Pipeline battle: Enbridge defies Michigan closure orders

Enbridge has filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to dismiss the state's order, which has received broad support

Enbridge says it has "no intention" of shutting down its Line 5 pipeline, which is being targeted by a closure order from the state of Michigan

The more than six-decade-old pipeline transports up to 23 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids per day from Superior, Wisconsin to Sarnia, Ontario, taking a shortcut through Michigan and along the lake bottom of the Straits of Mackinac. 

In November, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer revoked the pipeline's 1953 easement through the Straits and ordered Enbridge to close it within six months, or by May 12. 

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However, Enbridge argues that Line 5 is safe and in full compliance with federal pipeline safety standards. The energy transportation giant noted that Line 5 was reviewed and approved for operation by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) back in June and September of 2020.

"The State’s notice ignores scientific evidence and is based on inaccurate and outdated information," an Enbridge spokesperson told FOX Business in a statement. "Enbridge has no intention of shutting down the pipelines based on the State's unspecified allegations and its violation of federal law."

The spokesperson added that repeated offers over the past year to meet with state officials to discuss their concerns, provide technical information and discuss matters that may be helpful to the state's review of the easement were "consistently ignored and dismissed."  

"Consequently, the State made its claim on ill-informed, inaccurate, out of date and unsupportable opinion," Enbridge says.

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Now, the company is waging a battle in federal court against Whitmer in an effort to dismiss the order.

The case has received broad support, with the Canadian government, Ohio and Louisiana attorneys general Mark McElroy and Jeff Landry, the Chambers of Commerce of the U.S., Canada, Michigan and Ohio, the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the North America's Building Trades Unions, the United Steelworkers of America, and the AFL-CIO all submitting friend of the court briefs in the case. 

"This broad support underscores that efforts by the State of Michigan to shutdown Line 5 have far reaching and severe implications across the region and North America – well beyond Michigan's borders," Enbridge's president of Liquids Pipelines, Vern Yu, said in a statement. 

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Whitmer has sent a letter to Yu warning that the continued operation of Line 5 past Wednesday will be considered "an intentional trespass" and result in Enbridge being "liable for unjust enrichment." Whitmer plans to seek all profits derived from Enbridge's "wrongful use of the state's property" if the state is successful in revoking the easement.

"The state intends to assert claims for trespass and unjust enrichment against Enbridge at the appropriate time when the pending motion for remand in the state’s lawsuit has been decided," Whitmer wrote.

The National Wildlife Foundation, which praised Whitmer's effort as "the right decision to safeguard the Great Lakes and protect the health and livelihoods of the millions of people and wildlife who depend upon them," estimates Enbridge could lose more than $1.4 million for every day Line 5 continues to operate if the state prevails in court. 

"It’s simply unacceptable to risk the world’s largest freshwater lakes and one of the United States’ greatest economic engines, because of a decrepit oil pipeline that’s far exceeded its useful life," National Wildlife Federation president and CEO Collin O’Mara said. "It’s an ecological, economic, and public health tragedy just waiting to happen." 

A spokesperson for Whitmer did not immediately return FOX Business' request for comment.

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The fight comes amid chaos prompted by a cyberattack on the Colonial Pipeline last week. Colonial Pipeline Co. said it is aiming to substantially restore its system by the end of the week. Enbridge told FOX Business it is aware of the situation and that all of its facilities are operating as normal.

However, Enbridge's director of operations for the Great Lakes region, Mike Moller, warned the effects of the Colonial Pipeline closure are what consumers could face if Whitmer is successful in shutting down Line 5. 

"The facts are irrefutable. Without Line 5, consumers will shoulder the burden of supply disruptions and related price increases, particularly for propane and transportation fuel," Moller said in a blog post. "We are committed to protecting our communities and the waterways. We also have responsibility to transport safely and reliably through Line 5 the light crude oil and natural gas liquids that allow for our daily essentials."

A study by the Consumer Energy Alliance estimates that closing Line 5 will result in a loss of 33,755 jobs and a minimum of $20.8 billion in economic activity across Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana. The group also forecasts gross domestic product will be reduced by $8.3 billion.