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Report on Business Enbridge pipeline shutdown would hurt U.S. industry and consumers, Canada warns Michigan

Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi has made a direct appeal to Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer to keep open an Enbridge Inc. crude-oil pipeline, saying the threatened closure would hurt industry and consumers on both sides of the border.

Mr. Sohi and Canada’s ambassador to the United States, David MacNaughton, spoke by phone with Ms. Whitmer late Monday and warned of dire consequences if Michigan carries through with its plan to force the closing of Enbridge’s Line 5.

“Our conversation was very productive and focused on finding solutions to this issue of Enbridge’s Line 5,” Mr. Sohi said in an interview on Wednesday. “We all realize that solving this issue is important because if it is not solved, it can have severe economic consequences for Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario – and Michigan, too.”

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The 65-year-old Line 5 is part of Enbridge’s main export network that carries crude from Alberta to refineries in Ontario and Quebec, as well as in the U.S. Midwest. Line 5 crosses the Straits of Mackinac, a narrow waterway separating Lake Michigan and Lake Huron; it then crosses the St. Clair River, which forms part of the U.S.-Canada border near Sarnia, Ont.

Michigan’s Governor, a Democrat who took office in January, wants the pipeline through the straits removed to eliminate the risk of an oil spill into the lake system that contains 21 per cent of the world’s fresh water.

Mr. Sohi noted the double-tracked pipeline not only carries oil to Ontario’s refineries but also brings propane and gasoline back to Michigan. He said consumers in Canada and the U.S. would face price spikes if the pipeline is closed prematurely.

“The impact on the consumer would be higher prices [and] scarcity of propane and gas, and that leads to anxiety because then you don’t have energy security,” the minister said. “It drives up costs but it also increases uncertainty.”

The minister would not reveal what types of solutions are being pursued, but said he hoped the matter can be resolved out of court.

Ms. Whitmer’s press secretary said the Governor thinks continuing discussions on Line 5 with Canadian officials and others are important to meet Michigan’s energy needs while protecting the Great Lakes.

Calgary-based Enbridge is also “supportive of government leaders discussing the importance of Line 5 to Michigan and the entire region,” spokesman Ryan Duffy said.

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At the same time, Enbridge is taking legal action against Michigan over the state’s insistence that the company shut the pipeline down within two years, even though a proposed replacement will not be ready before 2024.

Ms. Whitmer last week accused Enbridge of being focused on its bottom line, rather than pipeline safety. She noted the company’s Line 6B pipeline ruptured in 2010, spilling diluted bitumen into a tributary of the Kalamazoo River in one of the largest inland oil spills in U.S. history.

Enbridge had an agreement with the previous state government to build a tunnel to house a replacement section of the Line 5 pipeline underground, and after completion would remove the current section that lies underwater along the floor of the straits.

The tunnel could be finished by 2024, Enbridge has said, but leaving the current pipe in the water for that long wasn’t acceptable to the current state government. A Line 5 shutdown would also exacerbate the shortage of pipeline capacity for Alberta oil, which has weighed on Canadian crude prices and forced the energy industry to find more expensive shipping options.

Environmentalists on both sides of the border say continuing to operate Line 5 through the straits is too risky, since a spill in the Great Lakes would be devastating.

“I sure hope Governor Whitmer stays strong,” Canadian author and activist Maude Barlow said. “She wasn’t elected to promote the private interests of a foreign oil [pipeline] company but to protect the water and tourism industry of her state.”

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Line 5 poses "an imminent threat to the health of the Great Lakes,” said Conan Smith, CEO of the Michigan Environmental Council. “The only 100-per-cent effective strategy for the waters of Michigan is to shut the pipeline down.”

In its June 6 filing to the Michigan Court of Claims, Enbridge noted that within the past two years it has taken several new safety precautions through the straits to prevent a spill.

It now pauses the flow of oil during stormy weather, conducts surveys every two years on the pipe’s exterior and contributed US$200,000 for the U.S. Coast Guard to buy underwater cameras to monitor for anchor strikes.

Line 5 has never sprung a leak during the 65 years it has been in operation, Enbridge says, although the section in the straits sustained minor damage after being hit by a tugboat’s anchor in 2018.

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