Enbridge disagrees with itself on state’s pipeline safety role

For more than six decades, Enbridge’s dual Line 5 pipelines have run four miles along the bottom of the Great Lakes, exposed to the elements. The pipelines carry tars sands crude and natural gas liquids across the Straits of Mackinac, the narrow waterway connecting Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.

The pipelines are moving oil “near delicate wetlands and through fish spawning habitats where swift currents pull water between the Great Lakes,” The Narwhal says. Michigan scientists, conservationists and tribes have been “warning that Enbridge’s Line 5 was a disaster waiting to happen,” the article said.

For more than five decades, the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands pipeline has operated along a 282-mile corridor across northern Minnesota. It passes through sensitive wetlands and wild rice waters, crossing rivers and streams with some of the state’s cleanest waters.

Line 3 is in such bad shape, it can only operate at half capacity. State regulators worry it’s a disaster waiting to happen.

When it comes to addressing Minnesota’s aging Line 3 and Michigan’s aging Line 5, Enbridge offers different interpretations about the state’s role in pipeline safety.

Current Line 3 route (orange) and proposed route (green).

In Minnesota, Enbridge needed the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to approve permits for a new Line 3. The old Line 3 was in bad shape and needed lots of repairs, the company said. It should be replaced for safety reasons. However, if the PUC failed to approve the new pipeline, Enbridge would keep operating the old Line 3, and could do so safely.

Enbridge’s implied threat seemed clear: Approve a new Line 3 or face the possibility of a rupture in the old one, and the environmental damage that went with it.

It worked. The PUC approved the new and larger Line 3. Several Commissioners cited the current Line 3’s failing state as a key factor in their vote.

PUC Chair Nancy Lange said: “How would I feel if I woke up in five years and that line had leaked? It’s just too great a cost for me to accept.”

Commissioner Dan Lipschultz said:

It feels like a gun to our head that somehow compels us to approve a new line because of the risks – the real risks – of that existing pipeline and the problems that could occur. But when I think about that, all I can say is that the gun is real, and it is loaded, and the evidence in the record doesn’t provide any indication that the old pipe will go away in the next 10 or 11 years. ….

That leaves us with a highly corroded, very dangerous existing line in the ground for at least the next 10 or 11 years, posing a real danger to the environment and cultural properties in the state of Minnesota. That is a hard one to get past.

PUC Commissioner Dan Lipschutz, June 28, 2018

Line 3 opponents cried foul.

They argued the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration was responsible for pipeline safety, not the PUC. The PUC was overstepping its bounds by considering Line 3’s failing state in its decision on whether to approve the new one.

The PUC unanimously approved the project.

Straits of Mackinac (Wikipedia)

In Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer revoked Enbridge Line 5’s easement to run along the floor of the Straits of Mackinac. On Nov. 13, she ordered Enbridge to stop operating Line 5 within 180 days. She wanted to avoid a catastrophic oil spill in the Great Lakes.

Enbridge cried foul.

It said the state has no authority over pipeline safety. It’s suing to block Whitmer’s order.

The Canadian company accused the state of overstepping its bounds, arguing that Enbridge’s Line 5 was under the sole regulatory jurisdiction of the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

“This is the latest attempt by the state of Michigan to interfere with the operation of this critical infrastructure by assuming authority it does not possess,” the company said in a statement.

CBC story, Nov. 25, 2020

So when Michigan tries to shut down a pipeline for safety reasons, Enbridge says the state has no authority for pipeline safety. But when Enbridge wants Minnesota to approve a new pipeline, it tries to convince the PUC that it needs to intervene because of the safety risks posed by the existing pipeline.

If the PUC was concerned about the old Line 3’s safety, why not call the U.S. Pipeline Hazardous Materials and Safety Administration and ask for help, taking that issue off the table?

I can’t speak for Michigan, but it looks the PUC got played.

One thought on “Enbridge disagrees with itself on state’s pipeline safety role

  1. Good one Scott. I think you untangled that one correctly. Enbridge cherry-picks information for what they want to say to support a certain position depending on the situation. This type of behavior indicates that they are not true to their word and can not be trusted.


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