“Enbridge cannot unilaterally decide when laws and binding agreements apply and when they do not,” said the director of Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources.
MACKINAC, Mich.—In a major victory for the treaty rights of indigenous Michiganders and protection of one of the most vital places in the Great Lakes system of waterways, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline shut down in November 2020, to take effect in early 2021.
But Enbridge is refusing to comply with that order. The company sent a letter to Gov. Whitmer, saying, “We intend to operate the Dual Lines until the replacement pipeline under the Straits within the Great Lakes Tunnel is placed into service.”
Now officials in Michigan are vowing to hold Enbridge accountable.
“Enbridge cannot unilaterally decide when laws and binding agreements apply and when they do not,” DNR director Dan Eichinger told The ‘Gander. “We look forward to making our case in court, not via letters and press releases.”
Enbridge’s fight with Gov. Whitmer revolves around a series of easements the state granted the company to construct and operate oil pipelines.
Easements, in legal parlance, are permissions to use someone else’s property. In this case, the easement permits Enbridge to use the property of the state of Michigan the—Straits of Mackinac—for their business needs. Gov. Whitmer revoked that permission and gave Enbridge time to shut their pipeline down. Enbridge refused.
Enbridge leaned in its reasoning on the agreement the fossil fuel company made with former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) and rejected the merits of the arguments Gov. Whitmer based her shutdown order on.
After laying out their unequivocal refusal to shut down Line 5, which it calls “the Dual Pipelines” in its letter, the company offered to have “good-faith discussions” with the understanding that it will not comply and intends to sue the state to ensure the oil continues to flow.
“We trust you will respond positively to our offer to participate in good-faith discussions to resolve any differences,” the letter concludes. “In the meantime, the Dual Pipelines will continue to operate safely until they are replaced on completion of the Tunnel Project, as per the 2018 Agreements.”
Enbridge did not respond to the request for comment and the office of Attorney General Dana Nessel declined comment, which is not uncommon when legal proceedings are underway.
But the Michigan Department of Natural Resources called attention to Enbridge’s litany of violations of the terms of the very easements they are trying to now invoke.
“This letter is Enbridge’s attempt to power wash the company’s long history of violating the terms of the 1953 Easement, and their current non compliance,” DNR director Eichinger told The ‘Gander. “The continued presence of the Dual Pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac violates the public trust and poses a grave threat to Michigan’s environment and economy…We stand behind our efforts to protect the Great Lakes, and we stand behind the substance of the November 2020 revocation and termination of the Easement.”
Enbridge’s Dangerous History
In 2010, Enbridge was responsible for an oil spill in the Kalamazoo river that ranked among the largest inland spills in American history. That spill has forever impacted the environment and landscape of West Michigan. An estimated 843,000 gallons of oil flowed into west Michigan waterways.
In 2016, when Enbridge’s current deal was being negotiated by Gov. Snyder, more than twenty organizations signed a letter opposing that easement based on extensive violations of the 1953 deal. Gov. Whitmer, in shutting the pipeline down, called that record of violations “persistent and incurable.”
“Enbridge has imposed on the people of Michigan an unacceptable risk of a catastrophic oil spill in the Great Lakes that could devastate our economy and way of life,” Gov. Whitmer said in a November statement. “That’s why we’re taking action now, and why I will continue to hold accountable anyone who threatens our Great Lakes and fresh water.”