Pipeline disputes increase tensions between US and Canada


TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) – Months after President Joe Biden snubbed Canadian officials by canceling Keystone XL, a looming showdown over a second crude oil pipeline threatens to further strain ties between the two neighbors who have been frayed under the Trump administration.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, one of Biden’s main allies, ordered Canadian energy company Enbridge last fall to shut down Line 5 – a key component of a crude oil delivery network from the Alberta oilfields to refineries in the US Midwest and eastern Canada.

Whitmer’s request satisfied environmentalists and tribes who have long contemplated the pipeline, which spans 645 miles (1,038 kilometers) through northern Wisconsin and Michigan, ripe for a spill that could devastate two Great Lakes.

A section of approximately 6.4 kilometers long crosses the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac in Michigan, which connects Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. The area is a popular tourist destination and several tribes have treaty-protected commercial fishing rights in the straits.

But as the governor’s May 12 shutdown deadline approaches, Canadian officials are lining up behind Enbridge as it challenges the order in a U.S. court and says it will not comply.. The Calgary-based company says Whitmer is overstepping its authority and the 68-year-old pipeline is strong.

“Our government supports the continued safe operation of Enbridge’s Line 5,” Seamus O’Regan, Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources, told The Associated Press in an email. “It is a vital part of Canada’s energy security, and I have made it very clear that its continued operation is non-negotiable.

This month, a Canadian House of Commons committee warned of the dire consequences of a shutdown: job losses, fuel shortages and traffic nightmares as 23 million gallons (87 million liters ) petroleum liquids transported daily by line 5 are transferred to trucks and railcars considered to be more susceptible to accidents.

The group urged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other Canadian officials to put pressure on their American counterparts and said without a deal Canada could invoke a 1977 treaty banning either country from ” hamper the transport of oil and natural gas. O’Regan’s office said the issue had been raised at “the highest levels” of federal and state governments.

The dispute comes as the two countries hope to reset their relationship after the presidency of Donald Trump, who imposed tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum and had a turbulent relationship with Trudeau. Biden’s first meeting with a foreign leader was a virtual session with Trudeau in February, where they are committed to cooperate on climate change and other issues.

Keystone XL Cancellation by Biden, a 1,200-mile (1,931-kilometer) pipeline from the Alberta tar sands remains a hot spot in Canada. Although Trudeau opposed the move, Alberta officials are “extremely disappointed” that he does not take stronger action, said Sonya Savage, energy minister for the province where most of the energy is located. Canada’s oil production.

Now comes Line 5, which few Americans outside of the Great Lakes region may be familiar with. But it is a priority for Canada, the world’s fourth largest producer and third largest exporter of oil.

“Canadians will probably make this their big problem,” said Christopher Sands, director of the Canadian Institute at the Wilson Center, a global policy think tank in Washington, DC. allow yourself to back down.

Although the Keystone project was halted when construction began, Line 5 has been carrying Canadian oil since 1953. More than half of Ontario’s supply passes through it, according to Enbridge. It leaves Michigan at the border town of Sarnia, Ontario, and connects to another line that supplies two-thirds of the crude used in Quebec for gasoline, heating oil and other products.

“This is an energy lifeline for Canada,” said Mike Fernandez, senior vice president of Enbridge.

Enbridge and its supporters in industry and labor say the pipeline also benefits the US Midwest. It transports oil for jet fuel and gasoline, as well as natural gas liquids transformed into propane.

Critics say most of the economic benefits go to Canada, while Michigan faces a rupture that could foul hundreds of miles of water.

“Canadians are woefully silent about our shared responsibility to protect the Great Lakes, which contain 20% of the world’s surface fresh water,” said Liz Kirkwood, director of a Michigan group called For Love of Water .

Opposition to US pipelines has hardened, with fighting over Keystone, the controversial Dakota Access pipeline and Enbridge’s Line 3 in Minnesota draw protesters.

Climate change looms above the debate as Biden pursues emission reductions. He canceled Keystone on the first day of his term. A week later, he temporarily suspended sales of oil and gas leases on federal lands. Environmentalists want a permanent ban, which could make the United States more dependent on Canadian crude, whether delivered by pipeline or not.

“This is the conundrum any administration will find itself in when its climate goals collide with the reality of providing essential energy,” said Drue Pearce, deputy administrator of the Federal Pipeline Safety Agency under Trump and now with Holland and Hart law firm.

No leaks were reported in the Line 5 subsea pipes. But a National Wildlife Federation report in 2017 said federal documents showed more than two dozen spills from other sections exceeded 1 million. gallons (3.8 million liters).

Enbridge spent around $ 1 million on advertisements to support the pipeline, while opponents fought it with studies, protests and media events.

But the lawsuits the company and Michigan bring against each other may decide the outcome.

Although the federal government regulates oil pipelines, the Great Lakes lowlands fall under state jurisdiction. Michigan granted an easement in 1953 to place the two pipes of Line 5 under the Straits of Mackinac.

However, Whitmer revoked it on November 13, claiming Enbridge had violated its safety requirements – including one that prohibits unsupported spaces under pipes.

Biden may not be able to do much to please Canada other than quietly urging Whitmer to give in. That could be difficult given his ties to the governor, who Biden envisioned for his vice president last year and appointed a vice president of the Democratic National Committee.

White House spokesman Vedant Patel declined to comment.

The safety of U.S. pipelines is the responsibility of the Department of Transportation, whose Biden-appointed secretary Pete Buttigieg approved the closure of Line 5 last year while seeking the Democratic presidential nomination. A spokesperson said in an email that the department was not involved in the legal fight between Michigan and Enbridge, but that it will inspect Line 5 in the coming months.

Whitmer’s office did not respond to requests for comment. When announcing her shutdown order, she said Enbridge had “placed the people of Michigan at an unacceptable risk of a catastrophic Great Lakes oil spill that could devastate our economy and our way of life.”

Enbridge struck a deal in 2018 with former Michigan Governor Republican Rick Snyder, to redirect the submarine segment of line 5 through a new tunnel.

But opponents say the tunnel carries its own environmental risks and the lakes would remain in danger if the pipeline continues to operate for years of construction.

The debate over Line 5 and other pipelines illustrates the conflicting priorities of two countries that have pledged to cut fossil fuel emissions but still burn a lot of oil, said Daniel Raimi, a member of Resources for the Future, a Washington, DC Political Institute.

“They don’t want to disrupt a critical piece of infrastructure and drive up energy prices for consumers,” Raimi said. “It’s a difficult needle to thread.”


Brown reported from Billings, Mont.


On Twitter, follow John Flesher: @johnflesher and Matthew Brown: @MatthewBrownAP


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