Workers in Sarnia, Ont., are raising concerns about the job losses that could occur if a U.S. governor’s plan to shut down an Enbridge pipeline succeeds.
The Line 5 pipeline runs from Wisconsin to Sarnia, crossing parts of Michigan. It’s part of Enbridge’s Lakehead network that carries oil and liquids used in propane from western Canada to refineries in the U.S. and Ontario.
In November, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered a shutdown of Line 5 by May, saying Enbridge had repeatedly violated an easement that allowed part of Line 5 to be placed along the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac that connect Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.
Pipeline opponents are now urging U.S. President Joe Biden to support Whitmer’s order. Enbridge, which insists the line is safe, is fighting the order in court and says it has no plans to shut down.
Workers in Sarnia say they’re increasingly worried about their jobs as the May shutdown deadline looms.
James Williamson, a steamfitter working for Nova Chemicals in Sarnia, said the pipeline’s potential closure could impact workplaces like his, which processes materials carried by Line 5.
“Each plant in this area feeds off of each other … All of them are tied in together and if we lose that feedstock, it would essentially shut down a lot of the work in town,” said Williamson.
Three of his brothers also work in the petrochemical industry and would be out of jobs if Line 5 is shut down, he said.
“It would require us to travel and move our families out of this area to maintain a good income and be able to provide for our kids,” he said.
“It makes you nervous knowing that the life that you provided for your family and those who are doing the same thing, it may have a direct negative impact on them.”
Scott Archer, a spokesman for the Sarnia-Lambton County branch of a union representing workers in the plumbing and pipefitting industry, said a shutdown of Line 5 would force workers to compete for fewer jobs that may only be available in other areas.
“People are either going to have to basically live out of a suitcase working in other jurisdictions or they’re going to have to make a career change, which nobody really wants to do mid-life,” he said.
The union has been urging the federal government to appeal to Biden to intervene against Whitmer’s plan.
“Everyone’s frustrated with it because it really doesn’t make any sense,” Archer said of how union members feel.
Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley said at least 3,000 jobs at three refineries in his city, as well as numerous positions in related industries, would be affected if the pipeline shut down.
“If you’re talking about that number of jobs, it is like dropping a neutron bomb on the community,” he said. “It would be truly devastating.”
Bradley has written to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Minister of Natural Resources Seamus O’Regan urging them to appeal to Biden.
In a letter last week, O’Regan said he shared Bradley’s concerns.
O’Regan said Line 5’s shutdown would have a “profound” impact on jobs, raise the cost of supplies and take a financial toll on many Canadian and U.S. refineries.
“We continue to advocate for Line 5 to remain in operation while recognizing and respecting the sensitivity of the issue to the state of Michigan, and the importance of furthering a constructive dialogue with the new United States administration,” the minister wrote.
The federal Conservatives said last week that more needs to be done to ensure Line 5 stays open to protect the jobs associated with it.
– With files from The Associated Press.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Denise Paglinawan, The Canadian Press