Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

A signpost marks the presence of Enbridge's Line 5 pipeline, which Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer ordered shut down in May 2021, in Sarnia, Ont., on March 20, 2021.CARLOS OSORIO/Reuters

Organized labour will make a last-minute plea to lawmakers in Michigan’s capital on Tuesday to oppose the ordered shutdown of Enbridge’s Line 5, a crucial cross-border petroleum pipeline for Central Canada.

Globe Climate: High stakes in the Line 5 energy dispute

Michigan’s Governor Gretchen Whitmer has set May 12 as the day by which Line 5 must cease operations after giving notice last year she would revoke a 67-year-old easement permit that allowed the pipeline to cross the Straits of Mackinac, a major waterway. After May 12, she has warned, Enbridge will be breaking the law.

Members of the United Steelworkers union will testify before Michigan House and Senate committees Tuesday and rally outside. They say as many as 300 refinery jobs would be lost by a permanent shutdown. They plan to lay 300 hardhats on the lawn of the State Capitol in Lansing, and then deliver hardhats to each legislator to drive home the point.

“The closure of Line 5 could prove to be disastrous for thousands of residents of Michigan, Ohio and the entire region,” USW Local 912 president Justin Donley said.

Federal Minister of Natural Resources Seamus O’Regan has warned a shutdown could eliminate thousands of jobs on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border. A study funded by the business-backed Consumer Energy Alliance predicted more than 33,000 job losses in the United States alone.

Ms. Whitmer, a Democrat, last November announced she was ordering Calgary-based Enbridge to permanently cease operations on its pipeline, which ships 540,000 barrels a day of oil and natural gas liquids through Great Lakes states to Ontario and Quebec. Ms. Whitmer’s office has called Line 5 a ticking time bomb.

Ms. Whitmer cited the risk of an oil spill from the portion of Line 5 that crosses the Straits of Mackinac in northern Michigan. Line 5 has never leaked oil into the Straits since it began operating in 1953. But, in 2010 a different pipeline operated by Enbridge, Line 6B, ruptured and released petroleum into a tributary of the Kalamazoo River, becoming one of the largest inland oil spills in U.S. history.

Enbridge has challenged Ms. Whitmer’s order in court and defied the governor, saying it will not shut down the pipeline on May 12 unless ordered to do so by a judge. Michigan and Enbridge have been engaged in court-ordered mediation since April.

Canada’s top representative in Michigan, Consul-General Joe Comartin, has said Ottawa also believes Ms. Whitmer would need a confirmatory court order before Enbridge could be compelled to shut down the 1,038-kilometre pipeline.

Ottawa is expected to intervene in the court case this week by filing what is called an amicus brief in the case to support the continuing operation of Line 5. Mr. O’Regan has called the shutdown order a threat to Canada’s energy security and said the pipeline’s continued operation is non-negotiable.

Mike Fernandez, a senior vice-president at Enbridge and chief communications officer at the company, said Ottawa’s voice will help. “This is highly important to us and critical, I think,” he said. In its case, Enbridge has argued that only the U.S. federal government can rule on the safety of the pipeline.

Line 5 is a major energy link for Canada’s two most populous provinces. Without this pipeline, which re-enters Canada at Sarnia, Ontario would be about 45-per-cent short of the crude oil it requires. Line 5′s supply is used, among other things, to produce gasoline and diesel for Ontario. It’s also a critical source of petroleum for the Line 9 pipeline that runs 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.

Ottawa said it’s willing to invoke the 1977 transit pipelines treaty with the United States, which guarantees the uninterrupted flow of energy between the two countries. But so far Ottawa has held off doing so.

Canada’s ambassador to the United States, Kirsten Hillman, spoke to Ms. Whitmer on Friday, pressing the Canadian case. Ms. Whitmer has so far remained undeterred as Canadian politicians urge Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to appeal directly to U.S. President Joe Biden.

Ms. Whitmer is attracting public support from leading Democratic allies in more than a dozen states, a sign of the challenges Mr. Biden could face in trying to intervene on the matter.

Separately, a cyberattack that shut down Colonial Pipeline, one of the United States’ major fuel supply networks, on Friday has stoked fears over the security of energy supply. Gasoline prices have risen at the pumps.

An RBC Capital Markets report, released Sunday, noted that intermittent outages, such as the one that hit Colonial, “whether from attacks, leaks or integrity issues to key pipeline arteries, demonstrate how vulnerable the U.S. energy landscape is.”

The Colonial Pipeline delivers nearly half of the diesel and gasoline consumed on the U.S. East Coast. Its importance, the report says, cannot be underplayed.

With many regional refineries having shut in recent years because of poor economics, the U.S. Northeast has been left the least energy-secure region in the country.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify that there have been no leaks into the Straits of Mackinac.

Know what is happening in the halls of power with the day’s top political headlines and commentary as selected by Globe editors (subscribers only). Sign up today.