A pipeline that Justin Trudeau must save
There’s basically nothing Justin Trudeau can do to save the Keystone XL pipeline.
Joe Biden campaigned to become president with the promise to stop the megaproject that would carry Alberta oil-sands crude to American refineries. He kept that pledge by cancelling Keystone XL on his first day in office less than two weeks ago.
Whether our prime minister pleads, appeals for neighbourly consideration or threatens trade sanctions, no action on his part will make a difference. Nothing will budge President Biden from the course he has taken.
But — and here’s the real takeaway for Trudeau — having thrown in the towel on one pipeline that’s important to this country he needs to stand up quickly and strongly for another. This isn’t a new one still under construction, as Keystone XL was before Biden killed it. This one has been transporting crude oil and natural gas liquids to eastern Canada for 68 years.
It’s Enbridge’s Line 5. Its continued operation is vital to the Canadian economy. But as it now stands, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer intends to shut it down in May.
Set aside for a moment the fact that the governor has no reasonable justification for doing this. Realize instead that the closure would fall like a sledge hammer on industries, businesses and millions of ordinary people in Ontario and Quebec.
The Ontario government says shutting down Line 5 would cut off nearly 50 per cent of the crude oil the province uses to make petroleum products such as gasoline, diesel and aviation fuel. A shut-down would hurt Quebec, too, because Line 5 feeds Line 9 into Montreal, providing roughly two-thirds of the crude oil refined and consumed in that province.
Should this scenario become reality in May, the consequences will be dire, far worse in fact than the fallout from the cancellation of Keystone XL. Expect energy shortages. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of refinery jobs could be lost in Ontario and Quebec. Alternative sources of crude oil will have to be found. They will cost more.
And those costs will be passed on to consumers who will pay more to fill up their cars, heat their homes and for products that use petrochemicals, such as synthetic clothing and asphalt. Meanwhile, more Western crude will enter Ontario by train — with all the attendant risks of deadly derailments and environmental contamination.
Protecting the environment is, maddeningly enough, the excuse being used by Michigan for shutting down Line 5. Although the pipeline has run across the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac for more than six decades without anything remotely resembling a spill, Gov. Whitmer insists it’s an environmental threat. Nonsense.
She clings to this fantasy despite that fact that the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration — America’s regulator of pipelines — has declared Line 5 is safe. Nor is the governor deterred by Enbridge’s reassuring plan to replace the current 6.4-kilometre twin pipes crossing the straits with a concrete-encased tunnel more than 30 metres below the lake bed.
Because Gov. Whitmer seems beyond reasoning, Trudeau must state his case before President Biden himself. There is a compelling argument that Michigan’s threat of unilateral action violates the recently signed U.S.-Mexico-Canada Free Trade Agreement. It most likely also contravenes the Transit Pipeline Treaty that, as a senator, Biden helped ratify in 1977.
Some observers believe these agreements will stop Gov. Whitmer in her tracks before the pipeline can be shut down. It would be dangerous for Trudeau to gamble on this outcome. He has to find his voice and make it heard in Washington D.C. as soon as possible.