Michigan's Governor Gretchen Whitmer revoked the easement agreement that allowed Enbridge, a Canadian pipeline corporation, to use the Great Lakes bottomland for its Line 5 oil pipeline. This is what you need to know about why the easement was revoked.
Michigan has a legal duty to protect the Great Lakes on behalf of all Michigan residents. An exhaustive state review shows that Enbridge has repeatedly violated the easement agreement and put the Great Lakes at risk.
These are the violations that led to the easement revocation:
#1 - PIPELINE SUPPORT VIOLATIONS
Did you know that the anchor supports installed to prevent long spans were never evaluated as part of the original pipeline design? These anchor support have made the pipeline less safe by elevating nearly 3 miles of pipeline off the lakebed and into the strong currents of the Straits. Read more.
- The Easement requires the pipeline to be supported at least every 75 feet to prevent a breach
- Long unsupported spans are dangerous because they allow vibrations that can stress the pipeline metal and potentially cause it to rupture and fail
- Enbridge documents show that from 1963 to 2012, they knew that multiple unsupported spans exceeded the 75-foot limit and they failed to fix them. One unsupported length of the pipeline was 421 feet long! Other dangerously long spans were 200', 216', 221', 278', 286', 292', 311', and 359'
- Enbridge documents suggest they only repaired unsupported spans greater than 140 feet, almost twice the Easement limit
- This shows the kind of indifference and negligence by Enbridge that caused their massive 1.1 million gallon oil spill into the Kalamazoo River in 2010
This is a state issue but Enbridge dragged Michigan to federal court. Sign the Petition to ask President Biden to support the state's rights and duty to protect the public trust and Gov. Whitmer's shutdown order.
#2 - COATING VIOLATIONS
- The Easement requires Enbridge to maintain a protective coating on the pipelines to prevent steel corrosion, which is one of the major causes of pipeline failure
- Since at least 2003, Enbridge was notified that a heavy accumulation of biota, like zebra and quagga mussels, made it impossible to inspect the pipeline coating
- For 13 years after that notice, Enbridge made little to no effort to address the biota problem
- This means that no one could properly inspect Line 5 for possible coating failure for at least 13 years
- When some coating delamination was found in 2014 and 2016, Enbridge ignored it until a federal court order forced them to fully inspect the pipelines’ exterior
- In March 2017, Enbridge told Michigan they had found no coating gaps. Five months later, they changed their story and reported that they actually found three gaps
- Enbridge was then forced to admit that they knew about the gaps since 2014 but didn't report them to the State
- This reveals a pattern of indifference and lack of due care - an ongoing, persistent violation of the Easement
Line 5 carries 23 million gallons of oil every day - through the middle of a busy shipping channel - in 21% of the world's fresh surface water - through a system that is spill-prone and outdated
#3 - MINIMUM CURVATURE VIOLATION
- The Easement specifies how much the pipelines can bend or deviate from a straight line, known as its minimum curvature
- This rule is intended to prevent dangerous structural stresses from being placed on the pipelines
- Enbridge documents reveal 20 to 25 times that the curvature exceeded this specification
- These curvature violations remain uncorrected
- There is no documented proof that Enbridge attempted to comply with the pipeline curvature limits during the original installation of Line 5, meaning the curvature limits were ignored by Enbridge from the very beginning
- This is a fundamental violation of the Easement
#4 - UNREASONABLE RISK OF HARM VIOLATION
Read more Myths vs Facts information about the Line 5 pipeline
- Pipelines spill for many reasons: material failures, insufficient maintenance, human error, and external events
- There is no fail-safe way to guarantee pipeline safety, so there will always be a risk of harm
- In one two-year span, there were multiple events that could have caused Line 5 to fail and spill:
- In 2018, the pipelines were struck and damaged by a ship's anchor, even though a no-anchor zone was in place
- In 2019, pipeline supports were severely damaged by Enbridge contractors by mistake. Despite prevention and warning measures, the damage wasn’t even discovered for a year.
- The Line 5 risk of harm is even worse because modeling shows the extreme currents of the Straits could spread spilled oil over 400 miles of Great Lakes shoreline
- University of Michigan scientists called the Straits of Mackinac the worst possible place for an oil spill in the Great Lakes (watch spill scenario video)
- This is practically the definition of unreasonable risk that violates the Easement
#5 - PUBLIC TRUST DOCTRINE VIOLATION
- The Public Trust Doctrine says the Great Lakes must be held in trust for the public, navigation, and for the ability to drink, hunt, fish, and boat
- It also says that the State cannot issue a permit for a project or activity if it will adversely affect the public trust
- Basically, private corporations can't mess with the Great Lakes because the Great Lakes belong to the public
- Several U.S. and Michigan Supreme Court cases have affirmed that any ongoing use of Great Lakes bottomlands by a private corporation must do two things:
- It must improve navigation or directly benefit the public trust
- The structure or activity must not impair or endanger the public trust
- The original Easement was never subjected to the rules laid out in the Public Trust Doctrine:
- The State never determined that the Easement would improve navigation or another public trust interest like fishing
- The State skipped the requirement saying that any allowed structure or activity must not impair or endanger the Great Lakes
- In other words, the Easement has been void since the very beginning and should have never been granted!
- Since the Public Trust Doctrine is part of Michigan’s Constitution, agreements like the Easement can be revoked if they violate the Public Trust Doctrine
The Straits of Mackinac are the very heart of the Great Lakes, a unique ecosystem of enormous public importance. Enbridge's operation of Line 5 in the Straits presents a substantial, inherent, and unreasonable risk of an oil spill. A spill would have grave ecological and economic consequences, severely impairing public rights in the Great Lakes and their public trust resources.
Since the shutdown order, the State of Michigan used its 180 days to establish a plan to meet residents’ energy needs after Line 5 is shut down. Enbridge used their time to sue the State, launch advertising attacks, fund industry front groups, and state that they have no intention of obeying the law or shutting down Line 5 in the Straits (see the letter from Enbridge refusing to obey the order).
The bottom line? As of May 13, 2021, Enbridge is breaking the law by trespassing on public bottomlands in the Straits of Mackinac.