Ontario tries to keep Great Lakes oil pipeline flowing, despite Michigan's planned shutdown

·3 min read

Ontario minister of Energy, Northern Development and Mines says the province is "profoundly disappointed" with the Governor of Michigan's decision to shut down the Line 5 oil pipeline in the Straight of Mackinac.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer took legal action Friday to shut down the Enbridge pipeline, revoking an easement granted in 1953 to extend a roughly 6.4-kilometre section of the pipeline through the Straits of Mackinac, which connects Lake Huron to Lake Michigan.

The pipeline brings oils from Western Canada. Revocation will take effect within 180 days, at which point the flow of oil must stop.

"Enbridge's Line 5 is a key artery that connects North American crude oil to Ontario. Ontario's four refineries ensure that Ontario, Quebec, Michigan and the entire Great Lakes region are supplied with essential products like home heating fuels, gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel," reads a written statement from Minister Greg Rickford.

Rickford said the shut down will put over 4,900 jobs at risk, and will jeopardize Ontario and Michigan's daily energy supply, leading to an increased reliance on truck, rail and marine transport.

The Democratic governor's legal counsel said in a letter to Enbridge, based in Calgary, that the revocation resulted from "a violation of the public trust doctrine" and "a longstanding, persistent pattern of noncompliance with easement conditions and the standard of due care."

"Enbridge has routinely refused to take action to protect our Great Lakes and the millions of Americans who depend on them for clean drinking water and good jobs," Whitmer said in a statement. "They have repeatedly violated the terms of the 1953 easement by ignoring structural problems that put our Great Lakes and our families at risk.

Dale G. Young/Detroit News via The Associated Press
Dale G. Young/Detroit News via The Associated Press

"Most importantly, Enbridge has imposed on the people of Michigan an unacceptable risk of a catastrophic oil spill in the Great Lakes that could devastate our economy and way of life. That's why we're taking action now, and why I will continue to hold accountable anyone who threatens our Great Lakes and fresh water."

Enbridge maintains that its underwater pipeline is safe and monitored 24/7 by staff and state of the art technology.

"We also carry out regular inspections of the line, using inline tools, expert divers, and remote operating vehicles (ROVs), going above and beyond regulatory requirements," says the company on its website.

Rickford said the province will continue to work with Enbridge and the Governor of Michigan to keep Line 5 operating in "accordance with the highest health and safety standards."

"Pipelines are the safest way to transport essential fuels across ecologically sensitive areas like our Great Lakes. A permanent closure of Line 5 will lead to increased reliance on truck, rail and marine transport, leading to higher costs for consumers, growing congestion, increased GHG emissions and place unnecessary risk on our communities and the environment," said Rickford.

Whitmer's move escalates a multiyear battle over Line 5, which is part of Enbridge's Lakehead network of pipelines that carries oil from western Canada to refineries in the U.S. and Ontario. The pipeline carries about 87 million litres of oil and natural gas liquids daily between Superior, Wisconsin, and Sarnia, Ont.

Enbridge says the underwater segment is in good condition and has never leaked, but environmental groups contend it's vulnerable to a rupture that would devastate portions of Lake Huron and Lake Michigan.