By Jim Bloch
If Enbridge’s controversial pipeline running along the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac, known as Line 5, sounds faraway, think again.
The same pipeline crosses the St. Clair River at Marysville, a 2,800 foot section of which was rebuilt in 2020 30-feet below the riverbed.
On Nov. 13 last year, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer informed Enbridge, a multinational energy transportation corporation based in Calgary, that she was revoking the easement that allowed the firm to operate the pipeline in the Straits, arguing that the line threatened the state’s ability to protect the Great Lakes as embodied in the public trust doctrine.
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Line 5 starts in Superior, Wisconsin and runs 645 miles to Froomfield, Ontario. On its way, it crosses Michigan’s Upper Peninsula as a 30-inch pipeline before dividing into two 20-inch pipes that run across the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac, recombining into a 30-inch pipe that wends its way through the Lower Peninsula to Marysville.
The line carries 23 million gallons of oil and petroleum products daily.
“Transporting millions of gallons of petroleum products each day through two 67-year old pipelines that lie exposed along the entire span of a busy shipping channel presents an extraordinary and unacceptable risk,” said the governor in her press release. “The dual pipelines are vulnerable to anchor strikes, similar dangerous impacts, and the inherent risks of pipeline operations.”
Whitmer gave Enbridge 180 days to shut the line down.
The shutdown deadline is tomorrow, May 12.
Enbridge is highly unlikely to turn off the rush of petroleum products in the line tomorrow.
On May 11, the company’s “Line 5 Newsroom” said that a shutdown in the line could hurt the wallets of Michiganders, echoing assertions made in full-page newspaper ads that began running across the state May 8.
A shutdown “will create an energy shortage that will lead to a spike in energy and fuel prices at a vulnerable time for the people of Michigan and the regional economy by disrupting the supply of crude oil to 10 regional refineries,” the ad said. “For Michiganders who rely on propane, a study by the Michigan Propane Gas Association indicates shutting down Line 5 during extreme winter weather could increase a family’s annual energy bill by as much as $1,200.”
The company is angling to build a new tunnel under the Straits in which to encase the twin lines, a process that will take at least five years and comes with its own set of environmental challenges. Opponents argue that the timeframe packed with danger, given the company’s poor record, which includes the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history near Kalamazoo in 2010.
A major spill in Straits would be environmentally and economically devastating to Michigan and the Great Lakes.
“As recent events have confirmed, this threat is very real,” said Whitmer in the press release. “For example, in April 2018, the pipelines were struck and dented in three different locations by an anchor inadvertently dropped and dragged by a commercial vessel. Then, in June 2020, Enbridge disclosed that the pipelines had again been struck sometime in 2019 by anchors or cables deployed by nearby vessels, damaging pipeline coatings and severely damaging a pipeline support. Four of the five vessels potentially responsible for the impacts were operated by Enbridge’s own contractors.”
A 2016 University of Michigan study suggested that a break in the line that released 10,000 barrels of oil into the Straits could impact over 600 miles of shoreline and a number of nearby islands, including Mackinac, Bois Blanc and Beaver. The shifting currents in the Straits mean that both Lake Michigan and Lake Huron would likely be impacted.
Oil and Water Don’t Mix, which supports the shutdown, has reported 33 spills along the full run of Line 5, totaling 1.1 million gallons, since 1968.
A 2018 study funded by FLOW, another opponent of Line 5, determined that a major pipeline spill in Straits could result in the loss of $45 billion in gross national product in 15 days.
It is not clear what Whitmer’s response will be if Enbridge continues operations as usual. A spokesperson for the governor told The Bridge that Whitmer “stands behind her decision” to nullify the easement.
Opponents plan Evict Enbridge events
According to Michigan Climate Action Network, opponents of Line 5 will hold rallies in Mackinaw City, Lansing and Detroit, May 12-13.
On May 12, Great Lakes Water Protectors will hold a day-long event in Mackinaw City.
Also on May 12, a Shutdown Line 5 Solidarity Rally will be held 6-7:30 p.m. in Kemeny Park, 2260 S. Fort Street, Detroit.
On May 13, an Evict Enbridge event will be held on the Capitol lawn, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Also May 13, Oil and Water Don’t Mix and the Indigenous-led MackinawOde will hand-deliver eviction notices to Enbridge in Mackinaw City, 9 a..m-1 p.m. The event will include traditional pipe ceremonies and indigenous water traditions and songs. Speakers and music follow, 2-9 p.m., including environmentalist and American Indian activist Winona LaDuke.
Jim Bloch is a freelance writer based in St. Clair, Michigan. Contact him at email@example.com.