Globe Editorial: US policy threatens to kill Canadian pipeline. Again

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In 1977, when the United States wanted to ship natural gas from Alaska to the Lower 48, an agreement was struck with Canada. It included a treaty that promised the free flow of oil by pipeline from the United States to the United States – through Canada.

“It is clearly evident that by working together on this massive undertaking, the two countries can reap benefits far beyond those either country could obtain by going alone,” said Allan MacEachen, then vice-president. Prime Minister.

This pipeline was never built. The treaty has been forgotten. But that might be on the verge of being useful, as 44 years later, Canada-U.S. Pipeline policy has become much less cooperative.

Americans burn the most oil of any country. They are lagging behind on climate policy. Yet it has become politically useful – and easy – for Democrats to restore their ecological reputation by performatively opposing a few high-profile Canadian pipelines, even as they allow the US oil industry and its network to operate. pipelines to develop.

First there was President Barack Obama, who vetoed the Keystone XL pipeline in 2015. President Joe Biden reaffirmed this on his first day in office. For Canada, these American gestures are a big costly problem even if, as a climate policy, they are empty gestures. This summer, the United States used as much oil as ever.

Enbridge’s Line 5, which helps move oil from Alberta and Saskatchewan to Ontario and Quebec – via Michigan – is the latest Canadian line in political sights. It includes a seven kilometer section on the lake bed at the Straits of Mackinac. Line 5 became a political issue after an oil spill in 2010 from another Enbridge pipeline in southern Michigan. Closing Line 5 was part of Gretchen Whitmer’s promises when she became governor in 2018. It was an obvious target, as most of what she transports is simply moved from Canada to Canada.

The Canada-US relationship is not what it used to be. The question now is: what will it be?

Why is Joe Biden, who hung up on Keystone XL, desperately calling the OPEC oil hotline?

The battle between Michigan and Enbridge ended in court, and after mediation failed last month, Ottawa invoked the through pipeline treaty – the one that was developed to ship natural gas from the ‘Alaska south. The wording of the treaty calls for an “uninterrupted transmission” of oil or gas from one country and to that same country via the other.

The first step is diplomatic negotiation. Binding arbitration could follow. A victory is not guaranteed.

Canada’s national interest is once again harassed in the web of American politics. Blocking a planned pipeline like Keystone XL was bad enough. Much more hostile is threatening to close a decades-old link that provides a key oil supply to Ontario and Quebec.

The Biden administration would rather ignore Ms. Whitmer’s bet; A close ally of the president, she is seeking re-election next year. For her, opposing line 5 produces political fallout, the costs of which are borne by Canada.

It is true that the world is entering an energy transition to reduce carbon emissions. But it’s called a transition for a reason: Neither Canada nor the United States is in a position to cold turkey on fossil fuels. This month, the price of a barrel of oil climbed to US $ 80 as the global economic recovery meets limited supply. Natural gas prices have risen even faster. Both fuel inflation.

The fuel for Line 5 and many other pipelines across North America will one day be much less. But that day is in the future. Today, Line 5 counts for the lives of millions of people and the economy of Canada.

If the pipeline were blocked, oil would continue to flow out of western Canada, but through more roundabout routes, such as rail. Canada could also end up importing more oil from abroad – possibly from the United States.

In Michigan, Ms. Whitmer made her political calculation. She’s not trying to shut down her state’s only oil refinery in Detroit. She’s not against building gas-guzzling F-150s at the Ford Truck Plant in Dearborn, nor is she aiming to raise the price the Michiganders pay for gasoline. She is simply making as much noise as possible about a pipeline whose closure would primarily affect people who are not her constituents.

All of this leaves Canada in a difficult position – having to rely on a dusty, never-used old treaty to get Washington’s attention.

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