Enbridge may face tough legal battle to keep 60-year-old pipeline running

Wed Jan 11, 2017 11:30am EST
 
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By Nia Williams

CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Enbridge Inc may be set for a bruising legal battle in Wisconsin after a Native American tribe voted against renewing land use agreements on a major crude oil pipeline, potentially shutting down a conduit that has been in operation since the 1950s, legal experts said.

The vote last week has ratcheted up tension on Enbridge, which already faces questions about the safety of the line elsewhere in the U.S. Midwest.

The decision also opened a new avenue of opposition to North American energy infrastructure, as it was a notable use of tribal authority to move against an existing pipeline. Activists have mostly concentrated on halting new pipeline construction across the United States and Canada, most notably the Standing Rock Sioux's fight against the Dakota Access line in North Dakota.

The Bad River Band decided that Enbridge should no longer be allowed to operate the Line 5 pipeline across its reservation, and is calling for the 64-year-old conduit to be removed because of concerns about potential oil spills.

Line 5 is a vital part of Enbridge's Mainline system, which transports the bulk of Canadian crude exports to the United States. The line originates in Superior, Wisconsin, and ends in Sarnia, Ontario.

The 540,000 barrel-per-day pipeline is still flowing. Spokesman Michael Barnes said Calgary-based Enbridge is reaching out to the band to restart negotiations while also evaluating its long-term strategy.

But legal experts said that if negotiations fail, Enbridge is unlikely to be able to have state or federal authorities force the band to allow Line 5 to operate, a process known as condemnation, if it is on tribal lands.

"There's not much you can do because tribes are sovereign; you cannot exercise the power to condemn," said James Freeman, a partner with law firm Zabel Freeman in Houston.   Continued...

 
The Enbridge Tower is pictured on Jasper Avenue in Edmonton August 4, 2012. REUTERS/Dan Riedlhuber/File Photo