A controversial oil and gas pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac is losing its ability to operate on the bottom of the lake, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced Friday. 

Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources will terminate a 1953 easement agreement with Enbridge, the company traditionally supplying petroleum and natural gas to Mackinac Island. Whitmer said the company’s 67-year-old dual pipelines presented “unreasonable risk” to the state’s residents. 

Enbridge has repeatedly been criticized by environmental activists, who call for an end to the pipelines’ operation. These activists fear the pipeline could rupture, leading to a massive oil spill in a waterway that connects Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. 

The pipelines are subject to several other concerns, including allegations Enbridge has not complied with Michigan regulations and a lack of transparency during inspections. Supporters of Line 5 see it as an essential source of natural gas and propane for people in the Upper Peninsula and other parts of the state.

According to a Friday press release, Whitmer and DNR Director Dan Eichinger say the action is a result of a violation of the public trust doctrine, which requires Michigan to protect and preserve the shores of the Great Lakes. The termination is based on the company’s “persistent and incurable violations” of the terms and conditions of the agreement. 

Whitmer said in a statement the company was putting Michigan residents and the Great Lakes at risk.

“Here in Michigan, the Great Lakes define our borders, but they also define who we are as people,” Whitmer said. “Enbridge has routinely refused to take action to protect our Great Lakes and the millions of Americans who depend on them for clean drinking water and good jobs. … Most importantly, 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.” 

Enbridge argues Line 5 is a vital piece of infrastructure. In a statement Friday, Enbridge executive Vern Yu said there was no credible basis for terminating the easement.

“This notice and the report from Michigan Department of Natural Resources are a distraction from the fundamental facts,” Yu said. “Line 5 remains safe, as envisioned by the 1953 Easement, and as recently validated by our federal safety regulator.”

Yu added that the company is confident that Line 5 is operating safely. 

“We will continue to focus on the safe operation of the dual Line 5 pipelines at the Straits of Mackinac, ensuring the Great Lakes are protected while also reliably delivering the energy that helps to fuel Michigan’s and the region’s economy,” Yu said.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel filed a complaint in the Ingham County Circuit Court to validate the governor’s action. Nessel also specified the pipeline must be shut down within 180 days. 

“I commend Gov. Whitmer and Director Eichinger for their forceful actions today to address the grave threat posed by Enbridge’s unlawful operation of its pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac,” Nessel said in a Friday statement. “With the steps they took today, Gov. Whitmer and Director Eichinger are making another clear statement that Line 5 poses a great risk to our state, and it must be removed from our public waterways.” 

Eichinger explained this action was not taken lightly and was the culmination of over a year of research. 

“After spending more than 15 months reviewing Enbridge’s record over the last 67 years, it is abundantly clear that today’s action is necessary,” Eichinger said in a Friday statement. “Enbridge’s historic failures and current non-compliance present too great a risk to our Great Lakes and the people who depend upon them. Our number one priority is protecting the Great Lakes.” 

In 2019, Nessel filed a different lawsuit against the company, also seeking to shut down the pipelines. This came after they were struck by anchors multiple times in 2018 and 2019 and damaged. 

Both of Ann Arbor’s state legislators oppose Line 5.

In a statement Friday, state Sen. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, thanked Whitmer for taking action.

“For the last 67 years, Enbridge has continually prioritized profits over people, and put our state at risk of a catastrophic oil spill in the Great Lakes that could devastate our economy and way of life,” Irwin said. “Today’s announcement is a crucial move for our families, our businesses, and our economy as a whole. I’m glad to have a proven advocate for our Great Lakes and environment in the governor’s office and proudly stand with her on this decision.”

State Rep. Yousef Rabhi cosponsored two bills introduced in Lansing that would raise the penalties for large boat operators who are not cautious when they pass through the Straits of Mackinac.

Under the bills, operators of large boats who knowingly drop anchor or drag equipment in the Straits of Mackinac could face felony charges and serve up to four years in prison. They could also be hit with a $10,000 fine and be forced to cover environmental cleanup costs.

Rabhi called the bills “absolutely critical” in an October interview with Michigan Radio.

“We cannot allow for our water, our way of life, to be threatened by negligence on the part of the shipping industry,” Rabhi said.

Daily Staff Reporter Emma Ruberg can be reached at eruberg@umich.edu

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