(Washington) The controversial Line 5 may continue to operate on territory in Wisconsin owned by an Indian band for now, but that situation “must end” on June 16, 2026, a U.S. judge ruled Monday.
Calgary-based Enbridge had asked Wisconsin District Court Judge William Conley to clarify an order unveiled earlier this month that gave the company three years to modify that portion of its pipeline.
Enbridge intends to construct a 66 kilometer detour to bypass the sovereign territory of the Chippewas of the Bad River First Nation of Lake Superior and thereby replace the 19 kilometer stretch that crosses it.
Recent legal documents suggest that the company was hopeful that Judge Conley would amend his decision to prevent the Line 5 from being closed before the new pipeline route was completed.
But the answer obtained on Monday was unequivocal.
“Enbridge seeks confirmation that it may continue to operate Line 5 in the ordinary course of business for three years from the date of judgment for the (lands) for which it does not hold valid rights of way,” said writes the judge.
“Enbridge’s understanding is generally fair,” he continued, given that the lands in question were part of the lawsuit and the company is complying with the order to share profits with the band.
“However, as noted, the operation of Line 5 on these lands shall cease on June 16, 2026.”
Enbridge says the timing of the rerouting will depend on approval decisions from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the United States Army Corps of Engineers, expected in 2025. The pipe rerouting itself is expected to stretch for about a year.
But that three-year window — which opened 10 days ago, as Justice Conley confirmed — may be too narrow for the company’s liking, based on arguments made Friday by its lawyers in a document filed with the court.
“Enbridge respectfully maintains that it has requested legal authority to defer any injunction until rerouting is operational, thereby avoiding any loss of service and resulting harm to the public,” the document states.
“The court has the authority not to issue, or to stay, an injunction to coincide with the commencement of operation of the new road, to ensure that the public interest remains protected from material adverse consequences. »
The Bad River Band has been fighting Enbridge in court since 2019, saying the company has not been allowed to operate on its land since 2013. Judge Conley agrees, but Enbridge insists to argue that a 1992 agreement with the band allows it to continue its activities.
But the judge has long been reluctant to order the line’s immediate closure, citing the risk of dire economic consequences, continued fuel shortages in the Midwest, Ontario and Quebec and a lasting scar on Canada-U.S. relations.
So even though he concluded earlier this month that a Line 5 rupture in Bad River Territory would “without question” meet the definition of a public nuisance under federal law, Judge Conley gave Enbridge three years to adjust the route of its pipeline, in addition to ordering it to share the profits of Line 5 with the band, starting with a down payment of US$5.1 million.
This conclusion caused dissatisfaction in both parties.
Bad River’s lawyers say the three-year period is too long, given the risk of a catastrophic rupture in a key Lake Superior watershed, and believe the financial penalty is too small to prevent Indigenous sovereignty from being undermined. be violated again in the future.
But Enbridge also said it disputes Judge Conley’s finding that the company was in violation and that it intends to appeal the ruling, and may also seek a stay of the order pending that appeal. .
Talks between Canada and the United States have been going on for months under the Transit Pipeline Treaty, a 1977 agreement that effectively prohibits either side from unilaterally shutting off the flow of hydrocarbons.
The dispute became more pressing in April, when heavy spring flooding washed away significant portions of the shoreline where Line 5 intersects the Bad River, a 120-kilometre meandering river that feeds Lake Superior and a complex network of ecologically delicate.
Environmental groups are calling the 70-year-old pipeline a “ticking time bomb” with a questionable safety record, despite Enbridge’s claims to the contrary.
The neighboring state of Michigan, led by Attorney General Dana Nessel, also opposed Line 5, fearing a leak into the Strait of Mackinac, the environmentally sensitive waterway where the pipeline crosses the Great Lakes.
Line 5 transports 540,000 barrels of oil and natural gas liquids daily through Wisconsin and Michigan to refineries in Sarnia, Ontario.
Its defenders, including the federal government, say a shutdown would cause major economic disruption in the Prairies and the US Midwest, where it supplies raw materials to refineries in Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
It also supplies key refining facilities in Ontario and Quebec and is essential to the production of jet fuel for major airports on both sides of the Canada-US border, including Detroit Metropolitan and Toronto Pearson International Airport.