Saskatchewan faces uncertainty as battle over the future of Line 5 heats up

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WATCH: The battle over the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline is raising red flags in Saskatchewan – May 13, 2021

The battle over the future of Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline is raising red flags for both Saskatchewan policymakers and environmental experts.

While Line 5 runs through Michigan state, from Superior, Wisc., to Sarnia, Ont., it is considered a vital link in Enbridge’s export network. Saskatchewan transports 70 per cent of its oil from the mainline, which connects to it. 

“This is a real impact not only to Saskatchewan workers — Saskatchewan producers — but workers on both sides of the border,” said Saskatchewan Energy Minister Bronwyn Eyre on Wednesday, the deadline given by Michigan’s governor, who has ordered the shutdown of the aging piece of infrastructure due to environmental risks. 

The day before, Canada launched a legal challenge in a U.S. court. Eyre noted the province has been working with federal counterparts in preparing diplomatic and legal documents.

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Enbridge, a Calgary-based company, is proposing to enclose it in a tunnel to protect the water against spills and is keeping it running in the meantime.

Read more: Line 5 pipeline: How did we get here and what it means for Canada

The mayor of Swift Current, an important oil-producing part of the province, said he is very concerned about the situation.

“If we didn’t have that export around Swift Current here, it would definitely have an economic impact on us,” said the mayor, Al Bridal.

Roy Ludwig, the mayor of another important oil-producing area, said he believes Line 5 should continue to be used, saying it would be “catastrophic” if it were shut down.

“It would be very disconcerting if they were to shut that off because a lot of the oil that goes through that line comes from Saskatchewan,” Ludwig said.

Read more: Canada could see 50% cut in fuel capacity if Line 5 pipeline shut down: experts

University of Regina geography and environmental science professor Emily Eaton says the circumstances facing these small Saskatchewan communities indicates better management is needed when it comes to planning for phasing out fossil fuels.

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Eaton said it will be a frustrating time for oil and gas-producing families in Saskatchewan when the transition does happen.

“We know that if the phase-out of fossil fuels isn’t going to be managed, we’re going to find ourselves in more of these situations. It’s going to be chaotic, it’s going to be filled with crises,” Eaton said.

The Saskatchewan Environmental Society (SES) says true progress on this issue will require a greater level of cooperation.

“Obviously, Michigan needs to be sensitive to the concerns of Saskatchewan and Alberta and all of Canada in terms of Line 5 being a very important source of energy supply to eastern Canada and important source of employment in western Canada,” said Prebble, who sits on the organization’s board.

“I feel that Saskatchewan and Alberta and Canada as a whole need to take account of Michigan’s situation. The area in dispute is a 67-year-old pipeline that should have already been replaced.”

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Over the years, reports indicate that Line 5 is showing signs of wear and tear.

A 2017 report by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) revealed that Line 5 had spilled 1.1 million gallons of oil in 29 incidents since 1968. The date was obtained by NWF through a freedom of information request.

The report also show many of the incidents were related to construction mishaps whereas others were caused by defects in the pipe, such as stress cracking along the seam.

Prebble cited Enbridge’s “bad environmental record” in Michigan with the major 2010 spill in the Kalamazoo River.

“You can understand why Michigan is concerned,” he said.

 – With files from Roberta Bell, Rachael D’Amore

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