Michigan Moves to Shut Down Pipeline, Tensions Rise Between US and Canada

by Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer

The Keystone XL isn’t the only oil pipeline under threat of having its permit revoked. A battle is ramping up in Michigan, where Governor Gretchen Whitmer ordered Calgary-based Enbridge to shut down a nearly 70-year-old pipeline that carries millions of barrels of crude oil beneath the Great Lakes each day. Indigenous communities and environmental groups have praised the decision, but Canadian officials say there will be serious economic impacts on both sides of the border.


Why This Matters: The United States and Canada have pledged to work together to fight climate change; as both nations attempt to economically recover from the pandemic, aligning energy goals and priorities will be a significant challenge. 

President Biden has made a robust green infrastructure pledge and has said that Indigenous groups will be given a seat at the table as his climate agenda unfolds. Despite praise from Indigenous communities on both sides of the border, the Canadian government, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, has appealed directly to President Biden for help in preserving the Line 5 pipeline. The ultimate fate of the pipeline will be a test of climate diplomacy for the Biden administration as Canada is a close economic and political partner of the United States, yet its economy is dependent on its oil. Though ultimately, the pipelines are under state jurisdiction and there may be little President Biden can do to shape the outcome of the pipeline. 

What Lies Beneath…

The Great Lakes contain 21% of the world’s fresh surface water, supply drinking water to 48 million people, and support 1.3 million jobs generating $82 billion in wages annually. Whitmer says the continued operation of Line 5 puts all of these benefits at risk. “Enbridge has imposed on the people of Michigan an unacceptable risk of a catastrophic oil spill in the Great Lakes that could devastate our economy and way of life,” she said. “They have repeatedly violated the terms of the 1953 easement by ignoring structural problems that put our Great Lakes and our families at risk.”

But Enbridge and Canadian officials insist that there isn’t a risk. “Line 5 is operating safely, reliably and is in compliance with the law,” said Enbridge spokeswoman Tracie Kenyon. “The State of Michigan has never presented any concrete evidence to suggest otherwise.”

Officials are worried that losing the pipeline could impact Canada’s energy security and cost jobs in the region. Additionally, they feel that a lack of communication between the U.S. and Canada severely damages the countries’ relationship. “I’ve written more letters to the governor than Saint Paul wrote to the Corinthians, and I’ve gotten no responses back,” said Mike Bradley, the Mayor of one Canadian Great Lakes community. the relationship between Ontario and Michigan has been set back, in my view, for decades.”

Oil companies and other corporate stakeholders, however, aren’t joining the fight. 

  • Mark Little, chief executive of Suncor, confirmed that the company had diversified its holdings in anticipation of any closure.
  • The Greater Toronto Airports Authority has also confirmed fuel supplies at the city’s international airport will not be impacted.
  • The Department of Energy, however, has expressed support for Whitmer. “If we’re going to do pipes, let’s do pipes that build the infrastructure of America in a way that is future-looking,” said Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm. “And not rely upon fuels or transport fuels — even though our neighbors to the North want it — that are not going to contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”



A coalition of organizations in Tennessee has written a letter to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, asking that it rescind or suspend its permit for the Byhalia Connection pipeline. This pipeline is similarly opposed by local communities of color, who stand to be impacted most by damage to local water supplies. “The proposed Byhalia Connection Pipeline currently threatens the drinking water source of communities in Southwest Memphis that are 97% Black, low-income, and already burdened by dozens of industrial facilities and major pollution sources,” reads the letter. While opponents have the support of eco-celebrities like Al Gore, they still face a long and complicated legal battle.

Additionally, as Reuters reported, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it does not believe a judge should order the Dakota Access oil pipeline shut while environmental review continues, according to court filings on Monday.

The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), which came into service in 2017, has been the subject of a lengthy court battle between Native American tribes seeking its closure and the pipeline operators, led by Energy Transfer. Closure of the pipeline has garnered national attention as activists and celebrities have been urging President Biden to shut down the pipeline as he did with the Keystone XL.

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