Native Americans protest Enbridge’s Line 5 in shadow of the Mackinac Bridge
Under the Straits of Mackinac, just west of our iconic Mackinac Bridge, there is a set of two pipelines known as Line 5 which are owned by the Enbridge oil company. They were built in 1953, making them 64 years old this year, and before the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act. If that law had been in place in 1953, it would have required it to go through a permitting process that would have ensured that they were built in such a way as to protect the Great Lakes, one of the most valuable reserves of fresh water in the world. In fact, had the law been in place then, the pipelines may not have been allowed at all.
Here’s where the pipelines run:
For years, activists from around the state have been calling for the pipeline to be shut down. As David Holtz, the Chair of the Michigan Sierra Club points out, recent studies done on the safety and viability of Line 5 have been completely compromised due to conflicts of interest by groups involved in their creation:
A $756,000 Line 5 study lies abandoned by state officials who say they were counting on it to make a strong case against Enbridge’s claims its 64-year-old pipelines present little risk to the Great Lakes. The risk assessment analysis—child of a state process and midwifed with oil industry money and influence—is now orphaned. Its twin sister—a state alternatives study riddled with errors, omissions and bias—is on life support. Recall that we were told a year ago these studies would give the state what it needed to make a decision about Line 5’s future. It now appears that any decision about Line 5 may be months if not years away. Meanwhile, concerns grow about the pipeline’s condition.
Moreover, since problems with both studies are linked to ties with Enbridge one wonders if it wasn’t Enbridge’s plan all along to sabotage them. Delay is Enbridge’s friend. The Canadian pipeline transport giant’s $1.5 billion in earnings the first six months of this year include many millions from Line 5 oil being carried across the Straits through Michigan to refineries in Sarnia, Ontario. It’s no accident that Enbridge’s strongest Line 5 support outside the oil industry comes from Canadian energy and government officials.
Although this should be a non-partisan debate, Republicans have been largely silent and even went so far as to introduce legislation last year that would shield oil companies from Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. Thankfully, that legislation never became law.
When Dan Wyant left his job as the head of Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality in shame after his “handling” of the Flint Water Crisis, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder replaced him with an executive from the oil industry, Heidi Grether. This is how seriously Republicans take this issue.
Now that our Attorney General, Bill Schuette, is running for governor, he has suddenly taken an interest in this situation. It’s an easy position to take. Imagine if the line ruptured in the heart of winter when the Straits are buried under several feet of solid ice with the powerful currents of the Straits of Mackinac spreading it far and wide. Denny Green from Clean Water Action spells it out:
Between 2005 and 2013, Enbridge spilled or released nearly 92,000 barrels of hydrocarbon products like crude oil and natural gas around the country. Between 1996 and 2013, the number of “reportable spills” — that’s any spill large enough for Enbridge to formally notify a regulatory agency — leaks and releases went from 54 to 117 (more than double). In the summer of 2014, Enbridge’s Line 5 was found in violation of the spacing requirements of its 1953 easement, due to missing support structures.
In fact, an Enbridge pipeline failure is responsible for one of the worst and most expensive oil spills in U.S., in July of 2010 — Line 6b, another outdated structure from the 1960s (but still newer than Line 5) ruptured near a tributary of Michigan’s Kalamazoo River, spilling about 1 million gallons of tar sands crude. The spill devastated sensitive eco-systems and residents of the nearby communities, and cost about $1 billion in cleanup. (Now remember, Line 5 carries 23 million gallons a day—nearly one million gallons an hour!)
The group Flow for the Love of Water has more:
University of Michigan studies call the Mackinac Straits the “worst possible place” for a Great Lakes oil spill, which could pollute up to 720 miles of shoreline along Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.
Enbridge’s data reveal that sections of Line 5 in the Mackinac Straits are cracked and dented, and a segment on land near the Straits has lost 26% of its original wall thickness.
Under the best conditions, only 30% of an oil spill would be recovered.
1.5 million jobs are directly tied in some way to the Great Lakes, generating more than $62 billion in wages.
However, although Schuette has mouthed the words about shutting down Line 5, he has done nothing to make that happen even though he is our state’s top law enforcement official.
It is time for Schuette’s inaction to come to an end. If he’s going to run on this issue, he needs to do more than talk about it.
There are two things you can do to help make this happen.
First, contact AG Schuette’s office with a simple message: SHUT DOWN LINE 5 NOW!
His phone number is 517-373-1110.
Second, join activists on Labor Day when they participate in the annual Mackinac Bridge Walk. Here are details from the group Oil and Water Don’t Mix:
Join Oil & Water Don’t Mix at this year’s annual Labor Day Bridge Walk. You’ll be walking the Mackinac Bridge just four miles east of the risky submerged Enbridge Line 5 oil pipelines.
There are two opportunities to get involved to show your support for shutting down Line 5.
#1 – Walk the Bridge
Join thousands as we walk as a group across the bridge wearing blue shirts. Any blue shirt will do. We encourage you to purchase a blue Oil & Water Don’t Mix shirt here (all designs available in blue – allow time for shipping). We are planning on meeting just east of the toll booths on the St. Ignace (north) side of the bridge and departing for our walk at 9:00 am. Please don’t be late! RSVP below to let us know you’re coming.
If you’ve walked the bridge before on Labor Day, this year the bridge authority is making a change you need to know about (more info here). The bridge will be closed to all vehicle traffic (except buses transporting walkers) from 6:30 am until Noon. Get more information about the bridge walk here. BIG NOTE: Because of this change, no walkers will be allowed to start walking after 10:00 am.
#2 – Pass Out “I Walked the Bridge” Stickers
I walked the bridge stickerWe are looking for several people to join us at the south end of the bridge to hand out stickers to all walkers. Please sign up for a shift below. Walkers will start at 7:00 am and it takes about 90 minutes to make the crossing. Please sign up for a shift below. It would be great if you could wear your blue Oil & Water Don’t Mix shirt. We’ll have a few available for purchase when you arrive, but we encourage you to purchase your shirt online early as there are no guarantees we’ll have your size.
Sign up for a shift HERE! We’ll meet just south of the finish line and will respectfully pass out stickers without blocking foot traffic.
Invite others! Let’s show everyone involved that we won’t put up with these oil pipelines in the Great Lakes!
As one speaker put it at an event I attended in 2015, “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.”
Do your part. Call Schuette’s office. Write letters to the editor. Education your friends and family and coworkers. Spread the word and make sure EVERYONE is as outraged about this situation as you are. It’s incredibly important.