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A man cycles past signposts marking the presence of Enbridge's Line 5 pipeline on March 21, 2021.

CARLOS OSORIO/Reuters

Enbridge Inc. will continue to operate the Line 5 pipeline in defiance of Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s May 12 deadline to shut it down, but the state’s Attorney-General says it remains intent on obtaining a court order that would enforce her notice to cease operations.

A U.S. business group, meanwhile, accused Ms. Whitmer of practising political brinkmanship for ignoring Enbridge’s proposal to build a US$500-million tunnel that would have resolved fears over the risk of oil spills in a valuable Great Lakes waterway.

The petroleum pipeline is a vital energy source for Ontario and Quebec, carrying up to 540,000 barrels a day from Alberta and Saskatchewan through two Great Lakes states before re-entering Canada at Sarnia, Ont. The Canadian government has warned a shutdown would represent a threat to this country’s energy security.

Story continues below advertisement

Pipeline dispute heats up

The Enbridge Line 5 pipeline is at the centre of

a legal dispute that now features Ottawa, Michi-

gan, and various state chambers of commerce

and Canadian provinces. The 68-year-old pipe-

line lies on the lakebed of the narrows between

Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, in the Straits of

Mackinac. There it diverges into two, 20-inch-di-

ameter, parallel pipelines. They start under

ground onshore, taper deep underwater and

cross the Straits for 7.2 kilometres. The pipeline

carries about 540,000 barrels per day of crude

and natural gas liquids from Western Canada,

through Michigan, to Sarnia, Ont.

DETAIL

Straits of Mackinac

Proposed pipeline

replacement segment

Mackinac

Bridge

Existing Line 5

dual pipelines

Pipeline and tunnel

easements

Mackinaw City

0

900

METRES

MICHIGAN

CANADA

Mackinaw

City

Superior

Enbridge’s energy

infrastructure

Sarnia

U.S.

Liquids pipeline

Enbridge Line 5

pipeline

Liquids pipeline

(proposed)

Natural gas

transmission pipeline

Natural gas gathering

pipeline

Natural gas liquids

pipeline

JOHN SOPINSKI/THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: ENBRIDGE;

government of michigan

Pipeline dispute heats up

The Enbridge Line 5 pipeline is at the centre of a legal

dispute that now features Ottawa, Michigan, and various

state chambers of commerce and Canadian provinces.

The 68-year-old pipeline lies on the lakebed of the nar-

rows between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, in the

Straits of Mackinac. There it diverges into two,

20-inch-diameter, parallel pipelines. They start under

ground onshore, taper deep underwater and cross the

Straits for 7.2 kilometres. The pipeline carries about

540,000 barrels per day of crude and natural gas liquids

from Western Canada, through Michigan, to Sarnia, Ont.

DETAIL

Straits of Mackinac

Proposed pipeline

replacement segment

Mackinac

Bridge

Existing Line 5

dual pipelines

Pipeline and tunnel

easements

Mackinaw City

0

900

METRES

MICHIGAN

CANADA

Mackinaw

City

Superior

Enbridge’s energy

infrastructure

Sarnia

U.S.

Liquids pipeline

Enbridge Line 5

pipeline

Liquids pipeline

(proposed)

Natural gas

transmission pipeline

Natural gas gathering

pipeline

Natural gas liquids

pipeline

JOHN SOPINSKI/THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: ENBRIDGE;

government of michigan

Pipeline dispute heats up

The Enbridge Line 5 pipeline is at the centre of a legal dispute that now features Ottawa,

Michigan, and various state chambers of commerce and Canadian provinces. The 68-year-old

pipeline lies on the lakebed of the narrows between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, in the

Straits of Mackinac. There it diverges into two, 20-inch-diameter, parallel pipelines. They start

underground onshore, taper deep underwater and cross the Straits for 7.2 kilometres. The

pipeline carries about 540,000 barrels per day of crude and natural gas liquids from Western

Canada, through Michigan, to Sarnia, Ont.

DETAIL

Straits of Mackinac

Proposed pipeline

replacement segment

Mackinac

Bridge

Existing Line 5

dual pipelines

Pipeline and tunnel

easements

Mackinaw City

0

900

METRES

MICHIGAN

CANADA

Mackinaw

City

Superior

Enbridge’s energy

infrastructure

Sarnia

UNITED STATES

Liquids pipeline

Enbridge Line 5

pipeline

Liquids pipeline

(proposed)

Natural gas

transmission pipeline

Natural gas gathering

pipeline

Natural gas liquids

pipeline

JOHN SOPINSKI/THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: ENBRIDGE; government of michigan

Enbridge’s executive vice-president, Vern Yu, says the Calgary company will only cease operations on Line 5 if a judge orders it. The company has challenged the State of Michigan in U.S. federal court and both sides remain in court-ordered mediation.

Ms. Whitmer this week threatened to sue Enbridge for “all profits it derives from wrongful use” of the Straits of Mackinac crossing after May 12.

But on Wednesday, Mr. Yu, citing estimates of the impact of the shutdown to Michigan and surrounding states, signalled there would be no backing down.

“Enbridge has a responsibility to the people of Michigan and the Great Lakes region, and will continue to operate Line 5 safely, reliably and affordably to fuel to the region’s economies,” the company executive said.

A spokeswoman for Michigan Attorney-General Dana Nessel, however, said the state remains determined to obtain a court order that would enforce Ms. Whitmer’s decree.

“We need a court order that requires Enbridge to shut down in compliance with the notice. We will continue to work to get that as soon as possible,” Lynsey Mukomel said in a statement.

She acknowledged this could take some time.

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Last November, Ms. Whitmer revoked a permit that allows Line 5 to cross the Straits of Mackinac, a waterway that divides Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas. She cited the risk of oil spills to justify her decision, a measure she had promised during her 2018 gubernatorial election campaign, and had set May 12 as the deadline to comply.

The state had filed a lawsuit to obtain a court order after Ms. Whitmer’s announcement last fall but Enbridge’s legal challenge in a U.S. federal court – arguing that only Washington has the power to make decisions about pipeline safety – has delayed that action.

“We are fighting to get the case back to the state court that does have jurisdiction. The jurisdictional issue will not be decided until sometime after today, May 12,” Ms. Mukomel said.

The Canadian government argues Line 5 is a crucial energy link for Central Canada, saying in a legal filing this week the the pipeline “supplies approximately 66 per cent of Quebec’s crude oil needs and about 50 per cent of the [petroleum] used by Ontario’s refineries to make gasoline and other fuels.”

Separately, on Wednesday, Canadian and U.S. business groups filed an amicus brief in the Michigan-Enbridge case in support of keeping Line 5 open. They noted that Enbridge has proposed to build an underground tunnel to cross the straits that would remove the threat of damage to the pipeline from passing vessels or anchors.

“The tunnel solution essentially eliminates the risk of an oil spill at the Straits of Mackinac,” their brief said.

Story continues below advertisement

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the Chamber of Commerce of the United States of America, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce said a Line 5 shutdown would jeopardize energy supply to the region and drive up the price of products such as propane and gasoline.

Christopher Guith, with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Energy Institute, pointed to the fact that Canadian imports comprise about two-thirds of the U.S. Midwest’s oil supply, and Line 5 plays a crucial role in getting it there.

“By pandering to the most extreme activists, Governor Whitmer is not only pursuing a terrible policy that will harm Michiganders and both countries as a whole, but her legal standing lacks merit as well,” he said.

“This brinksmanship is political theatre, and unfortunately millions of Americans and Canadians are likely to pay the price for it.”

Richard Studley, chief executive officer of the Michigan chamber, said Ms. Whitmer’s actions to try to shut down an operational pipeline are “unprecedented” and a “slap in the face” to Canadians and Michiganders.

Part of the problem for Michigan is the lack of practical alternatives to get much-needed natural gas to a region where three-quarters of the population need it to heat their homes, he said.

Story continues below advertisement

Then there’s the question of how to transport oil to the region – on trucks, via rail, or “the insanely bad idea of returning to oil barges on the Great Lakes,” Mr. Studley said.

“How ironic that would be, if that’s the result of a threat, an ultimatum, issued by a governor who says that her concern is to protect the environment?”

Some voices in Canada have backed Ms. Whitmer’s plan. A prominent group of Ontario First Nations, the Anishinabek Nation, has said the Canadian government should not be fighting the shutdown. Green Party Leader Annamie Paul also said she backs the closing for environmental reasons.

The Canadian government has previously warned it is prepared to invoke the 1977 treaty, which calls for binding arbitration to settle disputes.

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