Wednesday marks an important deadline in the tug-of-war between Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's administration and Canadian energy company Enbridge.
The state ordered a section of the company's Line 5 oil pipeline, which runs under the Straits of Mackinac, to shut down by Wednesday on account of old infrastructure that the state said makes it more vulnerable to spills.
Enbridge said it has no plans to stop running unless ordered to do so by a court or its regular, which it views as highly unlikely.
“It makes sense to stop its use until we can bury it basically in a more protected way under the Straits of Mackinac as opposed to along the surface of the bottom," Jennifer Read, the director of the University of Michigan Water Center, said.
On Tuesday, Whitmer vowed to go after the company's profits from oil carried through that section of its pipeline, which travels through northern Wisconsin and Michigan to refineries in Ontario if it doesn't shut down Line 5 by Wednesday.
Last November, she revoked an easement that allows the pipes to occupy the lake bottom.
Whitmer is backed by environmentalist and native tribes, who agree that aging infrastructure make Line 5 a threat to the Great Lakes.
Read said a top concern is an oil spill, which could threaten Northern Michigan.
“That could have a huge impact on the economy. And not to mention ecological impacts as well. Smaller spills would threaten communities near the Straits, obviously Mackinac Island," she said.
A spokesperson for Enbridge said the company will not stop operating unless ordered to by a court or regulator.
“Line 5 is operating safely, reliably and is in compliance with the law. The State of Michigan has never presented any concrete evidence to suggest otherwise. The US agency in charge of pipeline safety, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), has confirmed on multiple occasions that the pipelines are fit for service," the company said in a statement.
A spokesperson went on to say that the issue is currently being litigated in federal court, where both parties have been ordered to work with a neutral mediator.
While Canada's minister of natural resources is backing Enbridge, saying Line 5 is critical to both countries' energy security, Michigan AG Dana Nessel is backing Whitmer.
We shouldn't be in a position where Canada stands to gain nearly all the benefit and the state of Michigan bears all the risks.— Dana Nessel (@dananessel) May 11, 2021
Nessel filed a lawsuit last fall in support of the governor's order to shut down Line 5.
Read notes another concern is large vessels dragging anchors, which could hit or snag the line.
“We’ve had such a thing happen a recently as 2018," she said.
What happens next? The federal court judge overseeing the case ordered mediation with the next session on May 18. We'll have to see what, if any action, the Whitmer administration takes between now and then.