White House Roped Into Dispute Over Canadian Pipeline After Canada Invokes Treaty

President Joe Biden is caught in a battle involving the Enbridge Energy Line 5 pipeline segment, White House principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.

The pipeline network, which carries Canadian oil to the U.S. Midwest, is the subject of fierce debate, with many advocates saying it should be shut down, the Associated Press reported.

This news comes a month after Canada invoked a treaty guaranteeing oil transit despite Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer asking for its closure. She said the potential for the pipeline to erupt could lead to catastrophic consequences. Enbridge had previously rejected Whitmer's order and filed a federal lawsuit against the state.

"Because Canada has invoked this treaty, the Biden administration is dragged into this whether they want to be or not," Mike Shriberg, director of the National Wildlife Federation's Great Lakes office, told AP.

The filing of a federal court brief in support of Whitmer could also be a course of action for the White House to take, he said.

With the White House involved in the dispute, Indigenous tribes across Michigan are also asking to be involved. Twelve tribes have requested representation in the upcoming talks.

"We possess rights and interests in the integrity of the Great Lakes that date back to time immemorial," the tribes said in a recent statement to Biden, "and that are protected by solemn treaties with the United States long predating the agreement Canada rests on."

A start date for the discussions between the U.S. and Canada has not been announced, but Jean-Pierre said she expects the nations to "engage constructively" during their meeting.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Go Your Own Way
The Enbridge Energy pipeline network, which carries Canadian oil to the U.S. Midwest, is the subject of fierce debate, with many advocates saying it should be shut down. Above, a scarecrow wearing a sweat shirt reading "Go Your Own Way" is set in the clearing around an Enbridge BC buried natural gas pipeline in Hope, British Columbia, Canada, on June 6, 2021. Photo by Cole Burston / AFP via Getty Images

Enbridge's Line 5 is 68 years old and runs along a 4-mile section in the Straits of Mackinac, which connects Lake Huron and Lake Michigan.

Enbridge said that portion, divided into twin pipes across the lake bottom, has never leaked and is in good condition.

The Biden administration has not taken a position but is under increasing pressure to do so.

"In addition to being one of the closest allies, Canada remains a key U.S. partner in energy trade, as well as efforts to address climate change and protect the environment," Jean-Pierre said.

She noted the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is preparing an environmental impact statement on Enbridge's proposal to run a replacement segment through a tunnel that would be drilled beneath the straits. That study doesn't involve whether the existing twin pipes should continue operating.

Line 5 daily carries about 23 million gallons (87 million liters) of crude oil and natural gas liquids used in propane between Superior, Wisconsin, and Sarnia, Ontario. It runs underground through northern Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula before reaching the Straits of Mackinac.

From there, it continues south to Port Huron, Michigan, before crossing beneath the St. Clair River to Sarnia.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953 issued a permit allowing the pipeline to cross the international border there. The permit says it "may be terminated at the will of the President of the United States."

Environmental groups and Indigenous tribes say that provision means Biden could order an immediate shutdown.

Those rights include protection of fish populations and cultural sites in the Straits of Mackinac, said Whitney Gravelle, chair of the Bay Mills Indian Community.

Enbridge, based in Calgary, Alberta, and its supporters say a shutdown would cause fuel shortages and higher prices of gasoline and propane in the region while killing thousands of jobs.

"Billions of dollars in economic activity would be in jeopardy, and the environment would be at greater risk due to additional trucks operating on roadways and railroads carrying hazardous materials," said a November 4 letter to Biden signed by 13 Republicans in Congress, including Representatives Bob Latta of Ohio and Tim Walberg and Jack Bergman of Michigan.

Environmentalists say those claims are exaggerated. State and nonprofit studies have shown that "with an orderly shutdown and careful planning, there would be little to no noticeable impact" on the economy or fuel prices, said Beth Wallace of the National Wildlife Federation.

Line 5
The Enbridge Energy pipeline network, which carries Canadian oil to the U.S. Midwest, is the subject of fierce debate, with many advocates saying it should be shut down. Above, an above-ground section of Enbridge's Line 5 at the Mackinaw City, Michigan, pump station in October of 2016. AP Photo/John Flesher, File