Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan is calling Michigan’s order to shut down the Enbridge pipeline Line 5, a major petroleum conduit for Central Canada, a threat to this country’s energy security.
He said Canada considers the continued operation of Line 5 “non-negotiable” for this country.
It is the strongest language the federal government has used to date for a bilateral dispute that is quickly becoming a test of the budding relationship between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and new U.S. President Joe Biden.
The Trudeau government’s minister also vowed Canada would do whatever it takes to stop Michigan from shutting down the pipeline, which passes through the state on its way to Sarnia, Ont. Earlier this week, a senior Global Affairs official said Ottawa would invoke a 1977 Canada-U.S. treaty, which forces binding arbitration on the matter, if necessary.
Mr. O’Regan was speaking to MPs on a parliamentary committee Thursday.
“We take threats to our energy security very seriously,” he told the special House of Commons Committee on the Economic Relationship between Canada and the United States. “A shutdown of Line 5 would have profound consequences, in Canada and in the United States.”
He vowed Canada would intervene precisely when necessary.
“The federal government is watching it like a hawk. ... We are watching it on almost a minute-by-minute basis and we will be absolutely prepared to intervene at exactly the precise moment.”
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has ordered the May, 2021, shutdown of the Line 5 pipeline, citing environmental risks. Calgary-based Enbridge Inc. has challenged her decision in court.
The Enbridge Line 5 pipeline carries petroleum from Western Canada through Great Lakes states to Ontario, where much of the crude is turned into gasoline and other fuels before the remainder is shipped through the Line 9 pipeline to Quebec refineries.
Without this pipeline, Ontario would be about 45-per-cent short of the crude oil it requires, according to Enbridge Inc. The supply from Line 5 is used, among other things, to produce gasoline and diesel for Ontario as well as 100 per cent of the jet fuel used at Toronto Pearson International Airport.
The pipeline from Michigan is also a critical source of supply for the Line 9 pipeline that runs from Ontario to Quebec and provides 40 per cent to 50 per cent of the crude oil that is used by Quebec refineries to make gasoline and other fuels. Line 5 also provides 55 per cent of Michigan’s propane needs.
Conservative MP Mark Strahl asked Mr. O’Regan how persuasive Canada could be on the file when Ms. Whitmer is a close Democratic ally of Mr. Biden.
Mr. O’Regan told MPs he has pressed U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm on the matter. He noted Michigan would suffer, too, because Line 5 provides 55 per cent of the state’s propane needs and and more than half of the Detroit Metro Airport’s jet fuel needs.
“We are fighting for Line 5 on every front and we are confident on that fight ... and we are preparing to invoke whatever measures we need to in order to make sure that Line 5 remains operational,” he said.
Asked by Liberal MP Anthony Housefather whether shutting down Line 5 would be a violation of international treaties between Canada and the U.S., Mr. O’Regan said he doesn’t want to negotiate in public. “I am not going to give away our legal strategy here,” he said.
The Line 5 crossing of the Straits of Mackinac is currently submerged, but Enbridge has applied for regulatory approval to build a tunnel that would further protect it.
Enbridge has said it will not stop shipping petroleum through Line 5 in May unless a court orders it to do so.
“While Line 5 has operated safely in the Straits for more than 65 years, this tunnel will make a safe pipeline even safer,” Enbridge spokesman Todd Nogier said in a statement. “In the meantime, Line 5 must stay open. It is a critical piece of North American energy infrastructure that benefits both Canada and the U.S.”
Businesses have warned that a shutdown could also trigger significant layoffs of refinery jobs in Sarnia and would be a blow to Western Canadian crude producers as well. Ontario has warned the shutdown will cost more than 5,000 direct jobs as well as more than 23,000 indirect jobs.
Mr. O’Regan told MPs a shutdown would force Ontario and Quebec to find other sources of crude oil for refining and import this petroleum by rail or truck or ship – a potentially more dangerous and environmentally damaging method of transport.
“Those molecules are going to have to be transported by rail, truck or marine transportation [instead],” he said.
Kirsten Hillman, Canada’s ambassador to the United States, told MPs she expects the Line 5 dispute will be solved through both advocacy and diplomacy as well as negotiations between Michigan and Enbridge. She noted a U.S. court has mandated Enbridge to seek mediation with the state in order to see whether the matter can be resolved.
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