Saskatchewan makes its Enbridge Line 5 case

Saskatchewan energy minister addresses parliamentary committee on Line 5

With Michigan ordering Enbridge’s Line 5 to close in May, Canada’s energy infrastructure is in upheaval, as Central Canada could be cut off from one of its key energy sources in mere weeks from now.

Line 5 runs from Superior Wisconsin through upper Michigan, crossing the Straits of Mackinac between Lake Superior and Lake Huron, then through lower Michigan until entering Ontario at Sarnia. From there it supplies Ontario and Quebec with a substantial portion of its energy supply. It also supplies Michigan and Ohio. On March 30, Saskatchewan Energy and Resources Minister Bronwyn Eyre joined her ministry counterparts in appearing before the House of Commons Special Committee on the Economic Relationship between Canada and the United States on the importance of the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline for Canada, and in particular, for Saskatchewan.

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The cross-partisan House of Commons Special Committee was struck on Feb. 16, and is expected to deliver an interim report on the importance of the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline no later than April 15.

“Line 5 is a crucial energy lifeline for Saskatchewan and western Canadian oil and natural gas producers,” Eyre said in a release. “Michigan's move to shut it down would have a serious impact on North American energy security and Canada's economic relationship with the United States.”

Last November, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer revoked the pipeline's 1953 easement through the Straits of Mackinac and ordered it closed by May 12, 2021. A legal challenge by Enbridge and mediation process are currently underway.

Approximately 70 per cent of Saskatchewan’s total oil production is exported through the Enbridge Mainline pipeline system, which runs from Edmonton, Alberta through Saskatchewan to Superior, Wisconsin, where Line 5 goes through Michigan and over the US-Canadian border to Sarnia, Ontario.

Line 5, which moves up to 540,000 barrels per day of light crude oil and natural gas liquids, is a critical piece of energy infrastructure for American states in the Great Lakes region, as well as for Ontario and Quebec. Without it, refineries in those provinces would have to increase reliance on trucking, crude-by-rail and oil imports, which would lead to heavier international tanker traffic along the St. Lawrence Seaway, the Government of Saskatchewan noted.

“A decision to shut down Line 5 would raise energy costs for Canadians and affect everything from home heating rates and grain-drying costs, to Pearson International Airport's fuel supply and propane for barbecues,” Eyre said. “There would also be a significant impact on heating and transportation costs in Michigan and surrounding states, some of which are against this proposed shut-down.”

In her statement to the committee via video conference, Eyre said, “Enbridge Line 5 is a bricks-and-mortar – in this case, welded steel – manifestation—a tangible symbol—of a traditionally strong relationship, a friendship, between the United States and Canada, which we must not jeopardize.”

She noted pipelines have become a divisive issue, as climate change has become a dominant issue. “But pipelines produce no CO2. They are a mere mode of transport. And yet, they have become symbols of the fight.

“Project after project has been cancelled: In Canada, Northern Gateway, which had substantial First Nation support; Energy East, which, I’m convinced, would have led to stronger national unity in Canada at a time when we needed it; and, of course, most recently, Keystone XL, for the second time—this time, by President Biden.

“The more this happens, the more we cancel projects and prevent producers from getting oil to tidewater, to global markets, the more oil we have to import—including up the St. Lawrence River—from countries whose human rights records are dire. 

“The more we’ll also see strange, hyper-expensive concoctions, such as the Western Canadian oil that had to be transported via the Panama Canal last year, just to get to a refinery on our own Atlantic east coast, the more we diminish our own energy independence.”

Eyre explained how the Enbridge Mainline system is “the only real pipeline egress for our producers,” and that it connects with Line 5.  

With reference to Line 5, she said, “I always like to use the reasonable-person-on-the-street test. 

“If you told that person that Enbridge Line 5, and the portion that crosses the Mackinaw Straits, was built in 1953 to the highest engineering standards and has operated without any release incident since ... and that, now, given heightened concerns (which we all understand), Enbridge is going to spend $500 million dollars to build a super-tunnel of reinforced concrete that would prevent the risk of an anchor strike, protect the aquatic environment, and enable high-tech inspection and maintenance going forward, I think that person would say, ‘Sounds good to me.’”

Eyre referenced Enbridge’s plans to build a tunnel deep under the straits, and putting a replacement pipeline in that tunnel. Right now, Line 5 splits into two pipes that lay on the lake bottom, crossing the straits. Michigan’s concerns about the pipe were significantly raised when a ship struck one of those pipes with an anchor a few years ago. The pipe did not suffer major damage, but its vulnerability became a primary consideration for the State of Michigan.

Eyre continued, “If you mentioned that Line 5 helps to generate over half the propane used in Michigan, supplies regional refineries, powers the ag sector and heats homes, schools, hospitals and businesses, I think that person on the street—one who isn’t blinded by an irrational hatred of pipelines—would say that sounded good, too, especially when they learned the new propane proposal, put forward under Michigan’s Propane Security Plan, is woefully inadequate.” 

Eyre held out hope for diplomacy and mediation, but added, “The Transit Treaty, signed between Canada and the US in 1977, sounds pretty definitive to me. It provides, ‘Government-to-government assurances...that pipelines carrying hydrocarbons owned by one country across the territory of the other will be free from interruptions in flow.’”

She continued, “I understand: We all want to make sure the environment is protected. But unilaterally shutting down Line 5 strikes me as some sort of nightmare scenario dreamt up by Ayn Rand: that such a crucial means of keeping families working, and warm; businesses and crucial sectors powered; and a successful cross-border relationship thriving, would be simply shut off. 

“Certainly, we in Saskatchewan haven’t always agreed with the prime minister’s policies—most recently, around the Carbon Tax. But I believe Governor Whitmer should examine how politically and ideologically akin she and the prime minister are, along with President Biden—even with those who spearheaded the Green New Deal. 

“And I would ask her not to do this to her friends in Canada...and her own Michiganders. To workers and their families.”

Regarding the trading relationship between Saskatchewan and Michigan, Eyre said Saskatchewan exported $109 million of product to Michigan last year and imported $137 million.

Eyre said, “I would also ask her to keep in mind the powerful statistic that I reference a lot, speaking more globally: that if every oil and gas producing nation in the world extracted oil and gas the way we do in Canada, global greenhouse gas emissions would instantly fall by one quarter.” 

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