Midwest Energy News
Advocates, State Disagree on Legal Case to Shut Down Mackinac Pipeline
By Andy Balaskovitz
Aug. 19, 2016
The state of Michigan says there is “inadequate information” to justify pursuing a court order to shut down an underwater oil pipeline between the Upper and Lower peninsulas.
But environmental attorneys working to eventually shut down Line 5 — as a growing number of businesses and local governments in Michigan are calling for — disagree and say they’ve presented evidence within the past six months that contradicts the state’s position.
Moreover, advocates say the state could have been pursuing much of the crucial information it’s seeking but instead has punted with a pair of pipeline studies that could take up to 18 months to complete.
The state is holding off on any potential legal action to force closure of the controversial pipeline until those studies are done, according to the state Department of Environmental Quality. Last week, the new director of the DEQ said calls to shut down Line 5, at this point, are “premature.”
The DEQ says the state has “available legal tools to address an imminent threat” from the twin pipelines, such as enforcing an easement agreement from 1953, common law public trust and public nuisance doctrines and potentially state law, a department spokesperson said.
But a court order is the state’s “only legal mechanism” to shut down Line 5, and it would have to prove there were “clear violations” of the easement, there is an “imminent threat” that the pipeline would fail, “and that such a threat outweighed any interest in Enbridge continuing to operate the Pipeline.”
“The (Michigan Petroleum Pipeline) Task Force believes the State has available legal tools to abate any immediate and actual threat of a spill from the Straits Pipelines. But at this juncture, particularly given the nearly unanimous view that there is inadequate information at this time to fully evaluate the risks presented by the Straits Pipelines, the Task Force does not find a basis for recommending that the State take the extraordinary action of seeking a court order to immediately shut down the Straits Pipelines,” said DEQ spokesperson Michael Shore.
Attorneys who have joined the Oil and Water Don’t Mix campaign do not share the view that there is “inadequate information” to pursue court action.
Earlier this month, the state notified Enbridge that it was violating the 1953 easement due to a lack of anchor supports and gave the company 90 days to take corrective action. A public comment period on that is currently underway.