SARNIA — In a relentless battle that shows no signs of abating, the operation of the multinational Enbridge Line 5 pipeline has attracted the attention of anti-energy activists. Buoyed by their success in shutting down the Keystone XL pipeline, these activists have now set their sights on Enbridge’s Line 5, leaving Canada’s energy security vulnerable.
While the energy pipeline orginates in Alberta, the section called Line 5 starts in Wisconsin and crosses Michigan, terminating in Sarnia, Ontario. Line 5 has been a critical conduit for Canadian petroleum products for almost 70 years. With a daily capacity of over half a million barrels, the pipeline serves as a vital energy source for the Northeastern United States and Canada, supplying almost half of all of Ontario’s crude oil and natural gas needs. Any sudden shutdown of the pipeline would wreak economic havoc on both sides of the border. However, the ideological fervor driving opponents of Line 5 seems unconcerned about these dire consequences.
Environmentalist and Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has made the shutdown of Line 5 her personal mission, despite repeated legal setbacks. Back in November 2020, Whitmer gave Enbridge the order to shut down the pipeline within six months. Enbridge took her to court and she continues to appeal decisions and pursue the case in different courts as Enbridge keeps winning.
In the latest appeal, Wisconsin district court Judge William Conley heard submissions last month from experts on both sides on the safety of the pipeline.
Adding further complications, indigenous bands, including the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa, have joined the opposition, demanding a U.S. federal court issue an injunction to halt Line 5 operations. They express concerns about erosion in a specific section of the pipeline, yet frustratingly deny Enbridge access to the area for necessary repairs. It appears that these groups are deliberately putting land and water at risk in an attempt to force a shutdown.
The potential repercussions of a Line 5 closure are grave. Sarnia stands to lose thousands of jobs, and a severe shortage of propane, gas, diesel, and jet fuel would ensue, imperiling the energy needs of millions of people, particularly during winter when propane is crucial for heating.
The unwavering determination of the opposition raises concerns that they will not cease until they achieve their desired outcome. Canada points out that there is a Canada-U.S. pipeline treaty between the two countries that was signed in 1977. Activists argue, however, that the pipeline can still be shut down temporarily for safety reasons.
If Enbridge’s Line 5 is indeed forced to cease operations entirely, Calgary columnist for the Western Standard, Cory Morgan, argues that anti-petrochemical activists “will pick another Canadian line and focus their efforts there.”
He adds that “by using American land as a shipping route for petrochemical products, we have made ourselves vulnerable to the actions of foreign activists and there is little we can do to defend ourselves.”
Morgan says that this highlights the pressing need for Canada to prioritize its energy security and take proactive measures. Constructing a comprehensive East/West energy corridor would help avert the looming crisis and safeguard the nation from the actions of foreign activists, he says.
The issue is complicated by the fact that the Canadian government needs to overcome its own ideological opposition to petrochemicals to prioritize the construction of essential energy infrastructure.