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(Reuters) — Canadian pipeline company Enbridge Inc. is squaring off for a legal battle with Michigan and courting protests from environmental groups, betting it can ignore the state's Wednesday deadline to shut its oil pipeline that runs under the Straits of Mackinac.
“We will not stop operating the pipeline unless we are ordered by a court or our regulator, which we view as highly unlikely,” an Enbridge spokeswoman said.
Line 5 is a link in Enbridge’s network to bring oil exports from western Canada to refineries and airports in Ontario, Quebec, Michigan, Ohio and Indiana. In November, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gave Enbridge six months to shut down the 540,000 barrel-per-day pipeline that runs four miles along the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac
The state’s order still needs a confirmatory order from a judge to enforce it, and Enbridge and Michigan are disputing whether the issue should be heard in state or federal court.
The sides are in court-ordered mediation, with the next session scheduled for May 18.
Joe Comartin, Canada's consul general in Detroit who is arguing on behalf of the country's federal government, said litigation could drag on until at least 2024.
“I don't see a court jumping the gun and ordering it closed ... until the litigation and constitutional issues are resolved,” he said in an interview.
The Canadian government has been lobbying officials in Washington to keep the pipeline open in what is likely to be an election year in Canada, but the White House has so far not weighed in on the matter.
The Ontario government estimates that the city of Sarnia, just across the border from Michigan, could lose 5,000 refinery and chemical plant jobs. Industry lobbyists say thousands of jobs are also at risk in the United States.
Environmentalists and indigenous groups opposed to Line 5 say the potential job losses are exaggerated and are planning “Evict Enbridge” rallies in Mackinaw City, Michigan, on Wednesday and Thursday.
“Past May 12, Enbridge will be operating illegally as per state laws. We are very hopeful to hear from the governor that there will be accountability measures for operating that pipeline,” said Beth Wallace of the National Wildlife Federation.
Michigan is reviewing what remedies would be available to the state if Enbridge keeps operating past the deadline, said a spokeswoman for the Michigan Attorney General.
Canadian crude market forward prices suggest most traders do not expect Line 5 to shut in coming months, but the lack of certainty is concerning, said one Calgary-based market source.
“We are looking at all our options and we will leave no stone unturned in defending Canada’s energy security,” Natural Resources Minister Seamus O'Regan told an emergency parliamentary debate on the pipeline last Thursday.
“We will be ready to intervene strategically at precisely the right moment,” he continued, without giving details.