GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A federal judge has ruled that Enbridge is “trespassing” on tribal land in Wisconsin, however, Line 5 is allowed to remain open.
U.S. District Judge William Conley ruled last week that Enbridge had taken advantage of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, entitling the tribe to some form of compensation. However, he denied the tribe’s request to have the pipeline shut down because of its wide-ranging impacts.
“The court must deny the Band’s request for an automatic injunction, as an immediate shutdown of the pipeline would have significant public and foreign policy implications,” Conley said in his ruling. “While inclined to grant alternative injunctive relief to the Band, requiring Enbridge to reroute its pipeline outside the Reservation, the court will seek input from the parties before deciding the terms of a permanent injunction.”
Enbridge argues that a 1992 agreement allows them to operate on tribal lands until at least 2043. As part of the lawsuit, Enbridge has been pursuing a plan to reroute Line 5 off tribal land. In his ruling, Conley said he is considering holding the oil company to that plan, which should take approximately five years to build.
In an interview with Wisconsin Public Radio, an Enbridge spokesperson said the company has been working on that reroute for two years and has agreements with private landowners to build a new 41-mile stretch of pipeline to avoid tribal land.
Line 5 is 645 miles long, starting in Superior, Wisconsin, winding its way through Michigan’s upper peninsula, under the Straits of Mackinac and through Michigan’s lower peninsula before eventually crossing into Sarnia, Canada. It carries more than 500,000 barrels of crude oil and natural gas each day.
The Bad River Band first filed its lawsuit against Enbridge in 2019. Tribal leaders said concerns have mounted about the environmental impact of the pipeline in recent years, so the band refused to renew the oil company’s easement on parcels of tribal land. The easements expired in 2013, but the pipeline has yet to be moved and still operates.
While Enbridge waits on a final ruling, the pipeline remains active because Canada has invoked a 1977 treaty that the country claims guarantee the flow of oil and natural gas across the border.
The treaty has only been invoked twice: First when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer pulled the company’s easements to Michigan land, citing multiple safety violations and spills, and now last month, when Canada invoked the treaty ahead of Conley’s ruling.
Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly told The Canadian Press last month that her team is seeking talks with American officials because of “the importance of Line 5 to North America’s energy security.”
“The economic and energy disruption and damage to Canada and the U.S. from a Line 5 shutdown would be widespread and significant,” Joly said in a statement. “This would impact energy prices, such as propane for heating homes and the price of gas at the pump.”
Studies, including one conducted by one of Enbridge’s own experts, show that’s not true.
The study conducted by Neil Earnest on behalf of Enbridge — published in documents from the Bad River Band lawsuit — found that prices on gasoline, jet fuel and diesel would rise an estimated 0.5 cents per gallon due to a Line 5 shutdown. The impact in Ontario, however, would be much higher — 5 cents per gallon.