After losing one legal battle, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has revived a dormant state court lawsuit in an attempt to shut Enbridge Inc.’s 540,000 b/d Line 5 oil pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac.

Enbridge Line 5

Whitmer said Tuesday the strategy was “shifting” after dropping an unsuccessful action on Line 5 in federal court. The governor directed Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel to reactivate a paused June 2019 state court filing against the pipeline.

“The governor’s goal remains protecting the Great Lakes, which means shutting down the Line 5 dual oil pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac as soon as possible,” said Whitmer’s office.

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The Democrat governor’s revival of Nessel’s lawsuit follows a jurisdiction decision in mid-November by U.S. District Judge Janet Neff of the Western District of Michigan. Neff agreed with Enbridge that legal aspects of the pipeline dispute should be determined in federal court.

“The scope of the property rights the state parties assert necessarily turns on the interpretation of federal law that burdens those rights, and this court is an appropriate forum for deciding these disputed and substantial federal issues,” said Neff’s decision.

Enbridge Tuesday said it was encouraged by the state’s decision “to drop its case to enforce its November 2020 notice of revocation and termination” of the Straits easement for Line 5.

“We will continue to pursue the Great Lakes Tunnel to house a replacement section of Line 5,” the company said. A 2018 deal with Michigan’s former Republican executive branch created the US$500 million project to stow the pipe in rock far below the Straits.

Whitmer made no reference to Canadian government intervention to defend Line 5 by enforcing a ban against interference with cross-border oil flows in its 1977 pipeline treaty with the United States.

However, Enbridge pointed out that Neff’s order had stated that the “federal issues in this case are under consideration at the highest levels of this country’s government.”

In reaction to the case, ClearView Energy Partners LLC analysts noted that a Michigan state court conference on the status and possible next steps of Nessel’s dormant lawsuit has been scheduled for Jan. 7.

“We do not see incremental shut-down risk from Michigan’s change in legal strategy,” said ClearView analysts. Nessel’s 2019 lawsuit had sought orderly change instead of an immediate closure for Line 5, and its revival is liable only to prolong legal maneuvers of the dispute.

“The status quo” of continued Line 5 “pipeline operations – and Enbridge’s ongoing efforts to secure permits for its relocation into a tunnel – would appear to be more likely than not to continue pending any appeals of a ruling on the June 2019 complaint,” ClearView analysts said.