Michigan judge allows western portion of Line 5 to reopen, keeps eastern leg closed

Jul 1, 2020

A Michigan judge ruled Wednesday to keep a temporary restraining order against Enbridge in place while allowing the company to resume operations through the western leg of the Line 5 pipeline.

The order stops short of granting Attorney General Dana Nessel’s request for an injunction against the company - instead extending and modifying the existing restraining order.

Enbridge reported "significant damage" to the eastern leg of its Line 5 pipeline in June. After temporarily shutting down both portions of the line the company resumed operations through the western leg, saying federal regulators had "no objections" to their doing so. That led Governor Whitmer to request the company shut down the pipeline entirely while an investigation could be conducted. Enbridge refused and on June 22nd Attorney General Dana Nessel filed her request for an injunction against the company. 

Last week, Judge James Jamo granted the state a temporary restraining order against Enbridge to shut down both legs of the pipeline. 

In his order Wednesday, Judge Jamo said Enbridge will be allowed to restart the western leg of Line 5 in order to conduct safety testing. After the testing concludes the company can resume normal operation “subject to the results.”

The order keeps the eastern portion of the line closed pending both a final court ruling and a determination from federal regulators about the safety of the pipeline.

David Holtz is with the environmental group Oil and Water Don’t Mix, which advocates for a shutdown of the pipeline.

“I think the Attorney General got what she needed,” he said. “Which is a delay in keeping those pipelines shut down so they don’t pose a threat to the Great Lakes. That’s her primary concern.”

But, Holtz said the order dodges one of the broader questions around the case - whether the state has a right to regulate the pipeline at all.  That determination may come when the judge issues his final ruling in the case.

“He sort of kicked the can down the road on that,” Holtz said. “But I think we’ll see where he lands on that when he issues his final order.”

In a written statement Attorney General Dana Nessel said the ruling would allow the state to get the information it needs to evaluate “the threat this pipeline poses to our environment if left to operate in its current state.”

A spokesperson for Enbridge Energy said in a written statement that they anticipate the operation of the western leg of the pipeline “will soon return to normal.”

And, the statement continued, Enbridge remains willing to work with the state to address “issues of concern about the safety of Line 5 and its ultimate replacement with The Great Lakes Tunnel, that will contain a new section of the pipeline.”