Mediation talks remain ongoing at multiple levels — including the highest ones — amid Michigan’s attempted unilateral shutdown of a fuel pipeline vital to Ontario, Quebec as well as the Wolverine State itself.
Canadian legal counsel recently informed a U.S. court that the federal governments of both countries are meeting twice a week over the threatened closure of Enbridge Line 5, under the terms of a 1977 treaty forbidding either nation from stopping the flow of energy to the other.
Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley, in the refinery-dependent Ontario city at the end of Line 5, said he was encouraged to learn of those bi-national talks. Although the pipeline continues to operate uninterrupted, weeks past Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s May 12 deadline, Bradley described the current situation as “purgatory.”
It’s “not good for the community, industry, Ontario and Canada to have this decision prolonged and hanging over us,” he wrote in an email.
Bradley said a number of Michigan-based entities oppose Whitmer’s bid to immediately staunch the flow, including the Chamber of Commerce, members of the State Legislature and labour unions. “The largest newspaper, the Detroit News, is supportive, too.”
Court-ordered mediation is underway between Enbridge itself and Whitmer’s Michigan administration, which is hostile to the pipeline’s continued operation through the Straits of Mackinac connecting two of the Great Lakes.
“Mediation is continuing, but no new dates have been made public yet by the mediator,” said David Coll, Senior Communications Advisor with Enbridge.
“Mediation is a positive step towards developing a potential global resolution to the pending Line 5 litigation,” said Coll, adding the corporation is “hopeful” the confidential talks will move the process forward. That includes plans for a new $500-million tunnel to house the pipeline deep beneath the Straits. “While Line 5 has operated safely in the Straits for more than 65 years, this tunnel will make a safe pipeline even safer.”
The governor revoked a 1953 state easement through which the pipeline travels, last November, and demanded it shut down by May 12. That deadline has come and gone as Enbridge fights to maintain uninterrupted flow on the line.
“Line 5 must stay open. It is a critical piece of North American energy infrastructure that benefits both Canada and the U.S.,” said Coll.
There are actual, physical valves on Michigan soil that could be used to shut off the flow, the company acknowledges. Those valves are installed where the risk warrants. “Enbridge identifies areas along our pipeline system, enabling responders to know and understand the risks and appropriately respond to the requirements of such risks,” Coll explained. “These areas include urban population areas, drinking water resources, environmentally sensitive areas, and commercially navigable waterways.”
If the governor of Michigan finally fails in her bid to turn off the taps, the mayor of Sarnia said he would be willing to welcome her to his city. “If the issue is resolved and the governor has the grace to accept the decision, then yes,” Mayor Bradley said, when asked if he would greet Whitmer with open arms in that event.
But as it is right now, Bradley said he’s never had the opportunity to dialogue with Whitmer and that she’s never responded to any of his letters. He said he understands that most Canadian officials have been likewise unable to get a reply from the governor. “Strange way to treat a province and country that does $90 billion in trade with Michigan every year,” Bradley observed.