OTTAWA — A Canadian company on Wednesday defied an order to shut down an oil and gas pipeline that passes through Michigan, flouting a directive from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in a contest of wills that threatens to aggravate U.S.-Canada relations.
Ms. Whitmer in November canceled the pipeline’s legal permission to cross the Straits of Mackinac, the narrow, heavily trafficked waterway that separates Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas, and links Lake Michigan to Lake Huron.
She cited “persistent and incurable violations” of the permission, known as an easement, and concerns that potential leaks could pollute a vast area of the Great Lakes and endanger drinking water for millions of people in both countries.
The state had given Enbridge, the company that owns the pipeline, until Wednesday to shut it down. But the pipeline’s future is currently in mediation ordered by a U.S. district court in Michigan, and Mike Fernandez, senior vice president of Enbridge, said that the company, based in Calgary, Alberta, will only stop the flow of oil if ordered by a court.
and other pollutants than most oil production. Michigan’s action and the company’s defiance place Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government in the uncomfortable position of defending an oil sands pipeline while making the fight against climate change one of its top priorities.
On Tuesday, Canada joined the legal fray, filing a brief in support of Enbridge, arguing that the state had overstepped its authority. Ottawa backed Enbridge’s claim that only the U.S. federal government can order a shutdown, and that the matter must be negotiated between the two nations.
Canada’s ambassador in Washington, said that Mr. Trudeau had raised the issue with the president and members of the Canadian cabinet had brought it up with their American counterparts. Along with other officials, Ms. Hillman said that she had laid out Canada’s case with Ms. Whitmer as recently as last week and with officials throughout Washington.
Exactly what Canada has to show for that, however, is unclear.
“I don’t really think that’s for me,” Ms. Hillman said. “Their discussions, within their system, are really something you’d have to ask them about.”
The Canadian government’s involvement adds another factor to the mix: a 1977 treaty in which Canada and the United States agreed not to block oil and gas while it is in transit through either country.
“The treaty is a very clear demonstration of the fact that this is an international matter,” Ms. Hillman said.
A spokesman for the White House declined to comment about Line 5 or Michigan’s authority over it.
Environmentalists in the state have long argued the line’s two aging pipes, which sit on the lake bed, could be broken open by a ship’s anchor or a structural failure. Any resulting spill would despoil cherished, economically vital waters.
“We spend time growing up going to the lakes, going to the beach,” said David Holtz, a spokesman for Oil & Water Don’t Mix, a group that wants Line 5 closed. “The governor has really decided that the right decision is to not put the Great Lakes, and our northern Michigan economy and shipping at risk for an oil pipeline that primarily services the Canadian market.”
Several Indigenous groups on both sides of the border and several states have also backed the governor’s move. Her opponents include business groups and some labor unions.