Michigan, Enbridge still at odds as Whitmer's deadline to stop Line 5 operations draws near

Wednesday will be the last day that Enbridge has to cease operations of its dual pipelines that transport oil under the Straits of Mackinac, according to the state of Michigan.

Six months ago, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer revoked an easement that gave permission to the energy company to run Line 5. The infrastructure has come under scrutiny from environmental advocates and the Whitmer administration over concerns about oil spills in the Great Lakes.

But Enbridge has given no indication it plans to obey the rule change and will continue allowing oil to flow after the 180-day deadline set by the governor.

Whitmer revokes 1953 easement

In the original press release announcing the revocation of the 1953 easement, Whitmer attributed the decision to Enbridge's "violation of the public trust doctrine, given the unreasonable risk and continued operation of the dual pipelines poses to the Great Lakes."

Whitmer has targeted the Canadian-owned company after multiple instances of anchors from vessels on the Great Lakes making contact with the two pipelines, damaging the exterior - however, no oil has leaked and the company argues they continue to operate safely.

The governor outlined her issues with the company's pipeline, ranging from pipeline curvature, the protective coating, and lack of supports on the pipeline.

But "the safety of Enbridge's operations exceeds the industry average" argued the company's executive vice president in a reply to Whitmer's letter on Jan. 12. In its reply letter, the company said the risk being assessed was "only theoretical types of ‘incorrect operations’"

"The Notice's assertion that Enbridge is not operating the Dual Lines with due care is unsubstantiated and is no basis for termination."

RELATED: In win for Enbridge, energy company approved for underground tunnel to house replacement pipeline

So what happens if Wednesday arrives and the status quo remains? It's not clear. Both the state and the company are litigating where the issue should be decided - be it state or federal court. 

Attorney General Dana Nessel has sided with Whitmer and has pursued the governor's revocation with a lawsuit filed in Ingham County Circuit Court. In response, Enbridge filed in federal court arguing the decision to close the pipeline wasn't up to the state at all.

Currently, both sides are locked in mediation, meaning there is no timetable for when a decision could arrive.

The Line 5 tunnel

Enbridge has argued the solution to the region's pipeline woes is a giant tunnel that encases the pipeline and protects it from potential hazards like commercial fishing anchors. 

The company has secured permits from the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy, however, they have been challenged in court. The company has also applied for two other permits.

But the challenges don't stop there for Enbridge, which gave the original project a $500 million price tag. That was back in 2018 when a company report filed with the state said it would take six years to complete.

But the development of a four-mile utility tunnel that could house the pipeline could cost more than double the original estimate, previous reports suggest.