Enbridge Line 5. Map courtesy Enbridge

OTTAWA, REGINA, CALGARY – After dealing with Michigan courts and the state government in its efforts to shut down Enbridge Line 5, Canada dropped a bomb, as it were, on the whole issue on October 4. The line is critical in supplying energy to central Canada, as well as Michigan and Ohio.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has been trying to shut down the line, in particular the portion that crosses the Straits of Mackinac via two pipes lying on the lake bottom. Her concern has been that a ship could drop an anchor on the 68-year old pipes and cause catastrophic failure, leading to a massive oil spill in the Great Lakes.

Enbridge’s Mainline is a set of large pipelines that runs from Hardisty, Alta., to Superior, Wisconsin. From there, Line 5 runs through Michigan’s upper peninsula, crossing the Straits of Mackinac to the lower peninsula, and then crosses the St. Clair River to the industrial hub of Sarnia, Ontario. Line 5 is considered “a critical piece of energy infrastructure,” according to the Canadian government. It transports light crude oil and natural gas liquids, including supplying much of the propane used in the region, on both sides of the border.

Enbridge has proposed building a tunnel under the strait, and putting a new pipeline in that tunnel, but Michigan has not budged. The State effectively walked away from mediation in late September.

The Canadian government noted that on November 13, 2020, the Office of the Governor of the State of Michigan and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources issued a Notice of Revocation and Termination of Easement with the intended effect of permanently shutting down Line 5. This notice is currently the subject of a legal dispute in U.S. courts between Michigan and Enbridge.

Marc Garneau

Minister of Foreign Affiairs Marc Garneau/Handout

Minister of Foreign Affairs Marc Garneau issued a statement on Oct. 4, saying, “Canada is firmly committed to ensuring its energy and economic security while protecting the environment for future generations. This includes working with the United States to improve the health of the Great Lakes. For more than 65 years, Line 5 has been the safest way to transport Canadian hydrocarbons from western Canada to central Canada, helping provide energy that is essential for heating homes and powering Canada’s economy.

“In response to Michigan’s efforts to shut down Line 5, Canada has raised its significance for Canadian economic and energy security at the highest levels of the U.S. federal government. We have also stressed the importance of fully respecting and implementing the international agreements that are in place between our two countries.

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“Line 5 is governed by the provisions of the 1977 Agreement between the Government of Canada and the Government of the United States of America Concerning Transit Pipelines, which guarantees the uninterrupted transit of light crude oil and natural gas liquids between the two countries. Today, Canada is formally invoking the dispute settlement provision of the 1977 Agreement to ensure its full application.

“Furthermore, Canada supports Enbridge’s plan to replace the existing pipeline with the proposed Great Lakes Tunnel Project, which will run far below the lakebed of the Straits of Mackinac, to further protect the Great Lakes.

“Efforts to ensure the continued safe operation of Line 5 will be made in close collaboration with the provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec, as well as with Canadian industry and labour sectors,”

Bronwyn Eyre

Saskatchewan Minister of Energy and Resources Bronwyn Eyre/Handout

Saskatchewan response

To that end, Saskatchewan Minister of Energy and Resources Bronwyn Eyre supported the federal governments invocation of the treaty. Eyre released a statement on Oct. 4, saying, “From the outset of this dispute between Enbridge and the State of Michigan, our government has advocated for the continued operation of Line 5. We have repeatedly called on the federal government to exhaust all diplomatic and legal avenues and to invoke The Transit Pipelines Treaty of 1977, which states explicitly that ‘no level of government or authority shall implement measures that would have the effect of impeding, diverting, redirecting or interfering with in any way the transmission of hydrocarbons in transit.’

‘Saskatchewan fully supports the Government of Canada’s invoking the Transit Pipelines Treaty to protect vitally important, existing infrastructure that safely serves millions of Canadians and Americans and transports reliable Western Canadian energy to residents and businesses in Ontario and Quebec.

“The Enbridge Mainline, which includes Line 3, carries 70 per cent of Saskatchewan’s oil and connects at Superior Wisconsin to Enbridge Line 5, which then carries light crude and natural gas liquids under Lake Michigan and Lake Huron to three refineries in Sarnia, Ontario.

“The continued, safe operation of Line 5 is a priority for all Canadians who rely on this crucial infrastructure to safely, efficiently and affordably heat their homes and businesses this coming winter.”

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Enbridge responds

In response to all this, Enbridge said in an emailed statement on Oct. 4, “We greatly appreciate the efforts of ‘Team Canada’ – from the Government of Canada to the Provinces of Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and Saskatchewan for their commitments and efforts to keep Line 5 open (which is a critical source of energy for the Great Lakes region on both sides of the Canadian-U.S. border). We also greatly appreciate their desire to advance the timely construction of the Great Lakes Tunnel Project.

“We have spoken with government officials on both sides of the border as the State of Michigan has let parties know it is not committed to further mediation. Enbridge has continued to participate in the mediation process in good faith and still is hopeful that a negotiated resolution will continue to provide consumers and industry in the region with safe, reliable energy and advance the quick construction of the tunnel at the Straits of Mackinac.

“Pipelines continue to be a safer, more reliable way to transport fuel than truck, train or barge. These other modes burn far more fuel in order to move it releasing more greenhouse gases into the environment and would increase safety risk along each of those transportation modes.

Enbridge took aim at Michigan, saying, “Line 5 has operated safely for more than 68 years at the Straits of Mackinac providing the Midwest and the Great Lakes Region with a much needed source of energy —  to have that threatened by a single governmental entity creates concerns about energy security as winter approaches and the economy as the region looks to re-emerge from the pandemic.

“We have invested more than $100 million on safety enhancements to Line 5 and to better assure the safety of the dual pipelines in the Straits until the tunnel is built. The Straits safety measures include Enbridge’s Straits Maritime Operations Center, electronic messaging to large vessels, and fixed cameras monitoring vessel traffic.”

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