Time Runs Out for a U.S.-Canada Oil Pipeline

November 17, 2020 

In an unusual move, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, citing environmental concerns, is shutting down an underwater pipeline that carries oil to refineries in her state and Canada.

Pipeline operations normally fall under federal jurisdiction. Governor Whitmer, a Democrat, is acting under the state's public trust doctrine, which requires state authorities to protect the Great Lakes. The pipeline in question, known as Line 5, has been in operation since the 1950s.

The decision, announced on Friday, requires the pipeline operator Enbridge to cease operations on a specific section of Line 5 by May 2021, but it will have the effect of curtailing the entire pipeline, which runs between Superior, Wis., and Sarnia, Ontario.

"Enbridge has routinely 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," Governor Whitmer said in a statement.

Under the terms of an agreement with the state, Enbridge is required to maintain a multilayered coating on the pipeline to protect it from corrosion and to ensure that the pipeline has physical supports that are no more than 75 feet apart. The Michigan authorities found that the company had violated those terms and also failed to adequately protect the pipeline from damage from boat anchors.

While the line moves a relatively small quantity of oil -- about 540,000 barrels of light crude oil and liquid natural gas each day, compared with national average consumption of 20 million barrels of crude oil per day -- environmentalists applauded the move. While it was not clear that the legal strategy could easily be applied to other pipelines, they also said it was significant in that it focused on an older pipeline rather than a new project.

"I think this Line 5 decision is going to spark some interest in existing pipelines," said Jared Margolis, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. "I think, at some point, we do need to turn to pipelines that are in the ground that are dangerous, that are posing a serious risk."

ImageTime Runs Out for a U.S.-Canada Oil Pipeline - 17CLI PIPELINE2b articleLarge
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan said the pipeline operator had "routinely refused to take action to protect our Great Lakes."Credit...Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

Governor Whitmer's action will revoke the 1953 easement that allows Enbridge to operate pipelines through the Straits of Mackinac, a narrow waterway that connects Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.

A spokesman for Enbridge said the decision could have "devastating" economic consequences.

"Enbridge remains confident that Line 5 continues to operate safely and that there is no credible basis for terminating the 1953 easement allowing the Dual Line 5 Pipelines to cross the Straits of Mackinac," the spokesman, Michael Barnes, said. "Line 5 is an essential source of energy for not only Michigan but for the entire region including Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Ontario, and Quebec."

Opponents of the move also said they worried that an abrupt shutdown would disrupt oil supplies, forcing nearby refineries out of business and disrupting the propane supplies to Michigan's Upper Peninsula, where many rural residents rely on propane to heat their homes.

"Shutting down Line 5 would kill thousands of jobs in Michigan, severely impact manufacturing and cost our economy hundreds of millions of dollars when the state is already reeling from a pandemic," said Mike Johnson, the vice president of government affairs at the Michigan Manufacturers Association.

A study commissioned by the National Wildlife Federation, however, found that the economic impact for Michigan oil producers of shutting down Line 5 would be minimal and that other shipping methods like trucking would keep refineries running.

"There are alternatives to moving that oil," said Margrethe Kearney, a senior attorney at the Environmental Law and Policy Center. "I think that we should be really careful and really skeptical of arguments by Enbridge that shutting this pipeline down will result in some dire circumstance and that the sky will fall."

The decision came after nearly a decade of political pressure. According to Ms. Kearney, a 2010 oil spill on another Enbridge line in Michigan, which poured nearly 850,000 gallons of tar sand into the Kalamazoo River, piqued public interest in Line 5 and other pipelines.

"It's a very iconic part of Michigan's culture," Ms. Kearney said of the area. "So when people realized there's this oil pipeline down there, it was a really big deal."

Latest News

November 25, 2020
Rep.-elect Lauren Boebert plans Thanksgiving 'funeral' for dead turkey in defiance of Colorado guidelines

close Video Incoming Colorado Congresswoman Lauren Boebert, an anti-big government Republican who previously defied local shutdown orders, said she's finding a creative way to bypass Colorado's Thanksgiving gathering restrictions by having a "funeral" for a dead turkey. Boebert, who has railed against coronavirus lockdown rules, called out Colorado's limits on personal gatherings to 10 people […]

Read More
November 25, 2020
Texas State University football player shot dead in drug deal gone bad

A football player at Texas State University was shot dead in a drug deal gone bad, police said Wednesday. Khambrail Winters, a 20-year-old defensive back for the Texas State Bobcats, was found with a gunshot wound to the chest at an apartment complex in San Marcos Tuesday at around 9:15 p.m., police said in a […]

Read More
November 25, 2020
Oregon governor urges residents to 'uninvite' family for Thanksgiving

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown is calling on residents in the state to 'uninvite' their loved ones from gatherings over the Thanksgiving holiday. "This is hard, but making difficult sacrifices now will save lives," Brown tweeted. "This Thanksgiving, keep it small. Uninvite them." Along with the message was a 30-second video suggesting who people should uninvite, […]

Read More
November 25, 2020
A Poem of Gratitude From Georgia

'What Are You Grateful For?' Our daughter, seven, labeled her thanks last year -- My Family, Kittens, Reading, School, and Friends -- on a silly-eyed construction-paper bird she carried home, secure in every word and the sturdiness of the world. It's still here on our fridge, one grateful-for per yellow feather. Now eight, locked down, […]

Read More
November 25, 2020
Trump Pardons Michael Flynn

WASHINGTON -- President Trump pardoned on Wednesday his former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn, who had twice pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I. about his conversations with a Russian diplomat and whose prosecution Attorney General William P. Barr tried to shut down. "It is my Great Honor to announce that General Michael T. […]

Read More
November 25, 2020
A Poem of Gratitude From Missouri

Last Scraps of Color in Missouri Today I passed a standof trees: tall, closely packed,bare and almost blackfrom rain. But underneath,I saw smaller trees, justgetting started on their slowsnatch-and-grab of sky,and I saw these were goldenstill, and they glowedlike campfires in the dark. Lately I'd been wantinga little light -- and there it was,and all […]

Read More
crossmenuchevron-down