Canada asks U.S. court to prevent Michigan from shutting down Line 5 pipeline
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer threatens to seize pipeline's profits if it continues to operate past May 12
Canada is asking a U.S. court to stop the state of Michigan from shutting down a pipeline that supplies fuel to much of Ontario and Quebec.
In court documents filed today, the federal government sided with Calgary-based Enbridge in a dispute over Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's ongoing attempt to shut down the energy giant's Line 5 pipeline.
Lawyers for the Canadian government argue in an amicus brief that turning off the taps would cause significant damage to Canada's economy and energy security, and would threaten the bilateral relationship between the two nations.
"The proposed shutdown would cause a massive and potentially permanent disruption to Canada's economy and energy security," the document reads.
"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 court filing represents the federal government's first foray into the months-long legal dispute between the energy company and Michigan, and comes one day before a deadline imposed by Whitmer.
Line 5, which runs through Michigan from the Wisconsin city of Superior to Sarnia, Ont., crosses the Great Lakes beneath the environmentally sensitive Straits of Mackinac, which links Lake Michigan to Lake Huron.
The pipeline carries 540,000 barrels of Canadian crude oil and other petroleum products east from Western Canada and supplies about half of Ontario and Quebec's fuel — everything from jet fuel for Toronto Pearson Airport to gas for home heating.
Whitmer revoked the 1953 easement for the pipeline in November over environmental concerns and gave the company until Wednesday to shut it down. Whitmer has called Line 5 a "ticking time bomb" that could lead to a "catastrophic oil spill."
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 boat anchor strikes.
The company took Michigan to U.S. federal court and both parties were ordered to find a resolution through mediation last month. The two sides are scheduled to meet again May 18.
"We greatly appreciate the support of the Government of Canada. This underscores that this is more than a Michigan issue. It is also a critical federal and international issue as well," Enbridge said in a statement.
Whitmer threatened today to go after Enbridge's profits from the pipeline if the company defies her shutdown order. The Democratic governor issued the warning in a letter to Enbridge, which has said it plans to defy Whitmer's demand.
In her letter, Whitmer told Vern Yu, Enbridge's executive vice president for liquids pipelines, that continued operation of the line after Wednesday "constitutes an intentional trespass" and that the company would do so "at its own risk."
"If the state prevails in the underlying litigation, Enbridge will face the prospect of having to disgorge to the state all profits it derives from its wrongful use of the easement lands following that date," Whitmer said.
Enbridge argues that the state has no authority to order the shutdown because the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration oversees interstate pipelines.
"We will not stop operating the pipeline unless we are ordered by a court or our regulator, which we view as highly unlikely," company spokesperson Ryan Duffy said. "Line 5 is operating safely, reliably and is in compliance with the law."
Natural Resources Minister Seamus O'Regan said Line 5 is a vital piece for Canada's energy infrastructure that has operated safely for 68 years.
"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," O'Regan said.
In the absence of a mediated solution, Canada is asking the court to prevent Michigan's "unilateral" shutdown order from taking effect while discussions between Canada and the United States take place. The documents cite a 1977 Canada-U.S. treaty on pipelines that guarantees the uninterrupted flow of oil and gas across the border.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today Canada wants to see the mediation process between Michigan and Enbridge continue.
"We will continue to weigh in through our embassy in Washington and with our partners because we know that the energy cooperation and partnership between Canada and the U.S. is good for citizens on both sides of our border," Trudeau said.
WATCH | Trudeau comments on Line 5 pipeline dispute with Michigan:
Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole today questioned why it took the federal government government until now to act.
"Is this last-minute legal action an admission that this prime minister's outreach to [U.S.] President Biden has failed?" O'Toole asked in question period.
Trudeau replied that Canada's ambassador to the United States, Kristen Hillman, and other officials will continue to engage with U.S. counterparts.
In an interview with CBC's Power & Politics, O'Regan said the government waited to file the brief to see if the parties could come to a negotiated solution and to ensure the government had the most up-to-date information.
The Line 5 dispute is the second time a pipeline has become a flashpoint in Canada-U.S. relations since Biden took office. He cancelled the Keystone XL pipeline project on his first day as president.
U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, who served as governor of Michigan from 2003 to 2011, declined to comment on the dispute during a press briefing today said the matter will be settled in court.
WATCH | O'Toole questions timing of Liberal government's legal filing on Line 5 pipeline:
Major source of fuel
Decommissioning the pipeline would cut off a major source of fuel for Ontario and Quebec.
Enbridge warns closing the pipeline would disrupt supply to 10 refineries in the region and lead to a spike in energy and fuel prices.
"The trucks and trains that will be added to roads and railways to try to make up the difference will add congestion, while increasing safety risks and emissions," the company said in a statement released yesterday.
Saskatchewan Energy Minister Bronwyn Eyre, whose province depends on the line for roughly 70 per cent of its energy exports, said Line 5 "is a tangible symbol of a traditionally strong relationship between Canada and the U.S. and pivotal to North American energy security."
Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage said shutting down a safe pipeline would set a bad precedent for future energy projects.
The move to shut down the pipeline has been applauded by groups that fear it threatens the Great Lakes, including a number of Indigenous groups and the Green Party under leader Annamie Paul.
"It is upsetting to see that the Government of Canada will pick and choose which treaties to uphold based on convenience and profit, rather than in good faith for the health, safety and well-being of all inhabitants of these lands," Anishinabek Nation Grand Council Chief Glen Hare said in a statement last week.
"The government of Canada is not upholding the treaties made with the First Nations, but will uphold the 1977 treaty for pipelines."
Watch: Government wanted 'absolute latest information' before filing Line 5 legal brief, minister says:
With files from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press