Whitmer warns of potential for ‘catastrophic oil spill’ after Canada invokes 1977 pipeline treaty in Line 5 dispute

Oct 5, 2021 at 11:27 am
click to enlarge In 2013, the National Wildlife Federation sent divers to look at Enbridge, Inc.'s aging straits pipelines, finding wide spans of unsupported structures encrusted with exotic zebra mussels and quagga mussels. - National Wildlife Federation
National Wildlife Federation
In 2013, the National Wildlife Federation sent divers to look at Enbridge, Inc.'s aging straits pipelines, finding wide spans of unsupported structures encrusted with exotic zebra mussels and quagga mussels.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said she was “profoundly disappointed” with Canada’s decision to invoke a 1977 treaty with the U.S. government over a dispute about the fate of the controversial pipeline that connects two of the Great Lakes.

In November, Whitmer ordered Canada-based Enbridge to shut down the Line 5 oil and natural liquid pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac by May, saying it violated a 1953 easement agreement with the state and presents “an extraordinary and unacceptable risk to Lake Michigan and Lake Superior." Enbridge, which was responsible for a disastrous oil spill in the Kalamazoo River in July 2010, has defied Whitmer’s order.

“So long as oil is flowing through the pipelines, there is a very real threat of a catastrophic oil spill in the Great Lakes,” Whitmer said in a statement Monday. “I have made clear to Enbridge that it cannot use our state-owned lakebed for these pipelines, but Enbridge has refused to stop. Moreover, rather than taking steps to diversify energy supply and ensure resilience, Canada has channeled its efforts into defending an oil company with an abysmal environmental track record.”

Canada argues that Line 5 is governed by Article Six of the 1977 Transit Pipelines Treaty, which guarantees uninterrupted transit of light crude oil and natural gas liquids between the two countries, Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau said in a statement.

"Today, Canada is formally invoking the dispute settlement provision of the 1977 Agreement to ensure its full application," Garneau said.

For nearly a decade, Indigenous leaders, environmental activists, and scientists have warned about the potential for an oil spill from Line 5, which ships 540,000 barrels a day of crude and refined products from Superior, Wisconsin, to Sarnia, Ontario. Tribal governments and environmental groups have sought legal injunctions to shut down the pipeline.

The state said Enbridge had violated its easement after underwater photos revealed that parts of the dual pipelines were not anchored as required.

In a lawsuit, the state asked an Ingham County Circuit Court to recognize the validity of Whitmer’s order to shut down the pipeline based on the alleged easement violation. Enbridge successfully moved the case to federal court, and the state has filed a motion to move the case back to Ingham County.

The Great Lakes are home to 21% of the world's fresh surface water and supply drinking water to 48 million people, including 5 million Michigan residents.

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