On eve of deadline, Canada makes case in court to keep Line 5 pipeline running

Enbridge Line 5 Source: Enbridge

Shutting down the Line 5 pipeline in Michigan would deal a "massive and potentially permanent'' blow to Canada's economy and energy security and risk lasting damage to relations with the United States, the federal government argues in court documents released Tuesday.

The documents mark Canada's formal entry into the legal dispute between Michigan and the pipeline's owner and operator, Calgary-based Enbridge Inc., which comes on the eve of the deadline imposed last November by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

They make largely the same argument Canada has been making for months: that Line 5 comprises a vital artery of North America's energy infrastructure and cutting it would be calamitous for both countries.

But they also raise the ante significantly by warning of the potential risk to the relationship between Canada and the U.S. if the pipeline is shut down.

“The proposed shutdown would cause a massive and potentially permanent disruption to Canada's economy and energy security,'' say the documents, known in legal parlance as an amicus brief.

“Further, such unilateral action by a single state would impair important U.S. and Canadian foreign policy interests by raising doubts about the capacity of the government of the United States to make and uphold commitments without being undermined by an individual state.''

The brief continues: “A hastily and unduly imposed shutdown would undermine the confidence in reciprocal, enforceable commitments and cross-border co-operation that lies at the heart of the United States-Canada relationship.'”

Whitmer originally gave Enbridge until Wednesday to shut down the pipeline, a demand the company says it has no plans to meet. But with a court-appointed mediator scheduled to meet with the two sides again on May 18, it's not clear whether anything will happen before then.

The dispute first erupted in November when Whitmer – citing the risk of an environmental catastrophe in the Straits of Mackinac, the waterway where Line 5 traverses the Great Lakes –revoked the easement that had allowed the line to operate since 1953.

Enbridge insists the pipeline is safe, and has already received the state's approval for a $500-million effort to dig a tunnel beneath the straits that would house the line's twin pipes and protect them from anchor strikes.

“Line 5 does not just affect one province or one region – it supports our entire country,'' Natural Resources Minister Seamus O'Regan said in a statement.

“It remains the safest, most efficient way to transport fuel to refineries and markets and is a reliable source of energy for Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Ontario and Quebec. This pipeline is as important to Canada as it is to the U.S. It heats both Canadian and American homes. It supports both Canadian and American jobs.''

Canada's brief leans extensively on the close ties between the two countries, noting that they have successfully negotiated a bilateral agreement for protecting the Great Lakes, the original NAFTA and its recent successor, the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

There's also Norad, the shared continental defence network, ``under which a Canadian general gave the order to scramble jets to protect the United States on Sept. 11, 2001,'' the brief notes.

The documents urge the court to prevent a “unilateral compelled shutdown'' on the grounds that the pipeline is specifically covered by a 1977 treaty that deals specifically with cross-border pipelines.

It is for the two national governments, under the terms of that treaty, to sort out the dispute, the documents argue.

“While a shutdown that is inconsistent with governing law should be avoided under all circumstances, in any event, there should be no shutdown before the governments of the United States and Canada complete their efforts to resolve this matter, pursuant to their bilateral treaty.''

Proponents have warned that shutting down Line 5 would lead to immediate gasoline shortages and price spikes, as well as an estimated 800 more oil-laden rail cars and 2,000 tanker trucks per day on railways and highways throughout central Canada and the U.S. Midwest, proponents say.

© 2021 The Canadian Press

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