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Canada invokes 1977 treaty with the US in dispute over Enbridge's Line 5

work being done under Mackinac bridge

Canada is getting deeply involved in a dispute over an oil pipeline in Michigan. Canada informed a judge that it is invoking a 1977 treaty with the United States.

That step should suspend a lawsuit by Michigan to shut down the pipeline. Line 5 is operated by Enbridge. A section of the pipeline is in the Great Lakes above Michigan's Lower Peninsula.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel say Line 5 is risky and should be shut down. Enbridge wants to build an underwater tunnel to house a replacement section of Line 5.

Enbridge ignored a state-imposed May deadline to cease Line 5 operations, as the state and company wrangle in federal court. Michigan maintains that the matter belongs in state court; Enbridge says it should be a federal matter.

Court-ordered mediation is over, but Enbridge spokesman Ryan Duffy said in a statement Monday that "Enbridge has continued to participate in the mediation process in good faith and still is hopeful that a negotiated resolution will continue to provide consumers and industry in the region with safe, reliable energy and advance the quick construction of the tunnel at the Straits of Mackinac."

Governor Gretchen Whitmer and the state maintain that Enbridge is now trespassing on state land by continuing to operate Line 5, in violation of its revoked easement under the Straits of Mackinac. In a statement on Monday, Whitmer said she was "profoundly disappointed" by Canada's move to invoke the treaty.

"I have made clear to Enbridge that it cannot use our state-owned lakebed for these pipelines, but Enbridge has refused to stop. Moreover, rather than taking steps to diversify energy supply and ensure resilience, Canada has channeled its efforts into defending an oil company with an abysmal environmental track record," Whitmer said.

“Michigan is, and will remain, a strong partner with Canada on a range of issues,” continued Whitmer. “However, I will not remain silent when the fate of the Great Lakes and Michigan hangs in the balance. I had expected that Canada, a nation that prides itself on its commitment to environmental protection, would share my interest in protecting the Great Lakes. Instead, the Government of Canada has chosen to do the bidding of the very oil company responsible for the 2010 Kalamazoo River Oil Spill – one of the largest inland oil spills in the history of the nation that happened right here in Michigan."

Mike Shriberg, Great Lakes regional director for the National Wildlife Federation, said the Canadian government's move appears to be an effort "to slow things down and keep the oil flowing to the pipeline."

“This is a treaty about interstate commerce related to pipelines, and what the treaty is meant to do is to ensure that both countries treat pipelines fairly," Shriberg said. "Canada invoking it is quite strange. The way that I see it is that Enbridge is really operating through the government of Canada, and using this treaty to try and slow down the U.S. court system.”

Editor's Note: Enbridge is one of Michigan Radio's corporate sponsors.

The Associated Press is an independent global news organization dedicated to factual reporting.
Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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