New: Coast Guard concludes Line 5 damage caused by Enbridge vessels, denies anchor ban request

Mackinac Bridge | Susan J. Demas

Updated, 4:34 p.m., 9/8/20 with comment from Enbridge

The U.S. Coast Guard has denied a request from anti-Line 5 groups to ban anchoring in the Straits of Mackinac to prevent future damage to the Line 5 dual oil pipeline, according to a Tuesday letter from the Sault Ste. Marie captain of the port.

But Capt. Anthony Jones also noted he has confirmed Enbridge-contracted vessels to be the likely cause of issues discovered on both Line 5 segments this summer.

“Based on this review, I have concluded that the disturbances found by Enbridge Energy are reasonably attributed to incidental contact by cables or other equipment deployed or handled by vessels contracted by Enbridge to conduct work within the submerged pipeline area,” Jones wrote.

The possibility that Enbridge’s own vessels could have caused the disturbances was first revealed by the Canadian oil company itself earlier this summer in a report shared with the state, but that report did not make any firm conclusions and left open the possibility that it could have been a non-Enbridge vessel.

Displaced anchor support on east leg of Line 5 | Enbridge photo

Enbridge spokesperson Ryan Duffy said the company has reviewed the Coast Guard’s letter, but is still working to make a conclusion of its own.

“We have not made a final determination on the vessels that caused the damage, and continue to consider all possible causes, including vessels contracted by Enbridge,” Duffy said. “We have interviewed our own contractors working in the areas as part of our thorough investigation. As of now we can’t rule out their involvement.”*

In his Tuesday letter, Jones writes that he is denying the anchor ban request after a 30-day review because “the existing RNA [Regulated Navigation Area] regulation is sufficiently tailored to meet the goal of protecting charted submerged pipeline and cable areas from accidental deployment of anchors from vessels transiting the RNA.”

The damage to the underwater pipelines also did not constitute a marine casualty, which would have allowed the Coast Guard to take further action.

Jones adds that despite this, he has found areas for improving the Coast Guard’s procedures for processing anchorage requests, and will implement those changes within 90 days.

The original July 24 letter requesting the ban was signed by representatives of nine environmental groups opposed to Line 5: Oil & Water Don’t Mix, Clean Water Action, FLOW (For Love of Water), Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities, Michigan Environmental Council, Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council, Sierra Club Michigan, Straits Area Concerned Citizens for Peace, Justice & the Environment and TC 350.

Coast Guard reviewing request to ban anchors in Mackinac Straits after pipeline damage

“The Coast Guard confirms that it was Enbridge’s contractors who caused the damage that shut down the pipelines,” Oil & Water Don’t Mix spokesperson David Holtz said Tuesday. “What the Coast Guard is also telling us is that it does not have the authority to prevent another similar Line 5 pipeline incident, including one that could cause a catastrophic rupture.

“It should be clear to the governor and everyone that the only real way to protect the Great Lakes from a Line 5 pipeline rupture is to shut down Line 5 now,” Holtz added.

Environmental, business and tribal groups have been putting heightened pressure on Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to use her executive authority to order the shutdown of the dual pipelines.

That would involve ordering the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to revoke Enbridge’s 1953 easement with the state of Michigan, which is the company’s original agreement with Michigan allowing it to build and operate Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac.

New: DNR finalizing review of Line 5 easement compliance

Whitmer ordered the DNR to review Enbridge’s compliance with the easement in June 2019. That review is now being finalized with Whitmer’s office, as DNR spokesperson Ed Golder told the Advance in early August. Golder confirmed Tuesday that there are no further updates since then.

If that review contains evidence that Enbridge has violated its terms of the 1953 easement, Whitmer has the legal authority to dissolve the agreement, essentially revoking the state’s permission for Enbridge to operate Line 5 in the Straits.

A Whitmer spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Coast Guard’s letter.