The loss of Line 5 would devastate Sarnia, union leader says

Sarnia skyline and Chemical Valley at night

Troy Shantz

If Michigan succeeds in shutting down the Line 5 crude oil pipeline the impact on Sarnia will be devastating, a union leader says.

Sarnia’s three refineries would be at risk of shutting down as well as many related industries in the Chemical Valley, said Scott Archer, business agent with the UA Local 663 Pipefitters Union.

“Basically, it would kick the legs out from under every refinery in town. It would have a devastating effect on employment in Sarnia. There would be tumbleweeds rolling down Christina Street, I guarantee it.”

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has ordered Canada’s Enbridge Energy to stop using the pipeline by May, claiming it places the Great Lakes at risk of a catastrophic oil spill.

Her office has notified Enbridge it is revoking an easement granted in 1953 to extend a 6.4-kilometre section of the pipeline through the Straits of Mackinac, which connects Lakes Huron and Michigan.

Line 5 is a major pipeline that carries Western crude to local and U.S. refineries, which turn the oil into propane, gasoline, and asphalt as well as feedstock for chemical, plastic and rubber manufacturers.

Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley took his defence of the pipeline to Ottawa last week, urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to get involved.

Bradley argues Whitmer’s attempt to close the pipeline violates the Canada-U.S. 1977 Transit Pipelines Treaty, which states the U.S. cannot impede energy supplies to Canada.

About 70% of Ontario’s daily energy needs and one in four local jobs are supplied by Sarnia-Lambton’s petrochemical complex.

Enbridge has a plan to reroute the pipeline through a tunnel in the bedrock beneath the Straits where, the company says, it would be much safer.

The company says if Line 5 is shut down, all the refineries it serves in Ontario, Quebec, Michigan and Ohio would receive about 45% less crude than their current demand.

The alternatives to make up the shortfall are massive investments in new pipelines or a significant increase in rail or trucking capacity, which are currently not available.

Environmental groups applaud Witmer’s move and say Enbridge’s plan to replace the Mackinac section of the pipeline has critical deficiencies.

“The proposed tunnel is, categorically, a major project and it will significantly affect and endanger the human environment,” Love of Water executive director Liz Kirkwood told a hearing last month with the Army Corps of Engineers.