WASHINGTON, D. C. — Republican members of Congress from Ohio are warning President Joe Biden that shutting down a pipeline that brings oil and gas from Canada into the upper Midwest could cost tens of thousands of jobs, cause fuel price shocks and jeopardize billions of dollars in economic activity.
Environmental groups like the Sierra Club have urged decommissioning the aging Enbridge Line 5 pipeline that traverses Wisconsin and Michigan on its way to a refinery in Sarnia, Ontario. The groups say the pipeline has a long history of spills and poses risks to farmland, natural areas, and waterways. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has tried to shut it down by revoking its easement to cross the Straits of Mackinac. However, the company that operates the pipeline, Enbridge Inc., has sued to keep it open. The Canadian government has formally requested negotiations with the United States over the matter under a 1977 transit pipeline treaty.
On Monday, White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is preparing an environmental impact statement on the Line 5 pipeline and the construction of a proposed replacement line that Enbridge says would virtually eliminate the chance of a spill in the Straits because it will be bored through rock as much as 100 feet below the lakebed. Jean-Pierre said the Army Corps’ findings “will help inform any additional action or position the government will take on replacing Line 5.
“This is consistent with President Biden’s commitment that every infrastructure project, potential pipelines very much included, must undergo a full and fair review that considers the environmental impact that those projects would have,” Jean-Pierre said.
Last week, Republican U.S. House of Representatives members Bob Latta of Bowling Green, Troy Balderson of Zanesville and Bill Johnson of Marietta wrote a letter to Biden to caution against shutting down the pipeline, which opened in 1953. They said that “absent any credible data showing that there is a real safety hazard to continuing Line 5 operations, the intrastate, interstate, and international commerce implications of a possible shutdown should be overwhelming evidence that this path should not be followed.
They also said doing so would worsen shortages and price increases in home heating fuels like natural gas and propane.
“Line 5 is essential to the lifeblood of the Midwest,” their letter says. “Should this pipeline be shut down, tens of thousands of jobs would be lost across Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, and the region; 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.”
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost filed a legal brief last year in the lawsuit between Michigan and Enbridge, arguing that shutting down the pipeline would negatively affect a pair of Toledo refineries and put more than 1,000 Ohioans out of work. He said the existing pipeline is designed to divert the oil flow to an alternate section of the pipeline if portions of its lines are compromised.
“Ohio’s refineries fulfill crucial needs in Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and elsewhere in the Midwest by providing jet-fuel to airports and petroleum-based feedstock to industry,” his brief says. “In the process they directly and indirectly employ thousands of highly skilled trades workers and unskilled workers ... The collective annual economic activity generated by these jobs is in the billions of dollars.”
A spokesperson for Canada’s embassy said Line 5 has operated safely for 65 years and is helping to provide vital energy to heat homes and power the economy for Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Ontario and Quebec. She said the section under the Straits of Mackinac has never had a spill.
“Canada also strongly supports the Great Lakes Tunnel Project, which will further safeguard the protection of the Great Lakes waters and keep energy flowing that supports our economies,” said embassy spokesperson Diana Tan. “Once completed and operational, the tunnel, which will run far below the lakebed of the Straits, will replace the existing Line 5 dual pipelines where they cross the Straits of Mackinac. This will make an already safe pipeline safer. The existing pipeline will be decommissioned. The tunnel will improve pipeline safety and protect the Great Lakes.”