Enbridge taking Michigan to court over Line 5 pipeline replacement

CALGARY – Enbridge Inc. is taking the State of Michigan to court to ensure it can build a tunnel for a pipeline under straits that separate two of the Great Lakes.

A feud between the Calgary-based pipeline giant and Michigan has steadily escalated in recent months as newly elected Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer wants Enbridge’s existing Line 5 shut down and Enbridge wants the state to honour a previous agreement that would allow it to tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.

Whitmer and Enbridge president and CEO Al Monaco exchanged letters in recent weeks and on Thursday Enbridge escalated its dispute by announcing it would be filing a suit in the Michigan Court of Claims “to establish the constitutional validity and enforceability of previous agreements.”

“We are taking this action in order to protect Michigan consumers. We require a court review of the enforceability in order to remove obstacles to building the tunnel as quickly as possible and ensure energy security and environmental protection for Michigan,” Enbridge executive vice-president, liquids pipelines, said in a release.

Enbridge signed agreements with Michigan in 2017 and 2018 under previous Republican governor Rick Snyder and committed to replacing Line 5, a 65-year-old oil and propane pipeline under the straits, with a US$500 million tunnel below the lakebed that would house a new Line 5 pipeline.

The company expects work could be completed by 2024 and has committed to decommissioning the existing Line 5 at that time.

But Whitmer has repeatedly said she wants the existing Line 5 pipeline shut down earlier than that to protect the Great Lakes and reiterated that position to the Detroit News this week.

“If we can’t hammer out a solution that gets the pipeline out of the water by a date that is quicker than what I think the Snyder administration tried to negotiate, then, you know, we’re going to have to look at all the alternatives,” she told the Detroit News editorial board.

The company announced earlier this week that it planned to proceed with work in preparation of building the tunnel this year, including underwater rock and soil sampling this month, deep-water rock and soil sampling next month. It expects to finalize its tunnel design next year.

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