Enbridge: Boat anchor, wire cable may have caused Line 5 damage

Oil company urges judge to lift restraining order on pipeline

Mackinac Bridge | Susan J. Demas

Embattled Canadian oil company Enbridge has still not been able to determine how an anchor support holding up the east segment of the Line 5 pipeline was damaged, according to court documents submitted to the Ingham County Circuit Court Monday.

Enbridge does, however, raise the possibility that a boat anchor caused the damage to the east segment of the dual underwater pipeline. The reply brief also states that an “area of interest” on the west segment of Line 5 could have resulted from a wire cable dragged by a boat.

The documents were submitted ahead of oral arguments in Nessel v Enbridge, which are scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Tuesday and will address Attorney General Dana Nessel’s request for a preliminary injunction.

On Thursday, Judge James Jamo granted Nessel’s request for a temporary restraining order on Line 5’s operation. Enbridge agreed that day to completely shut down the pipeline until a determination is made in court.

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“While Enbridge has not yet reached a final conclusion, there is visible evidence that the area on the West Line resulted from a vessel dragging a relatively thin item such as a wire cable in a direction perpendicular to the Line,” Enbridge’s reply brief reads.

“…In contrast, the damage to the East Line anchor assembly and markings on the lake bed near the damaged anchor assembly are more consistent with damage caused by a vessel of modest size dragging an object parallel to the Line.”

The company’s attorneys argue that neither incident put the pipelines in immediate danger and Enbridge is taking steps to prevent further damage.

In Tuesday’s filings, Enbridge attorneys argue that Nessel has neither factual nor legal basis for requesting the “extraordinary injunctive relief” that she seeks. 

They also contend that because federal regulators at the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) already gave the OK for Enbridge to restart the west line of Line 5, Jamo should lift the restraining order so as to not violate federal law.

Although the PHMSA has regulatory oversight over the 645-mile pipeline’s operations, the state of Michigan holds specific oversight over both 4 1/2-mile segments of the underwater pipeline through a 1953 easement with Enbridge. That agreement has jurisdiction over the pipeline’s sitting location and Enbridge’s due care of operating the pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac.

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“What Enbridge is basically telling the judge is trust us and even if you don’t trust us you don’t have the authority to stop us from continuing to pump 23 million gallons of oil a day through the Straits,” said Sean McBrearty, campaign coordinator of the anti-Line 5 Oil & Water Don’t Mix coalition. 

“Coming just a week after being forced to pay $6.7 million in fines for violating pipeline safety, Enbridge’s arrogance is only exceeded by its gross misreading of the premier right and responsibility of Michigan’s state government to protect the Great Lakes,” McBrearty said in a statement.

In its reply brief, Enbridge also argues that “the public interest and harms suffered by Enbridge weigh against an injunction,” because “any closure of the Dual Pipelines, even if only temporarily,” would threaten oil supply in Michigan, Canada and surrounding states.

This lies in contrast with Jamo’s own ruling Thursday granting Nessel’s requests for a preliminary injunction and restraining order, in which Jamo stated that potential harm to the Great Lakes in the case of an oil spill far outweighs any economic harm to Enbridge.

Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins covers the environment, immigration and criminal justice. She is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service. When Laina is not writing or listening to podcasts, she loves art and design, discovering new music, being out in nature and spending time with her two cats Rainn and Remy.