This past weekend, protesters from around the state gathered at the Mackinac Bridge to call for the shutdown of Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline. The pipeline (actually TWO pipelines) are 62 years old and were built in a time when regulations were far more lax than they are now. Had the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act been in place when the pair of pipelines were built, a permitting process would have been in place to ensure the safety of some of the most valuable fresh water on the planet. Instead, Line 5 has been able to operate for over six decades without the need to get approval.
Each day, Enbridge pumps over a half million barrels of petroleum products through Line 5 and under the Straits of Mackinac. Here’s where the pipeline runs:
It doesn’t take much imagination to understand the utter catastrophe that would result if this pipeline, like the Enbridge pipeline that dumped over a million gallons of tar sands crude into the Kalamazoo River in 2010, were to rupture. Imagine the scenario of this happening in February when the Straits of Mackinac are covered in eight feet of solid ice and when the only ship traffic is through a narrow channel created by a Great Lakes icebreaker. It’s no wonder that University of Michigan researchers called the Straits “the worst possible place for an oil spill in the Great Lakes.”
In the days leading up to the Labor Day weekend protest, Gov. Snyder created the 15-member Michigan Pipeline Safety Advisory Board “to ensure safety, upkeep and transparency of issues related to the state’s network of pipelines.” Not surprisingly, Enbridge themselves are on the oversight group, a classic example of the fox watching the henhouse.
At the same time, Enbridge announced that they had reached an agreement with the State of Michigan promising they would never pump heavy crude oil through Line 5. Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Director Keith Creagh, issued a statement saying, “During Task Force deliberations it became apparent that the transport of heavy crude under the Straits of Mackinac could pose some complex challenges to emergency responders protecting our Great Lakes resources.”
Here’s the thing about that: Enbridge has never actually pumped heavy crude through Line 5. In other words, their response to those who are concerned about the safety of Line 5 is to promise not to do something they have never done in the first place. In the meantime, over a 540,000 barrels of petroleum continue to flow through the pipeline each day.
As a lifelong Michigander who has Great Lakes water running through his bloodstream, I am as outraged and saddened by this situation as anyone. But it’s not until you actually go to the Straits of Mackinac and put your feet or your kayak or your canoe or your raft in Straits and see the crystal clear, fresh water and the surrounding environment that the reality of what an oil spill would do really hits you.
For their part, Enbridge says that Line 5 is one of the “most inspected pipelines” in America. However, there is literally no plan in place to deal with a pipeline rupture that will adequately protect the Great Lakes so essentially what they are telling us is that they will know they exact moment when they begin to destroy this precious and valuable ecosystem and fresh water supply. Nearly a million gallons of oil would erupt into Lake Michigan per hour until they could get it under control.
Given that it took them 17 hours after the Kalamazoo pipeline ruptured before they notified anyone, we have no way of knowing when they would actually tell the world that they had created the most catastrophic man-made disaster in Michigan history.
Although Enbridge conducts regular inspections of the pipeline, what the data they gather shows appears to be a mystery. It’s either presented in a fashion that only engineers can understand it or they don’t release it all. A report by Michigan Radio reveals that Enbridge has been secretive and obstructive about the status of Line 5 for years.
The protest on Saturday was sponsored by OilAndWaterDontMix.org, a coalition of some amazing environmental groups. Their representatives, along with local activists and a large number of Native Americans from the Great Lakes area, spoke passionately about the fight to shut down this pipeline, calling for it to happen before the end of the year when winter ice is on the Great Lakes.
These two young ladies had a message for Enbridge and the citizens of Michigan: “This is our water, this is our future.”
One more thing: that promise that Enbridge made not pump heavy crude oil through Line 5? They can change their minds and all they have to do is give the State 180 days notice.
It’s time to shut down Line 5 and find an alternative way to transport petroleum from the north to the south. Doing it under the Great Lakes is such an astonishingly bad idea that only a profit-driven Big Oil company could conceive of it. The fact that it was built 62 years ago before environmental regulations were in place takes it from being a bad idea to one that should be stopped NOW.
As one speaker at the protest said, “There are only two outcomes to this situation. One is that we shut this pipeline down NOW before a catastrophe occurs. The other is that a catastrophe WILL occur because it’s only a matter of time.”
For more details on the situation with Line 5, check out this good summary by Food and Water Watch HERE.