line down for a short period of time. Very alarming, to say the least.
Last Friday, late in the day, the Governor took this information and went public, announcing to the media that Line 5 was shut down, and emphasizing that (as far as she understood) Enbridge had discovered additional damage to Line 5 (while carrying out other repair work on Line 5). Per the corporation, Line 5 had been hit by an unknown force, at an unknown time, damaging and moving an anchor support, and damaging coating on the line (at a minimum).
Governor Whitmer requested that Enbridge maintain closure of Line 5 and provide documentation substantiating line integrity before recommencing operation. In a brazen act of defiance, Enbridge not only failed to provide the Governor with the requested information; they resumed operation on the west leg, a violation of the “due care” clause of the easement agreement that the company has with the State of Michigan.
Governor Whitmer was understandably taken aback by Enbridge’s behavior and issued a letter requesting the immediate shut down of the line. The company did not comply with the request. Michigan LCV then issued a firmly worded statement, which can be found here.
Flabbergasting? Infuriating? Appalling? Yes, all of the above. Enbridge basically sent a clear message to Governor Whitmer and the people of Michigan: we don’t have to do what you tell us.
3. What happened/happens next?
Clearly, Enbridge has taken its defiance and disregard for the safety of our Great Lakes to a new level.
The good news is we have an amazing advocate in our Attorney General Dana Nessel who filed a motion on Monday for a preliminary injunction and a temporary restraining order in Nessel vs. Enbridge, which requested an emergency shut down of Line 5. We applauded AG Nessel for her action to protect our Great Lakes, and we were delighted with the Ingham County court decision today.
We also need to express gratitude to many members of our Congressional delegation — Dingell, Kildee, Lawrence, Levin, Slotkin, Stevens, Tlaib–who, outraged by Enbridge’s recent behavior, quickly drafted a letter to the US Dept. of Transportation, which has oversight over pipeline safety.
Please know that our team has been working, and will continue to work, closely with the Governor’s office to encourage her to not only support the work of AG Nessel, but to use her authority to revoke Enbridge Energy’s “Energy Easement Agreement” with the State of Michigan. The corporation’s negligence is obvious and this aged, decrepit pipeline is at the absolute worst location: at the heart of our Great Lakes. The revocation of the easement is the first step in permanently shutting down Line 5.
Please know we are also driving calls and messages into the Governor’s office from our membership, board and allied organizations. You can find our call to action here, which has already resulted in hundreds of calls and messages to the governor.
And, while all of this plays out in the courts, there’s more…
On June 30, the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) is holding a special meeting where they will announce their role in oversight of Enbridge Energy’s proposed Line 5 tunnel.
Enbridge Energy is requesting a ruling from the MPSC that would allow them to move forward with building a tunnel through the Straits WITHOUT the Commission’s approval or review, which would mean limited public input and oversight from the Commission.
Given everything I have shared about this corporation and its history, it is our position that the MPSC must do everything in their power to ensure that Enbridge is held accountable. Not only should they preserve and protect their decision-making authority, but — very importantly — Michiganders deserve to have a voice in these critical decisions around the future of our state and Great Lakes.
We are mobilizing our members to attend (virtually) the June 30th public hearing to urge the Public Service Commission to hold Enbridge Energy accountable. We created a signup form for concerned residents to RSVP for the meeting. You can find that form here.
Whew! I know that’s a lot about Line 5, but it’s all super important. We are at a critical moment. Thanks for all you are doing to support our team in this essential work. I’ll be sure to keep you updated and abreast of new developments.
Stay safe. Be well.