Michigan judge orders major oil pipeline to Sarnia shut down

The Shell Canada oil refinery at Corunna. Glenn Ogilvie file photo

Journal Staff

A Michigan judge today ordered an energy pipeline shut down, a move that could have a “serious impact” on Sarnia’s petrochemical industry, warns Mayor Mike Bradley.

“I would hope that the industries here are preparing themselves,” he said.

Enbridge Line 5 is a major pipeline that carries oil and natural gas liquids from Western Canada to Sarnia. A six-kilometre segment of it lies at the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac, connecting Lakes Huron and Michigan.

A number of Chemical Valley companies rely on Line 5 for feedstock in their operations.

Calgary-based Enbridge announced last week an anchor support on the east leg of the pipeline in the Straight had shifted. The pipeline itself did not rupture and no oil spilled into the water, the company said.

While the east leg remains shut down Enbridge resumed the flow on the west line Saturday.

A Michigan judge said today Enbridge did not provide enough information to show that operating the west leg of the pipeline is safe and ordered it shut down within 24 hours.

Without the temporary order, “the risk of harm to the Great Lakes and various communities and businesses that rely on the Great Lakes would be not only substantial but also in some respects irreparable,” said Ingham County Judge James Jamo, The Associated Press reported Thursday.

The court will hold a hearing Tuesday on Michigan’s request for a preliminary injunction that, if granted, could keep Line 5 closed indefinitely, the news agency said.

Local Enbridge spokesperson Ken Hall declined comment. He referred The Journal to the company’s communication department in Alberta, which did not respond Thursday.

Mayor Bradley said Enbridge “has done everything possible” to abide by safety regulations, but the latest incident adds to the company’s “credibility issues.”

In 2010, another Enbridge pipeline ruptured, spilling an estimated 3.7 million litres of diluted bitumen into a tributary of the Kalamazoo River, resulting in one of the largest inland oil spills in U.S. history

“That should not have happened and it created a lot of environmental damage,” Bradley said. “That’s why they’ve struggled ever since to be credible.”

Bradley said he expects Enbridge to challenge the judge’s decision in an attempt to delay a shutdown of the pipeline, which was built in 1953.

He also believes Sarnia’s industry will seek other ways to find feedstock. Line 5 is one of 25 pipelines that converge in the Sarnia-Lambton, he noted.

“They’re pretty resilient and I could see them trying to find other sources to bring the material here.”

Enbridge has a plan to replace the twin pipes in Michigan and protect them by drilling a tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac.

The company is currently drilling a tunnel under the St. Clair River to replace Line 5 where it crosses from Michigan to Sarnia.

Work began earlier this year on the pipeline right-of-way, which is south of LaSalle Road and adjacent to the Shell Canada refinery at Corunna.