Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is pushing for the immediate shutdown of a critical oil pipeline despite warnings that a closure could prompt fuel shortages and prices hikes akin to those caused by the Colonial Pipeline cyberattack.
Enbridge, a Canadian energy-transport company, refused Thursday an order by Ms. Whitmer to shutter the Line 5 pipeline running along the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac, arguing that the governor lacks the authority to regulate the interstate pipeline and that the dispute will be decided in federal court.
The company also warned that a closure could hit the region with the kind of fuel disruptions and price spikes that have upended the southeastern U.S. states since the DarkSide hack May 7 of the Colonial Pipeline.
“The cyberattack that triggered an unplanned, temporary closure brings to the forefront what consumers could face if Gov. Whitmer is successful in her efforts to revoke the 1953 easement between Enbridge and the State that enables Line 5 to operate in the Straits of Mackinac,” said Mike Moeller, Enbridge‘s director of operations for the Great Lakes region, in a statement.
The 68-year-old dual pipeline cuts underwater through the straits on its way from Superior, Wisconsin, to Sarnia, Ontario, delivering each day about 540,000 barrels of oil and natural-gas liquids, which are refined into propane.
“The facts are irrefutable,” Mr. Moeller said. “Without Line 5, consumers will shoulder the burden of supply disruptions and related price increases, particularly for propane and transportation fuel.”
In November, the governor and the head of the state Department of Natural Resources issued an order revoking the easement for Line 5, giving the company until May 12 to halt operations on the pipeline, which supplies 65% of the Upper Peninsula’s propane.
In a Tuesday letter to Enbridge, Ms. Whitmer said she would demand the company turn over to the state all profits earned after Wednesday from “wrongful use of the State’s property” if the court terminates the easement.
“We cannot risk the devastating economic, environmental, and public health impacts of a catastrophic oil spill in the Great Lakes,” said Whitmer spokesperson Bobby Leddy in a statement on WLUC-TV. “These oil pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac are a ticking time bomb, and their continued presence violates the public trust and poses a grave threat to Michigan’s environment and economy.”
Mr. Leddy called the pipeline’s continued operation “unlawful,” while Enbridge spokesperson Ryan Duffy said the company “will not stop operating the pipeline unless we are ordered by a court or our regulator, which we view as highly unlikely.”
“We are operating the pipeline lawfully and following the guidance of our federal regulator, PHMSA, which says Line 5 is fit for service,” said Enbridge executive vice president Vern Yu.
Enbridge also argued that there are health-and-safety risks involved with the alternatives to transporting oil by pipeline, namely trucks and rail.
“Line 5 is ‘the’ infrastructure to deliver to refineries in Detroit, Toledo, and Pennsylvania,” Enbridge said in an email. “You would have to place thousands of trucks and rail cars into service daily. That would be dangerous and risky for people on highways and that structure does not exist today. Hence, you will create shortages and price hikes.”
Closure of the pipeline would wipe out much of the Upper Peninsula’s propane supply — which is bad b/c it’s brutally cold 🥶 — and wipe out jet fuel supplies to Detroit Metro Airport ✈— Ryan Maue (@RyanMaue) May 12, 2021
Enbridge has refused to comply with Whitmer‘s closure order.https://t.co/KnGVdPDgpr
A mediation session in federal court is scheduled for Tuesday. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel is seeking to move the case to state court.
Colonial Pipeline announced it had restored full operations late Thursday after a six-day outage that saw long gas lines, shortages and price hikes in more than a dozen states after the hack on the 5,500-mile Texas-to-New Jersey artery, which runs about 45% of the fuel consumed on the East Coast.
The Biden administration issued an emergency declaration for 17 states and the District of Columbia and temporarily relaxed regulations on noncompliant fuels and hours-of-service waiver for drivers transporting refined petroleum products, including gasoline and diesel.
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