Enbridge vows to keep pipeline open, girds for legal fight

Joanna Estrada
May 12, 2021

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer wrote in a letter Tuesday to Enbridge stating that if it ignores her order to shut down the dual Line 5 pipeline by the Wednesday deadline, the Canadian oil company's presence in the Straits of Mackinac will be considered an "international trespass".

The documents mark Canada's formal entry into the legal dispute between MI and the pipeline's owner and operator, Calgary-based Enbridge Inc., which comes on the eve of the deadline imposed last November by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

But they also raise the ante significantly by warning of the potential risk to the relationship between Canada and the US if the pipeline ceases to operate.

The brief said Canada would suffer "massive and potentially permanent disruption" from a shutdown.

But global trade lawyer Lawrence Herman says that the United States, not MI, is legally bound to keep the pipeline running.

Canada could invoke a little known 1977 bilateral treaty concerning the uninterrupted transit of pipelines across the border, but everyone is waiting to see what, if anything, happens to flow in just two days time.

The sides are in court-ordered mediation, with the next session scheduled for May 18.

In February, a federal court ordered state officials and Enbridge to enter mediation, and the company has vowed to continue running Line 5 while the dispute is resolved. A federal judge is considering which court should have jurisdiction.

"Energy producers, and the hard-working Albertans and Canadians they employ, have dealt with a number of challenging years and the uncertainty with Line 5 is not helpful".

Nessel's office said it will continue seeking a shutdown order. Canadian Resources Minister Seamus O'Regan said last month that the continued operation of the pipeline is "non-negotiable".

A almost 4-mile-long (6.4-kilometer-long) section of Line 5 divides into two pipes that cross the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac, which connects Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.

Enbridge insists the pipeline is safe, and has already received the state's approval for a $500-million effort to dig a tunnel beneath the straits that would house the line's twin pipes and protect them from anchor strikes. Quoted in The Narwhal he said, "This will change the face of Canada's energy security:, adding, "It's monumental".

"Molecules will get from Point A to Point B, energy gets to where it needs to get, but the alternative is not pretty", he said. "Courts are reviewing the state's challenge to the pipeline and that's going to take a while".

"This week, our country is again being reminded of the damage that can be done. when a critical energy supply goes offline", Lauwers said. "It will be decided in court".

Enbridge has "imposed on the people of MI an unacceptable risk of a catastrophic oil spill in the Great Lakes that could devastate our economy and way of life", Whitmer said when announcing the easement, which was granted despite the fact that the federal government generally regulates oil pipelines. The White House has so far kept quiet.

O'Regan said the fight is between MI and Enbridge and doesn't expect the administration to get involved, or believe it would help.

Line 5 is a link in Enbridge's network to bring oil exports from western Canada to refineries and airports in Ontario, Quebec, Michigan, Ohio and Indiana. This pipeline is as important to Canada as it is to the U.S. It heats both Canadian and American homes.

There's also Norad, the shared continental defence network, "under which a Canadian general gave the order to scramble jets to protect the United States on September 11, 2001", the brief notes.

Sonya Savage, Eyre's Alberta counterpart, warned of the potential for a lingering chill if Whitmer is successful.

Whitmer said previous year that Enbridge violated a rule prohibiting unsupported gaps beneath the pipeline, and another pipeline run by the company spilled more than 845,000 gallons of oil in 2010, affecting the Kalamazoo River. They say as many as 300 refinery jobs would be lost by a permanentshutdown.

"We've heard a lot about science and data from the governor in the past year, but when it comes to Line 5 - as we heard today - there is a lot of science and data that the governor is choosing to ignore for the sake of her environmental base", O'Malley said.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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