In the wake of the Colonial Pipeline cyberattack, Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan ignited additional concern with threats of legal action to drop the proverbial guillotine on Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline. Claiming easement violations and not anything of an immediate nature, the pipeline has been tagged with a stay of execution until the end of the month.
“Here in Michigan, the Great Lakes define our borders, but they also define who we are as people,” said Whitmer in a press release. “Enbridge has repeatedly 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 … 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 our way of life.”
Based upon the 1953 Easement, Enbridge has operated two pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac that carry petroleum products. Suddenly, the state has decided to take action indicating the company has been in repeated violations. As a result, the Easement is being rescinded. Whitmer added that the operation of the pipelines hinders the state’s responsibility under the public trust doctrine to protect the Great Lakes.
Indicating unacceptable risk factors, Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources Director, Dan Eichinger, stated that Enbridge’s 70-year history was audited and assessed. The state furthered that between 2018 and 2019, the pipeline was struck and dented by the accidental dropping of anchors at various times.
“Enbridge’s historic failures and current non-compliance present too great a risk to our Great Lakes and the people who depend on them,” said Eichinger.
Responding to Accusations
Enbridge was quick to respond and countered that the state’s accusations were not based upon a “credible basis.”
“This notice and the report from Michigan Department of Natural Resources are a distraction from the fundamental facts,” said Vern Yu, Executive Vice President of Enbridge Liquids Pipelines. “Line 5 remains safe, as envisioned by the 1953 Easement, and was recently validated by our federal safety regulator.
Justifying its importance, Yu described Line 5 as an “essential source of energy” for the midwestern United States and Ontario and Quebec respectively. Because of its vital role, he indicated Enbridge would respond with legal action.
No Room for Negotiation
While Whitmer has demonized the 645-mile long pipeline that transports 540,000 barrels of crude oil and natural gas liquids, Canada sees Line 5 from its own vantage point. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other Canadian officials have called on the Biden administration for assistance along with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm.
Citing potential prolonged propane shortages and higher consumer costs on fuels, Joe Comartin, Canada’s Consul General in Detroit, argued that an imposed shutdown would have drastic negative effects for both the United States and Canada. He furthered his appeal by stating that alternative methods of fuel transportation such as rail, truck, and boat involve a greater risk of environmental incident and expel greater levels of emissions.
“It certainly strains our relationship,” said Comartin. “We’ve had a very long history of working together.”
Comartin additionally took objection with the state’s claim of being more concerned with the protection of the Great Lakes than Canada. He stated that Canada fully rejected the notion.
Canada’s Natural Resources Minister, Seamus O’Regan, identifies the looming shutdown as a major threat to the country’s energy security. Indicating he is in the know, he vowed the situation is one he is “watching like a hawk” as Line 5 provides 66% of Quebec’s crude and 53% to Ontario, respectively.
“As the Minister has repeatedly made clear, the continued safe operation of Line 5 is vital for energy security on both sides of the border,” said Ian B. Cameron, an O’Regan spokesperson.
Playing the Treaty Card
In a chess game with high stakes moves, Canada is considering the bold maneuver of invoking a 1977 treaty that prevents officials from action that “would have the effect of impeding, diverting, redirecting or interfering with … the transmission of hydrocarbon in transit.” Only the case of a natural disaster or operating emergency trumps this particular play.
According to Kristen van de Biezenbos, a University of Calgary Energy Law Professor, the treaty has never been invoked due to no prior interference by officials regarding the shutdown of a working pipeline that crosses the U.S.-Canada border. Until now.
Predicting the Future
The final decision remains to be seen regarding the life of the Line 5 pipeline. The controversy paired with the Colonial Pipeline cyberattack has operators leveraging for future attacks, both cyber-natured and politically motivated.
Diversification of assets and contingency plans to maintain supply chain demands are some of the aspects being shored up and protected. With many aspects of the fossil fuel industry being bombarded with scrutiny and under variations of attack, the industry will need to defend its operations with technological advancements and preventative measures. Only then will the industry regain confidence in efficiency and respect for necessity as it has been haphazardly eroded by political motivations, financial threat, and the development of competing energy solutions.