The federal government and several provinces are pressing the United States in hopes of averting the ordered May shutdown of a pipeline in Michigan, which business groups call a key fuel conduit for Ontario and Quebec.
The Canadian Chamber of Commerce warns of significant disruption to fuel supplies to Canada’s two most populous provinces if the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline ceases operation this spring. Line 5 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 via the Line 9 pipeline to Quebec refineries.
In November, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, citing the risk of an oil spill, announced she would revoke an easement granted in 1953 that allows Line 5 to cross the Straits of Mackinac, a waterway in her state.
“This has got very serious ramifications,” Joe Comartin, the Canadian government’s consul-general in Detroit, said in an interview. He noted the pipeline’s waterway crossing received a “clean bill of health” from the U.S. Department of Transport’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration last year.
Aaron Henry, senior director of natural resources and sustainability at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, this country’s biggest business lobby group, said the fate of Line 5 “needs to be on the table” in conversations between the Canadian government and the incoming U.S. administration of president-elect Joe Biden.
He said consumers in Ontario and Quebec would “see an increase at the gas pumps” if the shutdown persists.
Without this pipeline, Ontario would be about 45-per-cent short of the crude oil it requires, according to Enbridge Inc. Line 5′s supply is used, among other things, to produce gasoline and diesel for Ontario as well as 100 per cent of the jet fuel used at 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.
Mr. Henry said a shutdown could cause significant layoffs of refinery jobs in Sarnia, Ont., and would also be a blow to Western Canadian crude producers. “It would not only hurt Alberta, but Saskatchewan would find it very challenging to transport its crude.”
Analysts say 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.
Mr. Comartin said the risks of switching to these modes of shipping should be weighed. “The environmental consequences here of whether that fuel gets shipped by rail, by truck or by ship pose a much greater environmental risks than the pipeline does.”
Canada’s envoy to the United States, Kirsten Hillman, has talked directly to Ms. Whitmer on the matter.
Enbridge, the Canadian pipeline company, has filed a legal challenge of the Governor’s actions in U.S. federal court, arguing that only the United States government, and not the state, can determine whether conditions warrant the shutdown of Line 5. Enbridge notes in the November, 2020, challenge that Line 5 has never released any product into the Straits of Mackinac.
This lawsuit could prolong the matter. Vern Yu, Enbridge’s executive vice-president, said in an interview that his company will not stop shipping petroleum through Line 5 in May unless a court orders it to do so.
“Line 5 is a critical artery of energy into the provinces of Ontario and Quebec,” Mr. Yu said.
A spokesman for Ontario Energy Minister Greg Rickford said Ontario Premier Doug Ford has written to Ms. Whitmer to warn of the consequences. A shutdown would “put over 4,900 direct jobs at risk and jeopardize Ontario and Michigan’s supply of energy fuels that we rely on daily,” Alex Puddifant 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. Federal Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan’s office said it would continue to engage with the state of Michigan and Ms. Whitmer on this. A statement from the department said Canada backs the tunnel project and noted that a shutdown could hurt Michigan. “The pipeline provides 65% of the propane consumed in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and 55% of Michigan’s statewide propane needs,” the department said.
“Energy security and ensuring everyone has safe, reliable and affordable access to the fuel they need to heat their homes and businesses is of great importance to the government of Canada.”
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