Energy pipeline challenges saw mixed results in 2021

REUTERS/Nicholas Pfosi

(Reuters) - Planned and operating pipeline projects worth billions of dollars faced a cascade of lawsuits in 2021 from environmental advocates and officials.

Below are six pipeline systems, finished and projected, that were heavily litigated this year. Some survived the flurry of cases against them, while some developers threw in the towel.

LINE 5 IN CROSSHAIRS OF MICHIGAN OFFICIALS

Enbridge's Line 5, an oil and natural gas Wisconsin-to-Ontario pipeline, has been under fire from Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, who ordered the company to shut it down by May 2021 over concerns it could leak into the Great Lakes. The company rejected the ultimatum and has kept the pipeline running. Meanwhile, Gretchen and Michigan's attorney general have been battling Enbridge in court as the state seeks to legally validate the termination order. The Canadian government has waded into the dispute, invoking a 1977 pipeline treaty with the United States to trigger negotiations between Ottawa and Washington over the pipeline's fate.

LINE 3 REPLACEMENT PROJECT DONE DESPITE PENDING LAWSUIT

Enbridge completed its Line 3 oil pipeline replacement project amid furious opposition by environmentalists and Native American tribes in northern Minnesota, which the line crosses. Protesters at one point clashed with police at the line's construction site in the state. In court, Enbridge won case after case opposing the project, but a lawsuit by a Native American tribe challenging a construction permit for the line in tribal court remains pending. The tribe included wild rice, which it considers a sacred subsistence crop, as a plaintiff.

PERMIT CANCELED FOR SPIRE STL PIPELINE BUT GAS FLOWING

A federal appellate court in June threw out an authorization that allowed Spire Inc to build its already-operating Spire STL natural gas line located in Illinois in Missouri. The court said the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's (FERC) authorization did not hold up because it had found a market need for the line despite only one gas supplier, an affiliate of the line's operator, committing to use it. Spire warned that St. Louis residents could be deprived of heat this winter should the pipeline be forced to shut down due to the ruling. FERC has since granted back-to-back temporary authorizations for the line to continue operating.

PENNEAST PIPELINE PROJECT WINS IN COURT, LOSES ON GROUND

The PennEast natural gas pipeline project was a casualty of court-battle fatigue this year. The company said it would stop developing the proposed pipeline from Pennsylvania to New Jersey in September. PennEast pulled the plug even though the U.S. Supreme Court had just ruled in its favor in a lawsuit, allowing the line to seize land owned by New Jersey in June. The Interstate Natural Gas Association of America blamed legal roadblocks for the cancellation.

KEYSTONE XL PIPELINE CANCELED

Calgary-based TC Energy scrapped the contentious Alberta-to-Nebraska Keystone XL oil pipeline project in June following President Joe Biden's revocation of a key presidential permit. But the line is still the subject of a lawsuit in Galveston, Texas, federal court, where its proponents - including some U.S. states and the Canadian province of Alberta - have been urging a judge to rule that the Biden administration illegally revoked the permit.

YEARS-LONG BATTLE OVER DAKOTA ACCESS PIPELINE CONTINUES

The Dakota Access oil pipeline, controlled by Energy Transfer LP, seemed set to be shut down after a Washington, D.C., federal judge invalidated an easement that had allowed it to run under a lake last year. But the judge in May denied a request by Native American tribes that brought the court case to shutter the pipeline. Dakota Access has since asked the U.S. Supreme Court to determine whether the pipeline requires a court-ordered additional environmental review. The high court has yet to decide whether it will hear the case.

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Thomson Reuters

New York-based correspondent covering environmental, climate and energy litigation.