Enbridge Continues Operation Despite Whitmer’s Cease and Desist

A view of the Mackinac Bridge and the Straits of Mackinac. Image: Michael Barera/Wikimedia Commons

by Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer

Canadian energy company Enbridge will continue to operate a pipeline transporting oil from the U.S. to Canada–despite Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s order to halt operations stating that the governor did not have the authority to cease the pipeline’s operations.

The Line 5 pipeline transports millions of barrels of crude oil beneath the Great Lakes each day, which Whitmer and allies have asserted presents an imminent environmental and economic threat to the lakes and surrounding communities. The debate over the order has caused tension between the U.S. and Canada and raised questions about future environmental cooperation.

Why This Matters: What little communication existed between Michigan and Ontario is breaking down rapidly, and national leaders are getting involved. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has appealed to President Biden for help preserving the pipeline, and Sarnia, Ontario Mayor Mike Bradley has lamented his unanswered appeals to Governor Whitmer. Some hope that federal involvement and mediation ordered by a Canadian court will help repair the damage done to the nations’ relationship. This relationship is significant for both countries’ Paris agreement strategies, as both nations chart the future of fossil fuels. 

Oil Wrestling: As the Detroit Free Press reported, Gov. Whitmer on Tuesday, in a letter to Vern Yu, Enbridge’s executive vice president for liquids pipelines, said continued operation of the line after Wednesday “constitutes an intentional trespass” and that the company would do so “at its own risk.”

If the state prevails in the underlying litigation, Enbridge will face the prospect of having to disgorge to the state all profits it derives from its wrongful use of the easement lands following that date,” she said.


These oil pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac are a ticking time bomb, and their continued presence violates the public trust and poses a grave threat to Michigan’sMichigan’s environment and economy,” Whitmer’s office stated. But even as they operate in defiance of the order, Enbridge insists it’s operating legally and safely. “We are operating the pipeline lawfully and following the guidance of our federal regulator, [the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration], which says Line 5 is fit for service,” Michael Barnes, a spokesperson for Enbridge, told The Hill. 

A federal judge has ordered mediation on the matter. The Biden administration has stepped in to speak with Canadian officials about the implications of a 1977 treaty that bars either nation from interfering with international oil pipelines. “While a shutdown that is inconsistent with governing law should be avoided under all circumstances, in any event, there should be no shutdown before the governments of the United States and Canada complete their efforts to resolve this matter, pursuant to their bilateral treaty, which directly addresses transit pipelines such as Line 5,” stated the Canadian amicus brief. The two countries have not yet engaged in any formal treaty negotiations, but the treaty sheds light on similar trade laws that may stand in the way of a swift green energy transition.

Both sides have many allies; Enbridge has assembled officials from Canada, Ohio, and several unions and trade organizations to protect the pipeline. But Whitmer has the support of the state’s 12 Indigenous tribes and 17 attorneys general. President Biden’sBiden’s transition plan has repeatedly emphasized restoring sovereignty and environmental decision-making power to Indigenous communities. If the Line 5 mediation fails to account for the interests of these communities, President Biden risks defaulting on his promises to marginalized communities. 


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