Business advocacy groups from around the Great Lakes argued this week that shutting down Line 5 would lead to a crisis in regional oil and gas markets, although pipeline critics say that forecast is overblown.
The two sides ramped up advocacy this week as Enbridge Inc. ignored a state deadline on Wednesday to shut down the twin pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac. The company is in a dispute in federal court over the proper legal venue, arguing with the state more broadly about whether the pipeline should be shut down.
State officials notified Enbridge six months ago that the company was allegedly in violation of its easement and the public trust by operating in the Straits of Mackinac. Officials gave Enbridge six months to develop alternative plans for shipping oil and gas liquids from Superior, Wis. to refineries in Ontario, Detroit and Toledo.
The May 12 deadline set off a flurry of advocacy as well as legal, executive and legislative action this week.
Chambers of commerce from Great Lakes states, the U.S. and Canada on Wednesday announced a joint brief they filed in the Whitmer administration’s case against Enbridge that’s pending in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan.
Valerie Brader, an attorney and co-owner of Rivenoak Law Group P.C., filed the brief on behalf of the business groups arguing that closing Line 5 would cause major disruptions in the region’s energy market by tightening supplies and eventually cost thousands of jobs at U.S. and Canadian refineries. The business groups support Enbridge’s position that its case against the state belongs in federal court, and that it would disrupt U.S.-Canada relations.
Brader said in a virtual press conference this week that shutting down Line 5 could also result in Enbridge abandoning its plan to build a tunnel in the Straits of Mackinac, a plan that Brader helped negotiate when she led the Michigan Agency for Energy under the former administration of Rick Snyder.
“Termination of the tunnel project would be a resoundingly negative outcome,” Brader said, noting that the tunnel plan is meant to remove the pipeline from the lakebed in the Straits.
The meeting was hosted by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and featured state chambers from Ohio and Wisconsin, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.
Michigan Chamber President and CEO Rich Studley called Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s efforts to shut down Line 5 a “political attack” to shutter the pipeline that’s akin to the cyberattack last week that disabled the Colonial pipeline between the Gulf of Mexico and the East Coast.
“I’m concerned the governor’s actions are a slap in the face to our Canadian friends and neighbors,” Studley said.
The business advocates claim shuttering Line 5 jeopardizes thousands of refinery jobs in the region and propane accessibility in the Upper Peninsula, while transporting oil by rail or truck is more expensive and impractical.
Meanwhile, Republican state lawmakers added a provision to a state budget bill this week that would require the Department of Natural Resources to pay for Enbridge’s legal costs if the company prevails in court.
The move comes after Whitmer issued a letter to Enbridge this week that it would be intentionally trespassing on state land if Line 5 remained open after May 12, and that — if successful in court — the state would seize Enbridge’s profits from the pipeline.
Pipeline critics counter that the environmental risk of keeping Line 5 open in the Straits is too great, and that the economic effects of shutting it would be relatively small. They largely accuse Enbridge of scare tactics meant to protect the company.
Beth Wallace, manager of conservation partnerships with the National Wildlife Federation, said Enbridge and its supporters “are not admitting or even acknowledging” that the company is merely the shipper that moves oil and gas it doesn’t own to different markets.
“The product will get to the market whether it’s (Enbridge’s) pipeline or its competitors,” she said. “The idea Enbridge is floating out there that there will be thousands of trucks and rail cars are fear tactics.”
Enbridge has also argued in court that shutting down Line 5 raises concerns about a prior U.S.-Canada treaty as well as interstate commerce.
Vern Yu, Enbridge’s executive vice president and president of liquid pipelines, said in a statement this week that the business coalition “underscores that efforts by the State of Michigan to shutdown Line 5 have far reaching and severe implications across the region and North America — well beyond Michigan’s borders.”
However, tribal representatives and a separate business advocacy coalition argue that keeping Line 5 open poses serious environmental and economic risk.
Rich Bergmann, founder of Lake Charlevoix Brewing Co. and an executive committee member with the Great Lakes Business Network that opposes Line 5, said Enbridge’s move to continue operating the pipeline after May 12 is “unacceptable.”
“They continue to ignore the realities of how proper business is done,” he said.
Bay Mills Indian Community President Whitney Gravelle said Line 5 remains a “threat to the resources of the Great Lakes” and to the tribe’s cultural resources in the Straits. The tribe has intervened in multiple instances at the state level and in the federal court dispute.
“It’s all tied to our effort to maintain and uphold our treaty rights in the Great Lakes and the state of Michigan,” Gravelle said. “Bay Mills has a long, entrenched history of having to go to court to fight for those treaty rights.”