Enbridge Seeks Federal Jurisdiction in U.S. Great Lakes Pipeline Dispute

TRAVERSE CITY, MI –

Enbridge Energy on Wednesday asked the federal court to take a Michigan lawsuit to federal court seeking the closure of an oil pipeline that passes under a canal connecting two of the Great Lakes.

The Canadian company argued that a 2019 lawsuit filed in state court by Attorney General Dana Nessel should be heard by U.S. District Judge Janet Neff, who last month retained jurisdiction over a case separate initiative initiated by Enbridge to keep the oil in its Line 5.

“We hope the Attorney General will agree that it makes sense for his case and Enbridge’s case to be decided in federal court rather than risk duplicate litigation and inconsistent results,” spokesman Ryan Duffy said.

But Nessel said the “outrageous move” violates a federal rule that moving cases from one court to another must be done within 30 days of the initial filing.

“We will take this blatant attempt to undermine this process to court and remain firm in our belief that the fate of Michigan’s greatest natural resources should be determined by a Michigan court,” Nessel said.

Enbridge’s scheme was the latest twist in a years-long political and legal battle over Line 5, which carries about 23 million gallons (87 million liters) per day of crude oil and natural gas liquids between Superior , Wis., and Sarnia, Ont.

It runs through northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and is part of an Enbridge network transporting Canadian crude to refineries in both countries.

A four-mile (6.4 kilometer) section is divided into two pipes that cross the bottom of the Strait of Mackinac, where Lake Michigan and Lake Huron meet. Environmental groups and Indigenous tribes say they risk a spill that could pollute hundreds of miles of water and shoreline, while Enbridge says they have never leaked and are in good condition.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer ordered Enbridge in November 2020 to close the 68-year-old line, revoking a 1953 state easement authorizing its placement in the strait. The company, based in Calgary, Alta., filed a federal lawsuit and ignored the Democratic governor’s shutdown deadline of May 12.

Nessel, who had sued in state court to enforce Whitmer’s order, urged Neff to return the case to state court. But the judge ruled last month that he was “properly in federal court” because he raises issues “under consideration at the highest levels of government in this country”.

They include Canada’s invocation of a 1977 treaty with the United States regarding oil shipments between the two nations and federal regulations on pipeline safety, Neff said.

Whitmer and Nessel responded this month by dropping their 2020 lawsuit and refocusing attention on the 2019 case filed in Ingham County, Michigan. He argues that the presence of Line 5 in the strait violates the public trust and the state’s environmental law.

The judge, James Jamo, has scheduled a status hearing for January 7.

Enbridge said in a statement that the two cases are similar and come before the same court. The company said federal law allows a defendant in a lawsuit to transfer a case from state to federal court within 30 days of receiving “solid and unambiguous information” that such action could to be taken.

Neff’s Nov. 16 decision “provided the strong information upon which we rely here, and the matter has now been withdrawn for further proceedings in federal district court,” the company said.

Nessel challenged Enbridge’s interpretation of the rules.

“Our residents deserve more than a company that seeks to profit from our natural resources while trying to evade legal scrutiny of their actions by our state’s courts,” she said.

This Associated Press report was first published on December 15, 2021.

Thelma J. Longworth