Author: FLOW Editor

Remember When Line 5 Shut Down a Year Ago, and None of Enbridge’s Doomsaying Came True?

Dire Straits: A damaged portion of Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac shown in this June 2020 photo provided to the State of Michigan by Enbridge.

By Nora Baty

Nora Baty is a Milliken Law and Policy Intern at FLOW and a 3rd-year law student at the University of Michigan.

Do you remember the last time Line 5 shut down? This week marks the one-year anniversary of Line 5’s closure following significant damage to an anchor support likely caused by an Enbridge-contracted vessel.

Research conducted by former Dow Chemical engineer Gary Street found that in August 2020, after more than 50 days with at least one leg of Line 5 closed due to damage from a cable strike, gasoline prices and supply were unaffected in Michigan and Canada. While gasoline consumption during the pandemic was down from previous years in August 2020, the finding is consistent with a 2018 independent analysis. That study found that shutting down Line 5 was unlikely to significantly impact consumer prices at the pump, with a forecasted increase of less than one cent per gallon, and that Michigan’s energy needs could be met without Line 5. (See also, “Fact Check: When Line 5 Shuts Down, Detroit Jets Will Still Fly and Union Refinery Jobs Will Still Exist”).

Enbridge continues to operate Line 5 in direct violation of Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s lawful shutdown order, with the Canadian pipeline company claiming that “shutting down Line 5 even temporarily, would have immediate and severe consequences on the economies of Michigan, Ohio, Ontario, and elsewhere.” 

Available capacity and flexibility to meet energy demand in the Great Lakes region already exists in the North American energy pipeline system operated by Enbridge and its competitors without threatening our public waters and the economy, according to FLOW’s experts. As the energy landscape shifts with the slowdown of oil and gas production, the adoption of electric vehicles, and accelerating commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions, Enbridge continues to operate the 68-year-old Line 5 pipelines in defiance of the law. Operating in the open waters of the Straits of Mackinac since 1953, Line 5 endangers 20% of the planet’s and 84% of North America’s surface fresh water, risks devastation of coastal communities, and threatens to cause billions of dollars of damages to the environment and local and regional economies, while Enbridge continues refusing to provide financial assurances for the consequences of a spill. 

Enbridge Line 6B’s 2010 spill into the Kalamazoo River near Marshall, Michigan

Line 5 is a ticking time bomb in the Straits that threatens more jobs than it sustains. Line 5 has failed at least 33 times since 1968, spilling more than 1.1 million gallons of oil in Michigan and Wisconsin. Some 3 miles of the pipeline are elevated off the public bottomlands with supports meant to shore up the decaying infrastructure in fierce currents that scour the lakebed. The change in structural design has exposed the pipeline to strikes by anchors and cables, and poses an extreme navigational hazard in a busy shipping channel. (See also, “Key Facts: Line 5 and the Proposed Oil Tunnel“). 

Pervasive organizational failures at Enbridge” caused one of the nation’s largest inland oil spills in July 2010 when its Line 6B pipeline burst near Marshall, Michigan, and for 17 hours dumped 1.2 million gallons of heavy tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River watershed. It took four years and over $1.2 billion to clean it up to the extent possible. 

Enbridge Line 6B was 41 years old when it failed; Enbridge Line 5 is 68 years old and counting.

Shoring Up the Public Trust, Not Seawalls, during High Water on the Great Lakes

Photo courtesy of Chikaming Township, Michigan.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on June 19, 2021, in the Northern Express.


LEARN MORE ON JUNE 29

FLOW will host a free webinar — Managing High Water and High Tension along the Great Lakes Shoreline — at 1 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday, June 29. Want to hear frontline, scientific, regulatory, and legal insights into efforts at the state and local level to manage high water impacts and public trust rights? Click here to register


“And it never failed that during the dry years, the people forgot about the rich years, and when the wet years returned, they lost all memory of the dry years. It was always that way.”

—John Steinbeck, “East of Eden”

By Jim Olson

Flying west in early June, after passing over the still-white peaks and deep gorges of the Rockies, the landscape turned reddish-brown, like recent photos of Mars, with residue of past riverbeds winding and dissipating into nothing. Lake Mead, the lifeblood for the Southwest, is now on the critical care list as the West enters the driest period in 1,200 years. What a contrast with the lush landscape and overflowing waters I’d just left in Michigan.

When I reached Southern California and sat down to write this piece on how we might frame a better way to manage the conflicting interests over today’s high water levels in the Great Lakes, I recalled Steinbeck’s stark observation about the lapse in the nature of Homo sapiens’ memory.

Jim Olson is FLOW's Founder and Legal Advisor

Jim Olson, FLOW’s Founder & Senior Legal Advisor

Just eight years ago, in 2013, the Great Lakes hit historically low levels, beaches grew wide, and a chorus of residents, businesses, and communities turned to the state and federal governments for permission to disturb the public bottomlands to recreate beach conditions and extend docks and other infrastructure.

By 2019, the Great Lakes had rebounded to unprecedented high levels, seeming to wash away memories of the recent dry years and stir up a frenzy for state permits to armor the public shoreline with steel pilings and rock seawalls to protect public and private property.

By 2019, the Great Lakes rebounded to record high levels, seeming to wash away memories of the recent dry years and stir up a frenzy for state permits to armor the public shoreline.

Today, surface waters in Lake Michigan-Huron have receded somewhat but remain much higher than their long-term average. Concerns remain regarding not only high water levels due to climate change but also the impacts of voracious shoreline-armoring on neighbors, the environment, and wildlife, as well as the public trust rights of people to safely access the public shoreline and water.

As I contemplated the more than six-foot swing in Great Lakes levels over just six years, I realized during my stay in California that our swing is not much more than the daily tidal range along the West Coast. Of course, no one builds homes in the Pacific tidal zone. Imagine if the same dramatic change took place each day along Lake Michigan. Natural forces and fresh memories would define the no-build zones for us, too.

In this sense, perhaps the rapid rise in Great Lakes water levels is a memory aid, helping us recall the high and low years and the folly of fighting them both. The roughly 30-year cycle between highs and lows appears to be gone. Instead, we’ve entered uncharted waters: more frequent and intense storms, more extremes, and an unprecedented severity of impacts to shorelines, riparian property, public beaches, infrastructure, and coastal wetland riverine ecosystems.

We must rethink our expectations and prepare for the even more devastating impacts from climate change to come.

We must rethink our expectations and prepare for the even more devastating impacts from climate change to come.

First, we need to step back and understand our existing legal and policy framework to dispel unfounded assumptions about the rights of private riparian property owners to armor or obstruct the public shores of the Great Lakes. Based on ancient law adopted by the decisions of the U.S. and state supreme courts, the waters and bottomlands up to the natural high-water mark are owned and held in public trust by the government as sovereign for its citizens. The public trust imposes a high and solemn duty on the government to protect these waters, as well as the bottomlands and shorelines, for all citizens to access, and exercise their rights to boat, fish, drink, recreate, and seek sustenance. This trust benefits all members of the public, so it is paramount to private property rights.

Second, governments must take charge to protect the public trust by regulating any activities that impair it. For example, earlier this year, after consulting with scientific and legal experts, Chikaming Township, a scenic southwest Michigan community on Lake Michigan, passed an anti-armoring ordinance that prohibits the placement of long-term structures or materials on the shore but permits properly placed sandbags or tubes that disappear through natural forces when water levels drop. Likewise, the state denied armoring permits there under Michigan’s Great Lakes shoreland protection laws because the landowners failed to establish they had no alternatives to a structure several hundred feet in length.

We need more state and local leadership to protect the public trust, and stronger public policy and laws to support their actions on behalf of the people.

We need more state and local leadership to protect the public trust, and stronger public policy and laws to support their actions on behalf of the people.

Climate change and other forces are colliding such that memories of the wet years and dry years — the highs and lows of the Great Lakes — now coexist. With our collective amnesia cured by crisis, we must shore up the public trust, not seawalls, along the Great Lakes shoreline.

Jim Olson, a nationally prominent environmental and public trust lawyer, is senior legal advisor at FLOW, the nonprofit law and policy center he founded in Traverse City a decade ago to keep the waters of the Great Lakes Basin public and protected. www.forloveofwater.org

Stop the Theft of Bottle and Can Deposits by Private Industry: Oppose Michigan House Bill 4443

This bill is being rushed through the Michigan Legislature, so FLOW is urging you to take action today by asking your State Senator to vote NO on HB 4443 and HB 4444.

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Revenues from one of Michigan’s most successful environmental laws, the 10-cent bottle and can deposit, are at risk of being diverted from public to private uses.

Enacted by an overwhelming majority of voters in 1976, the deposit law enjoyed strong support by then-Governor William Milliken and environmental groups.  It has made a remarkable, positive difference in reducing roadside litter and boosting recycling.

Equally important, deposits that are not claimed by consumers go into a public fund and the majority of that money goes to clean up some of Michigan’s backlog of thousands of contaminated sites impacting the land and water. Currently, 75% of unreturned bottle deposit funds are disbursed to the state Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Environment for cleanup while 25% are given to retailers.

Unfortunately, the same special interests that fought the deposit law in vain in the 1976 election are back. Beverage distributors who opposed the law back then are trying to take more of the unclaimed dimes (also known as “escheats”) away from cleanup to compensate themselves for what they claim are the costs of handling deposit bottles and cans.

As passed by the Michigan House and headed to the Senate, here’s how their scheme would work:

In addition to the 25% of unclaimed deposits that already go to retailers, House Bill 4443 would establish a half-cent income tax credit to be given to beverage container distributors for every returnable container sold in Michigan during the tax year. According to a House Fiscal Analysis, a half-cent income tax credit on four billion bottles annually would cost the state more than $20 million each year. With steadily increasing numbers of bottles sold in the state each year, that number will only increase over time.

For 2020, 2021, and 2022, when the unclaimed deposits total at least $50 million, House Bill 4444 (H-1) would use the unclaimed dimes to pay back the general fund for the income tax credits claimed under HB 4443—money that mostly would have supported cleanup of contamination.

This diversion of money from public to private purposes would squander a unique opportunity to clean up many of Michigan’s contaminated sites. Michigan has more than 24,000 contaminated sites, and we are continually discovering more. Michigan’s bottle deposit system is a substantial source of funding for Michigan’s contaminated site clean up program. To shrink the vast number of contaminated sites that exist in every county across the state, we must increase our capacity (dollars, staff, and preventative policy) to clean up the sites—not raid the fund just as it receives a surprise windfall.

The 2020 state-mandated COVID-19 shutdown of the beverage return system, coupled with various other economic and social COVID-19 impacts, led to large amounts of unreturned bottles, and correspondingly, record high amounts of unclaimed deposits. For 2020, Michigan will receive $107 million in unclaimed bottle bill deposits, $81 million of which would be made available to EGLE for contaminated site clean up under current law.

Proponents of these two House bills claim this money from the state will be reinvested into the (privately owned) bottle-return infrastructure. But the bills include zero provisions to protect the public interest in ensuring that will happen. Proponents actually asked the legislature to just “trust them” during committee testimony.

Michigan residents can’t allow Lansing to jeopardize our public health and safety. We need to be putting more money into cleanup, not gutting one of the funds that pays for it.

This bill is being rushed through the Michigan Legislature, so FLOW is urging you to take action today by asking your State Senator to vote NO on HB 4443 and HB 4444.

Chicago Sewer-and-Stormwater Commission Sounds Alert on Water Markets

Last week, the Board of Commissioners of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) unanimously approved a resolution affirming water as a human right and expressing concern about the trend toward treating water as a commodity. The resolution also affirms that “the water of the Great Lakes … shall remain in the public trust for the people of the Great Lakes region.” This resolution promises to be a milestone in the looming controversy over the creation of water futures markets.

Water is now traded on Wall Street as a futures commodity, attracting investors to hedge market risks and profit from increasingly limited water supplies. One of the dangers of attracting hedge funds into a water market arena is that their profits, not the public good, will be their top (if not only) priority. FLOW’s fundamental tool, the public trust doctrine, will prove to be indispensable in combating the risk of water commodification.

MRWD treats wastewater and provides stormwater management for residents and businesses in its Greater Chicago service area, which includes 5.25 million residents. The author of the board’s resolution is Commissioner Cameron Davis, former Great Lakes program coordinator in the Obama Administration. FLOW asked him to explain the story behind the resolution.

“The right to water and sanitation is every bit as critical as the right to free speech. Or the freedom to worship. Or the freedom of association.”

—Cameron Davis

What prompted you to author and introduce the resolution?

I started to connect the dots in my mind. I do a lot of speeches and am starting to get questions about “monetizing” Lake Michigan water. Then, this past December, private entities established the world’s first water futures market in California. That, and having worked at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency during the Toledo and Flint drinking water crises, suggested to me that the Midwest is going to keep enduring greater water stress. Which is ironic because we’re the most freshwater-rich region in the world. It was time to get out front of these potentially troubling trends.

What do you see as the threat posed by water markets, specifically to the Great Lakes and Chicago region’s freshwater? How serious is it?

The threat is in thinking about water as if it were any ordinary raw material. The reality is, we need water to survive and thrive. Even in our water-rich region, it’s taken for granted, so I thought a strong statement through the resolution would help articulate that water—before, during, and after we use it—deserves special attention.

It’s serious. Not long ago we saw a small Ontario business propose to sell Great Lakes water overseas. They almost succeeded. These threats will continue to come and go because history is cyclical.

The bigger threat is to think that our water isn’t at risk in our region. We are fortunate that the public trust doctrine (a law that holds that Great Lakes water, lakebeds, etc., are held in trust for the people of the Great Lakes states) provides a strong protection. But laws are just words on a page unless we have a strong, vibrant, active citizenry defending them and making them mean something.

What can citizens and communities do to deal with the threat? Do you think more resolutions like yours could have some impact?

Yes. Groups like FLOW have continually helped educate the public about this. My colleagues on the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District’s Board of Commissioners voted unanimously for this resolution. It is one more tool to help educate the public.

We can also recognize that our public water utilities are like our public libraries. They provide immeasurable support for our communities, so they deserve support back.

The concept of the human right to water has not always met with a receptive audience from governments and the private sector. Why do you think that is?

Different reasons for different sectors. Governments are reluctant because they do not want to commit to the establishment of rights that they can’t defend. What we’re saying with this resolution is that the right to water and sanitation is every bit as critical as the right to free speech. Or the freedom to worship. Or the freedom of association.

What implications do the policy directions in your resolution have for both governments and citizens in the future?

Increasingly, our region realizes that protecting our waterways isn’t just important because of what they provide to us, but because it’s the right thing to do. Articulating these values—building words around them—is important because it is an expression of what is important to all of us who are fortunate enough to live, work, and play around the Great Lakes. Other regions may want to buy and sell their water like pork bellies or crude oil. But our region increasingly recognizes that monetizing our water devalues and demeans its significance to us and to future generations.

FLOW to Host Webinar on Managing High Water & High Tension along the Great Lakes Shoreline

The public is invited to join FLOW on Tuesday, June 29, from 1:00 p.m. to 2:15 p.m. Eastern for a webinar—Managing High Water & High Tension along the Great Lakes Shoreline—that will provide frontline, scientific, regulatory, and legal insights into efforts at the state and local level to manage high waters and high tensions along Michigan’s Great Lakes shoreline. 

While Great Lakes waters have receded from their 2019-2020 historic high levels, surface waters remain higher than their long-term average—except for Lake Ontario. Concerns remain regarding high water levels, construction of seawalls and other armoring, and impacts to public and private property, the environment and wildlife, and public trust rights of people to safely access the shoreline and water.

Presenters will include:

  • Jim Olson, Founder and Senior Legal Advisor, FLOW
  • Jerrod Sanders, Assistant Director in the Water Resources Division of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy
  • David Bunte, Supervisor of Chikaming Township in Berrien County in Southwest Lower Michigan
  • Scott Howard, Attorney and Partner, at the law firm of Olson, Bzdok, & Howard in Traverse City

The free webinar will include a question-and-answer session with the panel. 

Register today for the June 29 event: Click here to reserve your spot for the Zoom webinar.

Our Great Lakes – Hostage to the ‘Most Destructive Industrial Project in Human History’

Photo: The Alberta tar sands. Source: Garth Lenz

By Skip Pruss

FLOW Legal Advisor Skip Pruss formerly served as chair of FLOW’s board of directors and as director of the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor, and Economic Growth.

Some 800 miles north of the Montana border, past vast prairie grasslands, clear, untroubled lakes, and pristine boreal forests, lies a place of profound devastation and desolation. Just north of Fort McMurray in Northeast Alberta, Canada, one encounters an abrupt alteration of the landscape—a ravaged wasteland of disturbed lands and metallic lakes of oil-sheened process waste. 

A handful of Canadian tar sands. Source: Suncor.

Welcome to the place where bitumen—a thick, viscous, oil-containing soil having the consistency of coffee grounds—extracted for later upgrading and refining into tar sands oil, is ultimately destined to cross the Great Lakes watershed by pipeline.

This miasma of environmental ruin lies proximate to the confluence of five rivers—the Clearwater, the Christina, the Hangingstone, the Horse, and the Athabasca—the last designated as a Canadian Heritage River for its historical and cultural significance. 

Visible from space, the Alberta tar sands have been labeled “the largest and most destructive industrial project in human history.”  The oil-sheened tailing ponds, unlined and vulnerable to breach in heavy rains, cover 220 square kilometers. The Guardian reports that, “A failure of a single tailings dyke could result in contaminated waterways from Alberta’s Athabasca region through to the Arctic Ocean, that would make even the Exxon Valdez disaster look mild by comparison.” 

Effacing Nature

It is here, in Alberta, where primordial forces endowed the region with vast underground seams of bituminous sands.  The deposits are a mixture of sand, clays, water, and bitumen from which oil can be extracted. Unlike conventional oil wells, where pumps or underground pressure brings oil to the surface, extracting oil from sands and clay requires a series of processing steps and vast amounts of energy.  

The two methods of extracting tar sand oil involve in-situ treatment—a process of heating the bitumen with steam pumped under high pressure underground to extract the oil or strip mining the bitumen when the deposits are closer to the surface. In situ extraction is more energy intensive, yielding more greenhouse gas emissions.  Strip mining uses about 10 times as much water as in situ processing.

Both methods of bitumen extraction are energy intensive, resulting in cumulative greenhouse gas emissions from the extraction, processing, and transportation, 4-5 times greater than emissions attributable to the production of conventional oil. More recent scientific measurement efforts indicate that CO2 emission intensities attributable to tar sands mining are much larger than those previously reported.

Pipelines to the Great Lakes

An elaborate two-way system of pipelines stretching across the continent has been constructed to deliver Alberta’s tar sand oil to refineries for additional processing. After the extraction process, raw bitumen’s high viscosity is resistant to flow. To pump it through pipelines, it must be diluted with a thinning agent—typically natural gas condensates produced from other oil and gas wells that are transported by pipelines to Alberta. The “diluents,” once blended with the bitumen, yield a substance called “dilbit,” which is then upgraded to crude oil and pumped by pipelines for further refining.

Enbridge pumps heavy tar sands oil through Line 6B (recently renamed Line 78) across southern Michigan enroute to Sarnia, Ontario, while Enbridge Line 5 carries light crude oil and light synthetic crude upgraded from dilbit through the Straits of Mackinac and eventually also to Sarnia.

Pipeline failures are routine. In the last two decades alone, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) reports more than 12,500 pipeline incidents resulting in $10 billion dollars in damages and almost 1,500 injuries and fatalities. Accidents involving dilbit are particularly problematic.

It was the catastrophic failure of Enbridge’s pipeline 6B that poured more than 1.2 million gallons of dilbit from the Alberta tar sands into into Talmadge Creek, a tributary of the Kalamazoo River, sickening more than 300 people, permanently driving more than 150 people from their homes and properties, and destroying wildlife and habitat. The disaster scarred the landscape and left oily residue to this day.  Following the spill, the volatile hydrocarbon diluents evaporated, leaving the heavier bitumen to sink in the water column, vastly complicating remedial efforts to remove the tar sands crude from the environment. The investigation following the massive spill by the National Transportation Safety Board found “pervasive organizational failures” within Enbridge, including deficient integrity management procedures and inadequately trained personnel.

“This investigation identified a complete breakdown of safety at Enbridge. Their employees performed like ‘Keystone Kops’ and failed to recognize their pipeline had ruptured and continued to pump crude into the environment.”

— Deborah A.P. Hersman, former NTSB Chairman

Crossing the Great Lakes

By any objective measure, the Great Lakes are a magnificent and unique natural endowment—the most valuable freshwater system on earth, harboring 84 percent of all fresh surface water in North America and 95 percent of all fresh water in the United States. The Great Lakes Region, home to 40 million Canadian and U.S. citizens, constitutes the 3rd largest economy in the world with an annual GNP exceeding $6 trillion.

Line 5, Enbridge’s 68-year old pipelines, cross in the open waters of the Straits of Mackinac, the intersection of Lakes Michigan and Huron. Line 5 has a record of recurrent failure, with 33 separate leaks of over 1.1 million gallons of oil reported by PHMSA since 1968—roughly the same amount as Enbridge’s 2010 spill into the Kalamazoo River watershed. Dispersion modeling by the University of Michigan has shown that a Line 5 failure could spread crude oil and irreparably damage more than 700 miles of U.S. and Canadian coastlines, and thousands of square miles of open water and aquatic resources, wreaking billions of dollars of economic and environmental havoc on property owners and coastal communities. 

The vulnerability of Line 5 to a catastrophic accident could not be more clear. Due to strong, alternating currents that flow both east and west under the Straits, the bottomlands have eroded under multiple stretches of the pipelines.

Enbridge has responded to the pervasive lakebed scouring and erosion with a media blitz that glosses over the endangered conditions and patchwork of incremental, remedial actions that have now elevated approximately 3 miles of the pipelines over the lakebed using over 200 saddle anchors as supports. The new configuration has made the pipelines vulnerable to rupture or failure from anchor strikes and cable drags from ships navigating the narrow, busy shipping lane in the Straits.

A Catastrophic Accident Is Inevitable   

Predictably, the pipelines have been repeatedly struck by wayward anchors from passing vessels. An anchor strike in April 2018 gashed and dented the pipelines. The most recent impacts to the pipeline, discovered last year, severely damaged a pipeline support and was likely attributable to vessels under contract to Enbridge that were conducting pipeline maintenance and geophysical work for an ill-conceived, replacement tunnel proposed to house the pipelines.

The reality is that maritime accidents do happen. Great Lakes freighters have been known to lose power, have steerage failures, or drop anchors unexpectedly. In the narrow Straits of Mackinac, high vessel traffic and the proximity of the Mackinac Bridge may require ship captains to drop anchors unexpectedly to avoid collisions with the bridge or other vessels. In such circumstances, the navigation hazard of the now elevated underwater pipelines is an afterthought.

Line 5—An Unacceptable Risk

Enbridge is rolling the dice every day on Line 5 in the Great Lakes. The fact that Enbridge hasn’t already had a catastrophic rupture of the pipeline is sheer, dumb luck. A Line 5 oil spill could deliver a more-than $6 billion blow in economic impacts and natural resource damages to Michigan’s economy and could trigger a domino effect of damage disrupting Great Lakes commercial shipping and steel production, slashing jobs, and shrinking the nation’s Gross Domestic Product by $45 billion after just 15 days, according to a study commissioned by FLOW and conducted by ecological economist Robert Richardson of Michigan State University.

Seven years ago, then Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette commented that the Enbridge Line 5 underwater pipelines presented an unacceptable risk, stating that you wouldn’t site, and you wouldn’t build and construct, pipelines underneath the straits today.” Yet Enbridge continues to operate the aging  pipelines in direct defiance of an order from Governor Gretchen Whitmer to shut them down.

The bottom line is that the grim and appalling environmental and economic legacy that is the Albertan tar sands now presents the greatest threat to the Great Lakes, the world’s largest and most valuable fresh surface water system. Enbridge is using its considerable economic and political clout to maintain an imminent risk and clear and present danger to coastal communities, the region’s globally unique coastal shorelines, as well as to the health and economic vitality of the entire region.   

Protection of public water for present and future generations is a categorical imperative. Line 5 must be shut down now.

FLOW Welcomes Interns Nora Baty, Matt Harmon, and Henry Ludwig

Photo montage: From left, Nora Baty, Matt Harmon, and Henry Ludwig and his dog Sadie.

FLOW is thrilled to welcome our ambitious and talented crop of summer interns—Milliken law and policy interns Nora Baty and Henry Ludwig, and our Milliken intern for communications, Matt Harmon.

“At FLOW, our interns jump into the fray and immediately work together with our staff to protect our precious waters,” said Executive Director Liz Kirkwood. “We are thrilled to welcome Nora, Matt, and Henry to the team, and excited to benefit from their fresh energy and ideas. As our Milliken interns, they have the skills and attributes to help extend the legacy of environmental protection left by Gov. William and Helen Milliken.”

Nora Baty is a rising third-year law student at the University of Michigan Law School, living and working in Ann Arbor. Nora is an articles editor with the Michigan Journal of Environmental and Administrative Law and the lead student coordinator of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters’ Green Gavels project. Prior to law school, Nora studied Environmental Microbiology at Michigan State University, where she was the Women’s Team Captain of the MSU Fencing Club for two years. During her time at FLOW, Nora is working on projects related to Line 5, particularly the revocation and termination of the easement and the pipeline permitting process.

“Environmental protection has always been a central value of mine,” says Nora. “Originally, I had planned to work in scientific research, hence the environmental microbiology degree. However, as time went on, it became increasingly clear to me that while I loved environmental microbiology, and still do, there was a need for legal advocates with a background in environmental science. I was immediately interested in FLOW’s work safeguarding the Great Lakes. I am grateful for the opportunity to learn from the wonderful advocates at FLOW this summer.”

Matt Harmon is a recent graduate from the University of Michigan with a major in International Studies and a minor in Playwriting. He is a writer, musician, and theater facilitator currently living in Royal Oak, Michigan. He is in the process of completing a year of service with AmeriCorps as a Green School Coordinator with the Youth Energy Squad, a program that engages Detroit students in hands-on, environmental justice-focused service learning projects.

Whether he’s writing music for a new play he wrote, organizing poetry readings and concerts with Rent Party Detroit, or hosting theater workshops with Sofa Stories Detroit, Matt is always looking to bridge the arts and community. With FLOW, Matt is serving as our Communications Intern, writing articles, taking photos, and recording interviews on water-related issues in Southeast Michigan and beyond.

“I was first attracted to FLOW’s dedication to covering all dimensions of water justice throughout the state,” says Matt. “This means interviewing activists, it means examining the role art plays in protecting our environment, and it especially means acknowledging that water ‘belongs to all of us and is owned by no one,’ as FLOW’s mission states. Water is something that is both tangible and elusive. It is a public good all around us and yet someone is always looking to capitalize off of it. FLOW’s commitment to public trust solutions continues to inspire me and is something I am incredibly excited to help further with my writing.”

Henry Ludwig is a rising second-year law student at Columbia Law School in New York City, where he is beginning a focus on environmental law and justice. Henry previously graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in Political Science and International Studies. Henry is currently based in the Corktown neighborhood of Detroit, but plans to return to New York for the fall semester. At FLOW, Henry is working to develop a green infrastructure model statute for state and local governments, surveying groundwater protections in Michigan and across the country, and continuing to build on FLOW’s Public Water, Public Justice model legislation, which addresses both the sale of water for profit and the protection of drinking water and public health with new infrastructure funds.

“Growing up in Indiana, my family took regular vacations to Lake Michigan,” says Henry. “Still, it wasn’t until we took a week-long road trip circumnavigating the lake and visiting the Straits of Mackinac and Lake Superior that I began to understand the true nature and scale of this precious and invaluable resource.”

“My understanding of how water shapes life in this region changed again during my time at the University of Michigan,”Henry continues. “While living in the state, the Flint Water Crisis was ongoing, and the attention to the dangers posed by Line 5 began to skyrocket. I began to realize how this great resource was being abused for private gain and recognize the grievous inequities in access to the resource, which should be shared equally by all.”

“FLOW is an organization with bold and ambitious goals and has a team with the talent and knowledge to achieve them,” says Henry. “I was drawn to this team to help fight to end the inequities and abuses of the water that is so important to all of our lives. FLOW’s novel focus on the public trust is not only intriguing as a law student, but critical in holding our public officials accountable for protecting the resource that belongs to all of us. I am very excited to be on the team.”

Support the Milliken Fund and the Next Generation of Environmental Leaders

In 2020, FLOW launched the Helen and William G. Milliken Fund For Love of Water to extend the former First Family of Michigan’s legacy of equity and environmental protection.

The Milliken Fund is designed to support work that protects the Great Lakes and the public trust rights of those who depend on them, inspires community action advancing environmental stewardship, and sustains internships at FLOW—which is based in Governor Milliken’s hometown of Traverse City—to foster a new generation of environmental leaders.

Established at FLOW by a bequest from the Milliken family, the Milliken Fund is welcoming donations from members of the public interested in investing in and extending Helen and Governor Milliken’s legacy of protecting the environment and especially the Great Lakes, advancing social equity, and promoting civility and bipartisanship.

Fact Check: When Line 5 Shuts Down, Detroit Jets Will Still Fly and Union Refinery Jobs Will Still Exist

Mackinac Straits photo by Beth Price.

Story published May 24, 2021. UPDATED June 2, 2021 

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to reflect Enbridge’s 2020 Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filings

By FLOW staff

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the State of Michigan have taken legal action to shut down Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac to prevent a catastrophic oil spill in the Great Lakes from the dangerous and decaying, 68-year-old pipeline. Meanwhile, Line 5-owner Enbridge and its enablers continue to engage in a Chicken Little “sky is falling” campaign, with the Canadian company claiming that, “shutting down Line 5 would cause shortages of crude oil for refineries in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and eastern Canada, as well as propane shortages in northern Michigan. Enbridge also alleges a Line 5 shutdown would boost shipments of oil by rail or trucks, without providing any evidence.

Enbridge’s misinformation campaign has been building for a few years, for example, conspiring with DTE and others in 2020 to oppose electrification, renewable energy, and climate change mitigation measures. 

In fact, none of Enbridge’s predictions of an energy shortage materialized when both legs of the dual Line 5 pipelines in the Straits were shut down for more than a week in June 2020 and one leg remained closed until about mid-September following damage that the U.S. Coast Guard said likely was caused by an Enbridge-contracted vessel. Research conducted by former Dow Chemical engineer Gary Street found that gasoline prices and supply were unaffected in Michigan and Canada after more than 50 days of a court-ordered Line 5 shutdown in the summer of 2020.

The research results are consistent with these studies forecasting little, if any, change in energy costs after Line 5 shuts down for good:

The shutdown of Line 5 won’t lead to fuel shortfalls because available capacity and flexibility to meet energy demand in the Great Lakes region already exists in the North American energy pipeline system operated by Enbridge and its competitors.

  • Available capacity and flexibility to meet energy demand in the Great Lakes region already exists in the North American energy pipeline system operated by Enbridge and its competitors without threatening our public waters and Pure Michigan economy, according to FLOW’s experts.
  • Shutting down Line 5 is unlikely to significantly impact gasoline prices (an increase of less than once cent per gallon is forecast), according to a 2018 study conducted by London Economics International, LLC, a Boston-based consultancy, and commissioned by the National Wildlife Federation.
  • Shutting down Line 5 would add just five cents to the cost of a gallon of propane, which has hovered around $2 for the past year, according to a 2018 study conducted by London Economics International, LLC, a Boston-based consultancy, and commissioned by the National Wildlife Federation.
  • The Upper Peninsula has viable options to Line 5 for its propane supply and economy, according to FLOW’s research.
  • Oil & Water Don’t Mix has a great animated video showing how the Upper Peninsula does not need Line 5’s propane.

Another claim regarding the impact of a Line 5 shutdown emerged last year from management of the PBF refinery in Toledo, Ohio. Likely at Enbridge’s behest, PBF warned of a refinery shutdown and loss of a thousand jobs if the supply provided by Line 5 is no longer available. The Toledo refinery, PBF suggested, has no other source of petroleum.

This assertion immediately raised the question: What kind of refinery management would leave itself vulnerable by receiving crude from only one source? It also directly contradicts statements PBF says in its own investor filings, as well as reports from market analysts. They emphasize that PBF refinery has several sources of supply and can adjust them depending on market conditions.

“The [PBF] refinery only processes light/medium and sweet crude and gets most of its WTI crude through pipeline from Canada, the mid-Continent, the Bakken region and the U.S. Gulf Coast,” an analyst says. Another credits PBF with using “its complex crude processing capacity to source the lowest cost input.” PBF says in its 2020 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that crude is delivered to its facility through three primary pipelines, Enbridge from the north, Patoka from the west, and Mid-Valley from the south. Crude is also delivered to a nearby terminal by rail and from local sources by a truck-to-truck unloading facility in the refinery property.

Formerly the PBF refinery was supplied in part by the Capline pipeline. However, the energy market is shifting dramatically and the Capline pipeline is being reversed, demonstrating that the system is flexible and can adapt to changing markets without shutting down the refinery.

The fact is that multiple alternative pipelines, rail, and truck sources are and will be available to enable PBF to continue refining petroleum as it is today. No credible evidence points to job loss in Toledo from a Line 5 shutdown. And PBF itself said in a September 2017 news story challenging EPA regulations because of alleged job losses that the Toledo refinery employed 550, not 1,000, workers.

After Line 5 is shut down, the small percentage of its light crude coming to U.S. refineries could be supplied by other sources currently serving the region, including the Patoka and Mid-Valley pipelines, along with crude from Northern Michigan oil wells.

Fanning the fears of employees and communities with false and inflated claims is the latest in a series of tactics deployed by Enbridge and its enablers. Their goal is to pressure Michigan officials into letting the company continue to occupy the public bottomlands of the Straits of Mackinac with its antiquated Line 5 pipeline, and later, a proposed oil pipeline tunnel under the lakebed.

PBF also claims that a feared Toledo refinery shutdown, which research cited above dispels, would seriously impinge on the supply of jet fuel at Detroit Metropolitan Airport, driving up fares or reducing flights, or both. The claim is that 40% of the jet fuel used at the airport comes from refined Line 5 petroleum. But PBF and the Marathon Detroit refineries appear to supply only about 9% of the jet fuel used at the airport each day, and again alternative pipeline sources can more than make that up.

It is worth noting that prior to PBF’s claims made in 2019, the impacts of a Line 5 shutdown on Metro Airport jet fuel had never before been raised as an issue in the Line 5 debate. Now Canadian officials are singing the same tune to bring political pressure on the Whitmer administration, claiming that Line 5 “is the single largest supply for gasoline, ultimately, in southern Ontario; for aviation fuel out of the Detroit airport; for heating fuel in northern Michigan; for the refineries in northern Ohio that fuel much of the Midwest U.S. economy.”

For its part, Enbridge has a track record of misleading the public and governments about its performance, including failure for 3 years to report bare spots in the protective coating on Line 5 in the Straits, violating for several years the safety conditions of its easement agreement to occupy the public waters and bottomlands of the Straits, and running a dubious advertising campaign claiming to protect Michigan’s water. Enbridge’s and its allies’ recent claims are consistent with the company’s apparent philosophy of avoiding transparency and saying anything to keep Line 5 petroleum and profits flowing.

Key Facts, in a Nutshell

Jobs! Let’s talk jobs! 

If the Great Lakes region were a country, it would have a GDP of US$6 trillion making it the third largest economy in the world. In fact, a new report analysing the 83 coastal counties along the Great Lakes has found that the Great Lakes support more than 1.3 million jobs that generate $82 billion in wages annually. Continuing to operate the decaying Line 5 risks many jobs, while shutting down Line 5 will protect hundreds of thousands of jobs in Michigan’s tourism economy. According to a FLOW-commissioned report in May 2018 conducted by a Michigan State University ecological economist, direct spending by tourists supports approximately 221,420 jobs, and the total tourism economy in 2016, including direct, indirect, and induced impacts, supported 337,490 jobs—approximately 6.1% of total employment in Michigan.

Toledo PBF Refinery 

  • Enbridge and fossil-fuel industry allies have a track record of false and unsubstantiated claims and a lack of transparency.
  • The numbers are inflated:
    • Enbridge and refineries and some politicians are misleading the public. They falsely claim that the two Toledo refineries and one Detroit refinery, and by extension the jobs there, are fully and wholly dependent on Line 5. The refineries supposedly affected are: Marathon-Detroit; BP-Husky-Toledo — which carries no Line 5 feedstock because it’s a tar sands refinery that takes feedstock from Line 78 (formerly Line 6B), and PBF-Toledo. PBF states in its 2020 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it “processes a slate of light, sweet crudes from Canada, the Mid-continent, the Bakken region and the U.S. Gulf Coast.”
    • The Patoka pipeline and the Mid-Valley pipeline supply PBF with oil and the refinery receives oil from rail and truck.
    • The refineries rely on multiple pipelines and suppliers, and they say so in writing.
    • Marathon refinery primarily uses dilbit, which Line 5 doesn’t currently carry.

Detroit Metropolitan Airport

  • In a letter to Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine claimed, “our refineries supply the majority of aviation fuels to Detroit Metro Airport” and asserted that the shutdown of Line 5 would lead to airline schedule disruptions.
  • But 2020 jet fuel consumption at Detroit Metro will total 1,658,000 gallons per day, according to a 2010 estimate by the airport. Based on numbers published by PBF, BP Husky and Marathon Refineries, Line 5 appears to supply only about 10% of the jet fuel at Detroit Metro Airport, not 40% as claimed by Ohio Gov. DeWine. Both Marathon and PBF have other crude oil sources, and therefore other pipelines could provide feedstock to satisfy regional jet fuel needs. Alternatively, other nearby refineries in Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio could make up this shortfall.

Bottom line: Shutting down Line 5 will protect hundreds of thousands of jobs. A Line 5 shutdown would not significantly impact jobs at Toledo, Ohio, refineries. There is absolutely no evidence that a shutdown would impair operations at Detroit Metropolitan Airport.

Sources:

During June, Short’s Brewing’s ‘Share the Light’ Campaign Will Raise Funds for FLOW and the Great Lakes

Editor’s note: To direct $1 to FLOW with each purchase in June 2021 of Short’s Local’s Light, visit this site and upload a photo of your receipt from your cell phone or computer. Thank you!

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Joe Short photos courtesy of Title Track Michigan.

FLOW is pleased to announce we will be the recipient throughout the month of June of funds raised through Short’s Brewing’s “Share the Light” campaign. 

Short’s Brewing in the heart of downtown Bellaire, Michigan, is known for giving back to the community as much as for their fiercely creative handmade beers and ciders and seltzers. And the local company with a broad reach knows you can’t make unique, premium beverages without fresh, clean water. That’s why for the entire month of June, consumers can head to your favorite store or restaurant and purchase Local’s Light—Short’s flagship American Lager—take a picture of your receipt, and upload your proof-of-purchase here

For every receipt submitted, Short’s will donate $1 to help keep the “Great Lakes Great,” raising money for FLOW’s mission to keep our water public and protected.

FLOW Development Specialist Calli Crow chatted with Joe Short, founder and creative mastermind at Short’s Brewing, this week about his connection to water and FLOW.

FLOW: What is your favorite aspect of living near so much beautiful, fresh water?  

Joe Short: Living near so much beautiful, fresh water! Access to the water is huge. I love the sandy beaches on the big lakes and the water trail on the inland lakes. Teaching my kids the value and privilege of living where we live is a constant reminder to respect and honor our waters and pass that knowledge to the next generation. I also really love boating and water sports. Skiing when the sun rises or when the sun sets is truly magical.

FLOW: What do you think is the biggest threat to the Great Lakes?

Joe Short: People are the greatest threat and the greatest ally to the Great Lakes. Just as much as we need individuals to advocate for water activism, people, communities, and leaders need to collectively agree that our waters are priceless, and they need to be protected.

FLOW: What’s your perfect spring day on or near the Great Lakes?

Joe Short: Setting up some chairs on the beach with my family and watching my boys connect with nature. I love watching them play and dig holes in the sand and trench water into their sand creations. I love taking in the fresh breeze blowing off the water, feeling the warmth of the sun on my face and the view of miles and miles of open water to enjoy. 

To learn more about how your business can collaborate with FLOW, contact FLOW at info@flowforwater.org. To direct $1 to FLOW with each purchase in June 2021 of Short’s Local’s Light, visit this site and upload a photo of your receipt from your cell phone or computer. Thank you!

Lifelong Sport Fisherman and Former FLOW Board Member Tom Baird Joins the Michigan Natural Resources Commission

FLOW is proud that one of our own, former founding board member, Tom Baird, has been appointed by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to serve on the Natural Resources Commission (NRC) and is officially confirmed as of Monday, May 24. The NRC, which oversees the state Department of Natural Resources, has exclusive authority to regulate the taking of game and sport fish in Michigan, and to establish seasons. Its meetings are a forum for a myriad of natural resources concerns.

A lifelong sport fisherman, Baird says he is humbled by the opportunity to serve on the NRC. “Many conservation giants have served on the Commission,” he adds. “Michigan’s reputation as a leader in natural resources protection was achieved, in part, by the work of the NRC.”

The NRC was created as the state Conservation Commission by the Legislature 100 years ago. Its name was changed to the Natural Resources Commission in 1965.

Baird began serving as a FLOW board member in 2011, our founding year a decade ago. To accept the NRC appointment, he has resigned from the FLOW board.

“Tom has been a strong, steady force for protecting Michigan’s land, water, fish and wildlife for a long time,” said Jim Olson, FLOW’s founder and senior legal advisor. “He’ll sometimes jump on something to help, when you know he’s busy. But then, as demonstrated by his leadership on the Board of FLOW, when he takes something on, he’s in it to succeed, if necessary, for the long haul. Governor Whitmer made a great choice.”

Baird owns Thomas Baird Consultants. A resident of Elk Rapids, he has a bachelor of science degree from Grand Valley State University and a J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School. His appointment runs through December 31, 2024.