Wisconsin Judge Rules Enbridge Pipeline Can Continue to Operate on Tribal Land

(Reuters) — A Wisconsin judge has ruled Enbridge Inc. Line 5 oil pipeline is trespassing on land belonging to the Bad River Band, but will be allowed to continue operating because a shutdown would have significant public and foreign policy implications.

The ruling from District Judge William Conley, issued late on Wednesday, also said the band was entitled to financial compensation from Enbridge, without specifying how much.

Line 5 ships 540,000 barrels-per-day of crude and refined products from Superior, Wisconsin, to Sarnia, Ontario and is a key link in Enbridge's Mainline network importing Canadian crude to U.S refineries.

A 12-mile section of the pipeline crosses Bad River tribal land but easements allowing Enbridge to use the land expired in 2013. In 2019 the band filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction that would force Enbridge to cease operations and remove the pipeline, citing concerns it could rupture and leak.

While the judge ruled in favor of the band's trespass claims, he held back from granting an injunction.

"There is little question that an immediate shutdown of the pipeline would have significant public policy implications on the trade relationship between the United States and Canada," Conley wrote.

Line 5 is covered by a pipeline transit treaty between Canada and the United States, meant to ensure the uninterrupted flow of oil and gas, which Ottawa invoked last week to support Enbridge. Canada also invoked the treaty last year in another Line 5 lawsuit, in which the state of Michigan is trying to shut down the pipeline.

Conley ordered Enbridge to continue work to relocate the pipeline around the Bad River Band's land.

Calgary-based Enbridge said in a statement that work was progressing, and the judge's decision affirmed the importance of Line 5.

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