WASHINGTON, DC – FEBRUARY 23: United States President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau …  will video-link opening speeches in the East Room of the White House on February 23, 2021 in Washington, DC. Traditionally, US presidents invite the Canadian prime minister to their first meeting with a world market leader. The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic forced the meeting to be held virtually. (Photo by Pete Marovich-Pool / Getty Images)
During the Summit of Heads of State and Government last month highlighting the need for global cooperation and accountability in the fight against climate change, recent developments along the US border highlighted and Canada, how chaotic joint action can be between the best of allies.
In November 2020, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D) appointed Canadian energy company Enbridge
Line 5 will be closed until May 12th. Line 5 carries approximately 540,000 barrels of crude oil and natural gas liquids (NGL) below the Great Lakes and across Michigan each day, and supplies American and Canadian refineries. It makes up 53 percent of the crude oil in Ontario and more than half of the propane in Quebec and Michigan.
Whitmer’s decision to sink the 645-mile pipeline was based on fears that a leak could endanger the Great Lakes which would be nothing short of an ecological disaster. Canadian officials have referred to the 68-year-old pipeline’s records of safe and efficient operation. Risks aside, the closure of Line 5 could cost Canada thousands of jobs, raise energy prices and threaten the energy security of both countries.
Members of the Canadian government have appealed to US policy makers. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau himself described the pipeline as « non-negotiable » in an interview with President Joe Biden. Over 20 meetings were attended by lawmakers on both sides of the border to reach an agreement that has so far been unsuccessful.
Calgary-based Enbridge has pledged to use its own money to build a tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac investing – a narrow waterway that connects Lake Michigan to Lake Huron – that it has claimed will minimize environmental risk. So far, their appeals and promised spending haven’t stopped Governor Whitmer or pushed President Biden to action.
The Line 5 controversy is hardly the first pipeline issue to emerge between the two nations since Biden took over the White House . The President’s first order to repeal the extension of the Keystone XL cross-border pipeline, which is expected to transport up to 800,000 barrels of oil from Alberta to Nebraska every day, is arguably Biden’s main dispute with Prime Minister Trudeau. The Keystone assassination has poisoned bilateral relations and potentially resulted in Canadian oil being diverted to China via the Trans Mountain Pipeline Pacific, which has access to the Pacific.
The friction between economic interests and environmental protection exemplified by these pipeline squabbles raises questions about whether nations are balancing their energy security interests with their climate change commitments – both inside and outside their borders .
Canada is currently the largest single source of US energy imports and the second largest destination for US energy exports. About two-thirds of the 3.5 million barrels a day shipped from Canada to the United States are for Midwestern states, including Whitmers Michigan. The energy systems and economies of neighboring countries are closely interwoven, so a decision by one state elsewhere can have dramatic and cascading consequences.
The city of Sarnia, Ontario, which is home to three refineries and several petrochemical plants, forecasts after the shutdown of line 5 up to 5,000 job losses. After the closure, Ontario and Quebec could experience price spikes due to subsequent fuel shortages. America’s importing nations would likely face similar fuel shortages and rising costs. In a letter to Trudeau, Sarnia’s mayor, classified as a Line 5 closure, found gas shortages of 14 million gallons per day in American states such as Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Whitmer’s decision is not without historical basis . In 2010, a break in the 6B pipeline dumped more than 20,000 barrels of oil into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River. The inland spill, one of the largest and most expensive in US history, was attributed to cracks in the pipeline, damage Enbridge was previously aware of and which had not been repaired.
Since 1968, the Sections of Line 5 that do not go through the Strait of Mackinac, 33 leaks occurred. A 2016 study found that a spill in the road connecting Lake Michigan to Lake Huron would threaten up to 700 miles of coastline and the drinking water of millions of Americans.
To date, pipelines are the safest, cheapest, cleanest and most efficient method for moving large quantities of oil and natural gas. Without pipelines, energy imports and exports will depend on truck, rail, and boat transportation, which studies suggest is more dangerous. Trucks, in particular, can cause the spillage to almost double per billion tonne miles. Even further removed from any state’s drinking water, environmental damage caused by more frequent spills from truck and train accidents can be catastrophic.
MILNE POINT, AK – NOVEMBER 19: A full moon helps keep the Alaskan pipeline beneath the weak. ..  Illuminating aurora borealis glow on November 19, 2002 near Milne Point, Alaska. Smaller oil lines deliver oil directly from the well pump houses to the main oil production facility at Milne Point / Prudhoe Bay. The pipeline is designed in a zigzag design to allow expansion and contraction. In a 7.9 magnitude earthquake on November 3, 2002, the design was found to be very effective. (Photo by Greg A. Syverson / Getty Images)
There is also a broad geopolitical counter-argument to the governor’s hasty decision. Canada, a long-standing and trusted partner of the US, regards its Line 5 as a crucial part of the domestic energy infrastructure. Strong allies cannot afford to ignore their partners’ security concerns. Consultations and negotiations as well as mutual concessions are necessary on issues that go beyond national borders. If these are neglected, multilateral climate cooperation is impossible. This is the prerogative of the federal government, not the governor’s.
It is undeniable that smart policies are required to address global climate challenges. In the message from President Biden’s climate summit, leaders were urged to work together to offset the costs and help bear the burden of a multi-year transition to renewable energy. But unilateral community improvement measures that impose costs on neighbors and allies run counter to such rhetoric. President Biden should practice what he preaches and reach an agreement with Ottawa that will benefit the American border states and our ally Canada.
I am a Senior Fellow with the Atlantic Council and founding director of International Market Analysis, a Washington-based company global risk advisory boutique. I recommend
I am a Senior Fellow with the Atlantic Council and founding director of International Market Analysis, a Washington-based global risk advisory boutique. I advise law firms and companies and once helped get a famous Russian oligarch out of Putin’s prison. I am also a Senior Fellow at the International Tax and Investment Center (ITIC), where I lead the Energy, Growth and Safety (EGS) program.
For 22 years I was the Heritage Foundation’s leading Russia / Eurasia expert and international energy expert. My advice focuses on political risks, national security and energy policy, especially in Russia / Europe / Eurasia and the Middle East. The firm’s interventions include international security, economics, law, politics, terrorism, and crime and corruption. In addition to advising both the public and private sectors, I regularly testify before the US Congress and appear on Bloomberg, CNN, FOX, BBC, Al Jazeera, and other television channels. In my free time I enjoy skiing, sailing, classical music and my two cats.