Possible shutdown of Line 5 not a threat to Canada's energy security: ambassador

Canada’s ambassador to the United States says that while the possible shutdown of Line 5 is a serious issue, it is not a threat to Canada’s national energy security.

Enbridge VP Mike Fernandez says he's confident crude will continue to flow after May 12 deadline

Fresh nuts, bolts and fittings are ready to be added to the east leg of the Line 5 pipeline near St. Ignace, Mich. (Dale G Young/The Detroit News/The Associated Press)

Canada's ambassador to the United States says that while the potential shutdown of Line 5 is a serious issue, it's not a threat to Canada's national energy security. 

"It is not a threat to Canada's national economic or energy security," Kristen Hillman told CBC News Network's Power & Politics on Thursday.

"I think that it is an important dispute or disagreement that exists between Enbridge and the state of Michigan that needs to be taken very seriously. And we are taking it very seriously."

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 link Lake Michigan to Lake Huron.

The pipeline carries petroleum east from Western Canada. Once it hits Ontario, most of the crude oil is turned into fuels that meet almost 50 per cent of the province's fuel demands. The remainder of the supply is sent on to Quebec refineries through Line 9, where it provides 40 to 50 per cent of that province's fuel supply. 

WATCH | Hillman on the significance of Line 5:

Is Michigan's push to shut down Line 5 jeopardizing Canada's energy security?

1 year ago
Duration 3:08
Canada's Ambassador to the U.S. Kirsten Hillman tells David Common on Power & Politics that operation of the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline should continue despite the Michigan government's push to have it shut down by May 12.

The threat to the pipeline's viability kicked off in November when Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer revoked the 1953 easement — which has allowed the pipeline to operate without incident for more than 65 years — over fears of an oil spill.

Enbridge was granted approval to replace the underwater line with a tunnel, but Whitmer's election in 2019 put a stop to those plans.

The notification that the easement was being withdrawn said the pipeline should be shut down by May 12, prompting concerns on both sides of the border that shortages of essential fuels would follow. 

"One of the governor's top priorities is to protect and defend the Great Lakes, which are vital to Michigan's economy. The Great Lakes ... 350,000 jobs in Michigan. We cannot risk the devastating economic, environmental and public health impacts of a catastrophic oil spill in the Great Lakes," said Whitmer's spokesperson Chelsea Lewis-Parisio.

Enbridge took Michigan to U.S. federal court over the dispute and both parties were ordered to find a resolution through mediation last month.

Hillman says finding a compromise between Enbridge and the state of Michigan is the only way the impasse will be resolved. She said she remains optimistic that, despite the firm date in the notice, the oil will continue to flow, at least in the short term. 

"We understand from the advice that we have received that there's a good chance that the pipeline ... will continue operating during the course of the litigation and mediation," she told guest host David Common.


Fuel for Pearson

Much of the jet fuel produced at Pearson International Airport in Toronto is made with crude supplied by the pipeline. Enbridge, which owns Line 5, says that Ontario's fuel supply would be cut in half if the pipeline is shut down. But its closure would not only affect Quebec and Ontario.

Enbridge says shutting down the pipeline would also harm Michigan, which gets 55 per cent of its propane needs from the more than 540,000 barrels of light crude oil, light synthetic crude and natural gas liquids that travel through Line 5 before being refined into propane in the state.

Enbridge senior vice president Mike Fernandez said that he's also confident the pipeline will continue to operate beyond May 12, but the passing of the deadline will likely prompt protests from anti-pipeline activists. 

"The reason I say that is because the matter right now is situated in a U.S. federal district court that has prompted both parties, that is the state and Enbridge, to work through a mediator," Fernandez told Common. 

"If the state took actions, they would be acting outside the standard of good faith that's normally required in such mediation."

WATCH | Fernandez on the May 12 deadline:

'I think the deadline is more likely to prompt protesters than state action'

1 year ago
Duration 2:25
Enbridge Senior Vice President Mike Fernandez tells David Common on Power & Politics that he doesn't expect the Michigan government to act to shut down the Line 5 pipeline on May 12.

The Conservative Opposition has been harshly critical of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government, saying its inaction on the energy file will result in the pipeline being shut down. 

The Tories blamed the killing of another pipeline, Keystone XL, by the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden, as evidence the Trudeau government did not fight hard enough to keep it alive.

The party were granted an emergency debate in the House of Commons to discuss the issue, which is taking place tonight. 

"Line 5 is not a new project, it is not a diversification, it is a line that has been a consistent and critical supply for Canada for decades," Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole said in the House. "Now because of the inaction on behalf of the Liberal government this critical piece of energy infrastructure is at risk."

Green MP Elizabeth May told O'Toole that the people of Michigan were keen to shut down Line 5 because of the Kalamazoo River oil spill in July 2010, when an Enbridge pipeline burst. 

"This is about pipeline pollution … we need to find an alternative to get those goods to market and allow the government of Michigan to keep a campaign promise to protect the Great Lakes," May said.

Natural Resources Minister Seamus O'Regan dismissed the Conservative attacks, saying accusations that the Liberals failed to act and are willing to let the pipeline die are totally false. 

"You can't solve this issue with false bravado, by beating your chest while simultaneously sticking your head in the sand like members so often do, by calling people who disagree with you 'brain dead,'" O'Regan said referencing the insult levied against Michigan's governor by Alberta Premier Jason Kenney. 

"That bombastic approach does a great disservice to our oil and gas workers and it does nothing to advance their cause."

You can watch full episodes of Power & Politics on CBC Gem, the CBC's streaming service.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?