Line 5 Pipeline Battle Produces Overheated Claims on Job vs. Environment
As officials in Michigan look to shut down the Line 5 pipeline, business interests in Ontario and Quebec are warning of dire economic effects. But others—like Green Party Leader Annamie Paul—say there are opportunities, too, and that presenting the pipeline as a choice between jobs and the environment is a false, and dangerous, dichotomy.
Voices in Ottawa and Ontario Premier Doug Ford have continued to lobby Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer not to shut down Line 5, a “key pipeline” that currently supplies refineries in Ontario and Quebec, reports the National Post. Whitmer has been attempting to scupper the 68-year-old pipeline out of concern that it poses a significant threat to the Great Lakes water system.
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Reviewing the vexed history of Line 5, the Post explains that Whitmer revoked the 1953 easement that allowed the Enbridge pipeline to cross the 7.2-kilometre wide Straits of Mackinac between Lakes Michigan and Huron last November, citing concerns over the potential for an oil spill. Enbridge has stated it will ignore the order, arguing before a U.S. federal court that Whitmer has no authority to shut down a pipeline that received federal approval to operate.
Michigan regulators have stepped in to complicate matters further, recently approving several permits that would allow Enbridge to drill a C$500-million tunnel beneath the Straits of Mackinac, through which the Line 5 pipeline—which currently sits on the lake bottom—could then pass. Pending further state and federal approval, the tunnel is scheduled for completion in 2024.
“The bottom line, in terms of the economy, is it’s a big threat,” said Joe Comartin, Canada’s consul-general in Detroit. He told the Post that while Michigan has thus far declined to participate in official discussions about Line 5, closing the pipeline could damage the cross-border relationship.
Some industries see threat in the move, as well. “Ontario has warned that shutting down Line 5 would cut off nearly half of the crude oil it needs to make petroleum products such as gasoline,” notes the Post. “All of the jet fuel used at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport is made in Sarnia, and distributed through Line 5.”
Further, the Post says, Line 5 is seen by many a matter of energy security, “unlike pure export projects like Keystone XL, proposed by Calgary-based TC Energy, or Enbridge’s Line 3.” There have also been claims that shutting down Line 5 will increase the odds of transport spills, with Enbridge itself keen to point out that the pipeline is “equal to 2,000 trucks or 800 rail cars making a one-way trip every day.”
The Globe and Mail says Alberta fossil Imperial Oil is considering “moving the oil in ships on the lakes, through other pipelines, or via railcars” in the event that Line 5 shuts down.
And then there is the matter of potential jobs loss. CBC has Ford warning that the shutdown will put 4,900 direct jobs at risk in Sarnia—home to one of two Ontario refineries that process crude carried by Line 5. In a recent, separate op-ed in the Post, O’Toole upped the ante further, claiming that “6,500 good-paying jobs… are on the line” in the Ontario city, with 23,500 indirect jobs affected, too.
Opponents of the potential closure say it could also have a chilling effect on investment in Canadian fossil fuel projects.
“We’ve slipped dramatically in the international descriptors of places to invest,” said Kelly Ogle, president of the fossil-friendly Canadian Global Affairs Institute, in an interview with CBC. “It’s clear that money is fungible. It’s liquid. It doesn’t care what the jurisdiction is. It just wants certainty.”
But elsewhere, the closure of Line 5 elicits little more than a shrug. CBC says both Imperial and Suncor Energy already have plans in place for getting their crude to Sarnia should the pipeline close in May as planned. And the Toronto Star reports that Sarnia officials are not as worried about job losses as Ford and O’Toole say they should be: Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley has pegged potential losses at around 3,000 jobs (far below Ford’s prediction, and just half of O’Toole’s), and noted that even fewer will be lost should oil producers use other means to get their product to the city—exactly as Imperial and Suncor have vowed to do.
Meanwhile, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) is taking fire for the way it approved the recent tunnelling permits. “Environmentalists, tribal leaders, and others who oppose the tunnel plan had urged the agency to go beyond a simple review of construction and operation impacts and consider broader questions [about] impacts on Michigan’s environment, such as the climate implications of approving new fossil fuel infrastructure,” writes Bridge Michigan.
In response to the permits, Whitmer’s office took pains to state that the tunnel go-ahead and the shutdown order are not related, saying the EGLE decision “in no way lessens the pressing need for a shutdown of the existing pipelines by mid-May and Enbridge’s legal obligation to comply with that deadline.”
Back in Canada, the Star notes that the federal Conservatives (along with Alberta’s premier) are making political hay of the Line 5 battle, urging their supporters to sign a petition calling on Trudeau to ask President Joe Biden to overrule Whitmer.
But Green Party Leader Annamie Paul said she has no doubt Whitmer’s move was guided by sound research. “We know that the line is very old, we know it has begun to deteriorate, we know that it’s dented in places, we know it would be catastrophic if there was a major oil spill with that line, so I am sure she has taken all of that into account,” she said.
Invoking Biden’s “commitment to moving towards a green recovery,” Paul urged Canadian policy-makers to proceed in kind by investing in renewables and cleantech “rather than in sectors that are in an irreversible decline.”
Paul said she understood the anxieties around shuttering Line 5, but told the Star it’s still a “false choice” to cast the decision as a choice between jobs and the environment. While some political interests might benefit from that kind of contrived controversy, she added, “we protect ourselves the best, we create more jobs, if we protect our environment as well.”