New Energy Agenda Propels Pipeline Disputes

By Rowland Goddard, Staff Writer

Since the mid-19th-century, petroleum and gasoline pipelines have been the predominant way Americans and Canadians get their energy. In America, 69% of the energy consumed is from oil and gas and in Canada, that figure grows to 79%. As energy giants, both countries produce and transport millions of natural gas and oil units through their pipelines every day. However, with the new president, Democrat Joe Biden, changes to the energy agenda are forthcoming. 

Joe Biden has been adamant about pursuing renewable energies in America in hopes to combat climate change. This has resulted in him condemning fossil fuels and any forms of unsustainable energy. Therefore, it will be difficult for corporations to develop pipelines, especially in blue states. In January,  Biden signed an executive order putting oil and gas leasing on federal lands and waters on hold. This resulted in heavy criticism from the oil industry and producing states, which receive half the revenue generated from federal lands which drill within their borders. Fourteen states have since sued the administration, challenging the pause. 

One such pipeline under fire, which has great implications for Canadians, is Enbridge’s line 5. This pipeline transfers a vast amount of petroleum to Ontario and Quebec. The pipeline takes a shortcut across the border, crossing through Wisconsin and Michigan. There is a section of the pipeline in Michigan which is susceptible to major oil leakage. In the open waters of the Straits of Mackinac, line 5 has protruded above the lakebed. This has exposed itself to the rigorous current as well as other dangers of the lake. Furthermore, it has created lakebed erosion and other harm to the nearby ecosystem. 

Enbridge has a poor track record of easement violations in operating line 5. Since its creation in 1968, line 5 has failed 33 times, spilling more than 1.1 million gallons of oil in Michigan and Wisconsin. Over the past 20 years, Enbridge has had to issue constant repairs on the pipeline, such as adding supports to the pipeline, lifting it further into the water column. This creates the risk of something striking the pipeline, such as an anchor. 

Due to Enbridge’s numerous easement violations, lack of liability insurance and inability to meet state financial demands, Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer has revoked the 68-year-old easement that Enrbdige has relied upon to transport petroleum through the state. Additionally, attorney general Dana Nessel filed legal action to force the shutdown. This gives Enbridge until May 2021 to cease the transfer of petroleum through line 5, or they will be breaking state law. 

In efforts to prevent line 5 from shutting down, Enbridge has reached out to the Canadian government to badger Governor Whitmer. The premise of their argument for line 5 is that a stoppage in the pipeline would spike energy costs for Canadians and Americans as well as cause job loss. Without the pipeline crude and natural gas will face higher transportation costs. This is more concerning for Canadians as line 5 supplies roughly 45% of the petroleum refined in Ontario and Quebec. Whereas, only half a percent of the volume carried in the pipeline is supplied to Michigan. 

The Michigan government believes that Enrbdige should divert oil transfer south through the recently expanded line 61, which could merge with Michigan’s line 78, connecting the pipeline to Sarnia, Ontario. Enbridge does not support this idea. The dispute could likely move to federal court, bringing Biden’s agenda to the forefront. 

Photo by JuniperPhoton on Unsplash

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