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Media Release: Proposed “Line 5” Tunnel Under the Mackinac Straits Ignores Looming Disaster


Protecting the Common Waters of the Great Lakes Basin
Through Public Trust Solutions

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director
FLOW (For Love of Water)
Office: (231) 944-1568
Cell: (570) 872-4956

 

 

Friday, June 15, 2018
Email: Liz@FLOWforWater.org
Web:  www.FLOWforWater.org

Proposed “Line 5” Oil Pipeline Tunnel Under the Mackinac Straits Ignores Looming Disaster,
Locks in Decades of Risk

Enbridge’s Snyder-commissioned tunnel report released today is a dead-end 
for the
Great Lakes and Pure Michigan economy

A Canadian oil transport company would be assured billions of dollars in more profit, while the Great Lakes and Michigan’s tourist economy would face decades of more risk of an oil spill disaster from a new Line 5 pipeline tunnel or trench under the Mackinac Straits, as envisioned in a self-serving report released today by Line 5-owner Enbridge and commissioned by Gov. Rick Snyder.

“Citizens and leaders in Michigan agree that you wouldn’t approve an oil pipeline like Line 5 today given the extraordinary risk to our globally unique Great Lakes,” said FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood, an environmental attorney and a co-leader of the Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign seeking to shut down Line 5. “In a time of water shortages and changing climate in this century, it doesn’t make sense to even contemplate constructing Canadian oil pipelines in a tunnel under the world’s largest supply of fresh surface water.”

Spending up to a decade building a tunnel also would do nothing to address the immediate threat posed by the decaying, 65-year-old Line 5 oil pipelines in the open waters of the Mackinac Straits. Enbridge’s oil pipelines in the Straits are bent, cracked, gouged and dented by an anchor, scraped bare of their protective coating in places, and encrusted with corrosion-causing invasive mussels. Line 5 has exceeded its life expectancy and is more than two decades older than Enbridge’s pipeline that ruptured and dumped a million gallons of heavy tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River watershed in 2010.

A Line 5 oil spill in the Mackinac Straits could deliver a blow of more than $6 billion to Michigan’s economy from damage to natural resources, tourism, coastal property values, commercial fishing, and municipal water systems, according to a recent study by a Michigan State University economist commissioned by FLOW.

“The only way to prevent an environmental and economic catastrophe from a Great Lakes oil spill is to shut down Line 5 now,” said FLOW Senior Advisor Dave Dempsey. “Gov. Snyder and Attorney General Schuette have a legal duty to place protection of the public’s waters above the private pursuit of profit.”

Gov. Snyder so far has ignored the overwhelming call from citizens, businesses, and communities to shut down Line 5 and pursue alternatives such as sending the oil through other existing pipelines with excess capacity owned by Enbridge and its competitors. A recent poll showed that most Michigan voters wanted Line 5 shut down. Options for supplying propane to the Upper Peninsula also should be studied and implemented, including use of truck, rail, or a small, new pipeline.

Instead, Gov. Snyder’s tunnel vision bypasses his own Pipeline Safety Advisory Board, favors a Canadian company that has repeatedly misrepresented the safety and integrity of the pipeline, and raises legal, environmental, and other issues that he thus far has failed to address as his tenure as governor nears an end. Key concerns about tunneling or trenching oil pipelines beneath the Mackinac Straits include:

  1. A Canadian tunnel under the Mackinac Straits is not permissible under Michigan’s Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act (GLSLA), common law public trust doctrine, and would violate the 1836 Treaty with Michigan Tribes protecting the Straits fishing grounds. These protections are meant to safeguard the Great Lakes. State officials must enforce them, and Enbridge can’t ignore them. One such protection requires Enbridge to prove that there are no other alternatives to Line 5 or the Straits, when in fact other alternatives exist.

  2. Building a tunnel under the Mackinac Straits ignores the risk Line 5 poses to the other 245 water crossings, including ones that are direct tributaries of Lakes Michigan, Superior, and Huron. A tunnel in the Straits would do nothing to protect those Michigan and Great Lakes waterways from a Line 5 spill. The only effective way to eliminate an oil spill threat to the rest of our Great Lakes is to actually stop oil flowing through the Straits.

  3. Climate change demands immediate, coordinated state, regional, and national energy policies that promote the expansion of renewable energies. By locking in continued investment in fossil fuel infrastructure like Line 5, the Governor would unilaterally undermine the economic benefit to Michiganders of the job-producing clean energy revolution spreading across North America.

  4. A tunnel option would effectively give Enbridge the green light to expand its North American tar sands operations here in the heart of the Great Lakes. How? Even though Line 5 currently does not transport heavy tar sands under the State of Michigan’s 2015 ban, Enbridge could seek a court order to lift this ban and transport tar sands in Line 5.

  5. Talk of building a tunnel is a distraction from the immediate and ongoing threat of a catastrophic multibillion-dollar oil spill. Aside from monumental legal and engineering challenges, building a tunnel demands years of construction and disruption to the region’s economy from tourism to fishing, according to the state’s alternatives report on Line 5.

  6. A tunnel is no gift to Michiganders. We know that all pipelines – even in tunnels – have an inherent risk of spills in their operations. In fact, since 1968, Line 5 has leaked at least 29 times on land, spilling over 1.1 million gallons of oil into Michigan’s pristine lands and waters. The risk of having a spill cannot be completely engineered away because of the ever-present potential for human error contributing to, or causing, a spill event. Moreover, a Line 5 oil tunnel that also carries natural gas liquids—which Enbridge advocates—creates a new hazard for the Great Lakes—extremely flammable materials that under some conditions in a confined space such as a tunnel can be explosive. 

  7. Oil pipelines do not belong in our Great Lakes given the magnitude of harm and unacceptable risk they pose to our public waters, our economy, and our way of life. Half of all Michiganders, from Mackinac Island to the Motor City, rely on the Great Lakes for drinking water, as do more than 48 million Americans and Canadians in total. Let’s do the smart thing, work together to find reliable long-term energy solutions for Michigan, and shut down Line 5 before it’s too late.

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Tilting at Tunnels and a Brighter Tomorrow

As a native Michigander and optimist, I’ve always welcomed the first day of winter as a harbinger of longer, hopefully sunnier days just over the horizon. But I was recently reminded by a friend that, of course, the winter solstice that occurred Thursday at 11:28 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, actually marks the shortest day and longest night in the Northern Hemisphere.

So depending on the tilt of your perspective, the solstice is cause for deepening dread, a condition aptly summed up as “SAD,” or relative hope: There’s scientific evidence to suggest that without the tilt of the earth’s axis, we might not be here at all.

As we at FLOW take stock of our shared efforts in 2017 to prioritize and protect the Great Lakes and look ahead to challenges and opportunities to come in the new year, consider this dichotomy related to the battle to shut down the decaying Line 5 oil pipelines in the Mackinac Straits that suggest from my viewpoint that Great Lakes protectors are growing stronger and there indeed are brighter days ahead.

First the Dark: In October, Enbridge admitted misleading both Michigan and federal officials on the condition of its Line 5 oil pipelines for over three years, concealing the existence of at least 48 bare metal spots and/or coating gaps near anchor locations in the straits.

Then in late November, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder bypassed his own advisory board and announced his sweetheart, backroom deal with Enbridge to tilt the search for alternatives to a looming Great Lakes oil spill disaster toward a tunnel under the Mackinac Straits. Gov. Snyder, however, inadvertently lit a spark under those who recognize that the drinking water supply for half of all Michiganders is no place for oil pipelines.

Then the Firelight: FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood correctly called it a “reward for failure” for bumbling Enbridge. The governor’s spurned advisory board found its voice in early December and passed resolutions, in part, calling for an amendment to the deal to require the temporary shutdown of Line 5 until there has been the full inspection of and repair of the coating breaches and urging the state to conduct a much more robust assessment of alternatives to Line 5.

Apparently preferring a rubber-stamp board, Gov. Snyder was quick to dismiss his advisors, saying, “I’m not sure I view that as a regular meeting in terms of that resolution.” But the public was buoyed by the board’s backbone, with hundreds of outraged residents turning out and piping up in public meetings in Taylor, St. Ignace, and Traverse City to object to the governor’s deal and support a shutdown.

Meanwhile, members of the growing Great Lakes Business Network sharpened their questioning of why the state would allow – even promote – a Canadian pipeline company’s business model that rakes in profit by threatening to torpedo the Pure Michigan economy. And the Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign co-led by FLOW, tribes, and several other stewardship groups scheduled a Shut Down Line 5! Snyder/Schuette Accountability Rally for noon Thursday, with dozens of people expected to carry the torch for shutting down Line 5 on what would otherwise be the darkest day and give a final push for public comment that ends Friday on the state’s flawed alternatives analysis.

More Illumination in 2018: Stay tuned in early 2018 when the campaign will release its detailed plan to decommission Line 5 while ensuring propane still flows to the Upper Peninsula and Michigan’s other energy needs are met. FLOW’s technical advisors have done some of that decommissioning groundwork, as summarized in fact sheets here and here.

In addition, Michigan Technilogical University will lead a Line 5 risk study in 2018. The Snyder-Enbridge deal calls for completion of the Line 5 review process by August 15, when the state is expected to make a final decision to replace the pipelines or shut them down.

Shining Brighter Together: For FLOW, the broader context is that the Great Lakes belong to all of us, so all of us who love and benefit from these magnificent waters must share in the vital task of helping protect them.

That’s why we work so hard to educate the public and ensure these freshwater inland seas remain and become even more drinkable, fishable, and swimmable for generations to come. Together we must understand the risks facing our Great Lakes and very way of life so that we can pursue real solutions rooted in the public trust. And one very real solution is for the state of Michigan to shut down Line 5.  

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Kelly Thayer, FLOW Contributor


FLOW Deeply Disappointed in Court Decision Today Leaving State of Michigan’s Lawsuit to Shut Down ‘Line 5’ in Federal Court, Denying the State’s Request

Editor’s Note: The following is a media release issued by FLOW on November 16, 2021; please contact Executive Director Liz Kirkwood at (570) 872-4956 or Liz@FLOWforWater.org or Senior Legal Advisor Jim Olson at (231) 499-8831 or Jim@FLOWforWater.org.

Judge Neff’s decision today addresses only the narrow, procedural issue of whether a state or federal court should decide if the State of Michigan lawfully ordered the shutdown of the Line 5 oil pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac. Although the federal court’s decision to exercise jurisdiction over this matter is disappointing, it does not resolve the validity of the State’s action to protect the public’s legally revered interests in the Great Lakes. Canadian energy transport giant Enbridge continues to defy the order to shut down Line 5.

The decision is legally deficient for multiple reasons, most notably because it failed to consider express provisions of federal law that affirm Michigan’s sovereign right to apply and enforce its own laws to protect its waters and environment. The court also did not properly consider the State’s sovereign interests as required when making a jurisdictional determination. 

“The court overlooked the sovereign public interests of Michigan, an omission that seriously threatens not only Michigan’s sovereignty over its navigable water, but every state in the nation,” said FLOW Founder and Senior Legal Advisor Jim Olson

The decision also threatens the sovereign interests of states by setting an extremely low bar for removing state-court lawsuits to federal court. This could result in the weaponization of federal jurisdiction by foreign corporations seeking to litigate disputes involving state law in federal court.

“Fortunately,” said Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director of FLOW, “until decided by a court, Governor Whitmer’s revocation of Line 5 stands firm. FLOW stands in solidarity with the State of Michigan as Attorney General Nessel defends the public waters of the Great Lakes in this nationally significant litigation.” 

Background from FLOW:

Key Context on Federal Lawsuit:

Recent  Line 5 Analysis:

State’s Line 5 Shutdown Deadline:

Reality Check:

Gov. Whitmer’s Line 5 Shutdown Order & Reaction:

For more information, see FLOW’s Line 5 fact sheets and blogs:

FLOW’s Blog Coverage: Line 5 blogs providing news & analysis.

Line 5’s Clock is Ticking Ever Louder in the Great Lakes

Photo at the Straits of Mackinac by Beth Price.

Editor’s note: The following op-ed originally appeared Nov. 3, 2021, in the Traverse City Record-Eagle

By Liz Kirkwood, FLOW Executive Director

FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood

Regarding Enbridge’s recent op-ed in the Traverse City Record-Eagle, we at FLOW agree with just these first four words: “The clock is ticking.”

That “tick, tick, tick” sound, however, isn’t coming from Enbridge’s proposed tunnel. It is coming from an environmental ticking time bomb called Line 5—Enbridge’s twin pipelines pumping oil nearly 20 years past their intended lifespan in raging currents at the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac.

Since 2018, three anchors and cables have struck these patched and propped up pipelines. Each strike could have delivered a $6 billion blow to Michigan’s economy, jobs, and natural resources, according to an MSU economic study, with oil coating beaches as California has recently experienced.

Thankfully Gov. Gretchen Whitmer hears the Line 5 ticking time bomb. That’s why in November 2020, after a comprehensive review, she ordered Line 5 shut down by May. Enbridge, however, is defying that lawful order and public trust law too. Why stop now, when every day Line 5 pumps oil through the Great Lakes, it deposits another $1.5 million or more into Enbridge’s pocket?

Plus the unlawful tunnel deal Enbridge struck in the dying days of the Snyder administration allows Line 5 to keep running until the tunnel is built, which might never happen considering the lack of public need for the tunnel and risk to the Great Lakes and climate during and after construction.

In July 2010 Enbridge testified before Congress that leak detection and response “can be almost instantaneous.” Ten days later, the Canadian company failed to hear another pipeline ticking, and its Line 6B crossing southern Michigan dumped more than one million gallons of heavy tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River.

Line 6B leaked for 17 hours while Enbridge employees in Western Canada shut off alarms they thought were false and repeatedly restarted the line. The spill sickened more than 300 Michiganders and cost 150 people their homes and properties. An unknown amount of oil remains in the environment, but Enbridge is done cleaning it up.

When the State of Michigan revoked the easement and sued Enbridge in November 2020 to shut down 68-year-old Line 5, it rightly did so in state court. The State’s ownership of Great Lakes public trust waters and bottomlands imposes a duty on it to revoke and enforce the shutdown of Line 5.

Enbridge, though, removed the lawsuit to federal court to delay judicial enforcement of the State’s order. Nearly a year later, a federal judge is still considering the State’s motion to return the case to a state court room where it belongs. Enbridge has further interfered with judicial proceedings by spurring Canada to invoke formal treaty negotiations with the U.S. that could take years to resolve.

Meanwhile the Line 5 clock is ticking ever louder in the Great Lakes. Don’t count on Enbridge to hear it, let alone defuse it or clean it up. It’s up to the State, its citizens, tribes, and the courts to protect the Great Lakes from Enbridge.

Why Do Canadians Seem to Care So Little about Protecting the Great Lakes from Line 5?

Dr. Daniel Macfarlane, Institute of the Environment and Sustainability

By Daniel Macfarlane

As a Canadian living in Michigan, I’ve never seen a state or province that identifies with the Great Lakes the way Michigan does: their silhouette adorns t-shirts, water bottles, and bumper stickers everywhere. At the same time, I would say that the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence system is woven into the nationalisms and founding mythologies of the Canadian nation-state, especially in central Canada, in a way that isn’t true of the United States. You might even say that the Great Lakes are in the DNA of the territory now called Canada.

The Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River are the historic Canadian heartland—the equivalent of the East Coast of the United States. All three founding nations of Canada (Indigenous, British, and French) crowded the shores of these sweetwater seas and the St. Lawrence River. Nowadays, the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence basin hosts the political, financial, and industrial hubs of Canada, and about half the country’s population.

But if the Great Lakes are so important to Canadians, why do they seem to care so little about protecting them? Specifically, I’m talking about Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline.

Line 5, a hydrocarbon pipeline, runs through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, across the state’s venerated Straits of Mackinac, and then through lower Michigan to Sarnia, Ontario. Built nearly 70 years ago, and in a deteriorating condition, Line 5 daily transports about 23 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids from the Canadian West.

Line 5 is a ticking time bomb, especially at the Straits, where Enbridge is proposing a tunnel for this decaying and dangerous dual pipeline—but if you read the fine print, it will take a decade to build and taxpayers will be on the hook for the risky endeavor.

If the Great Lakes are so important to Canadians, why do they seem to care so little about protecting them? Specifically, I’m talking about Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline.

In November 2020, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer revoked the 1953 easement granted to the Lakehead Pipe Line, now Enbridge, for the Straits crossing. Enbridge ignored the Governor’s May 12 deadline to shut down Line 5, with backing from the Canadian government, and the matter was sent for mediation. But in early September, the State of Michigan moved to break off this “unproductive” dialogue.

On October 4, 2021, the Canadian government officially invoked a bilateral 1977 Pipeline Transit Treaty that applies to pipelines that cross from one country into the other and back. Governor Whitmer said she was “profoundly disappointed” with the Trudeau government. And she should be, since Ottawa is essentially shilling for a private oil company. 

The status quo is going to end in disaster. Canada is a climate villain, marching itself and the rest of the world to “global weirding.” Backing the likes of Enbridge is not only bad for the planet, it is bad economics. 

In any case, the 1977 treaty is a diplomatic agreement not to interfere with or levy any fees or duties on hydrocarbons that are already flowing—“in transit” to use the treaty language—and should have no applicability on the bigger question of whether a state or province wants a foreign pipeline in their territory. In other words, the intention of this treaty was not to stop a state (or province) from exercising its sovereignty over its own public waters or deciding whether or not to revoke permission for a foreign pipeline crossing its territory; the point was to stop an arbitrary or gouging bait-and-switch where a political jurisdiction acting as the middle man gives consent to a pipeline and then jacks up the price.

Many Canadians have been boisterously loud about stopping new and existing pipelines within Canada. But why are Canadians so seemingly ignorant, or ambivalent, about Line 5? A major reason is certainly that most of the fossil fuels sent through Line 5 ends up in Ontario and Quebec. Of course, Canada is also a type of petro-state, addicted to the profits and efficiencies of fossil fuels; many have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.

Just imagine how Canadians would react if the situation were reversed, and the U.S. refused to stop a pipeline that a province didn’t want. Moreover, if Canada is serious about reconciliation, it needs to stop pipelines. Many pipelines in Canada threaten the territories of numerous bands and First Nations, often without their consent and in conflict with the spirit of treaties and agreements.

But the status quo is going to end in disaster. Canada is a climate villain, marching itself and the rest of the world to “global weirding.” Backing the likes of Enbridge is not only bad for the planet, it is bad economics. 

A recent report stated that close to 85% of Canada’s fossil fuels need to stay in the ground if the country wants to have a decent chance of meeting the 1.5 degree Celsius goal in the Paris Agreement.  According to another analysis, building the Line 5 tunnel and continuing the pipeline could contribute an additional 27 million metric tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere annually, generating $41 billion in climate damages between 2027 and 2070.

Those climate damages are going to haunt Canada as well as the U.S. Moreover, the models show that a Line 5 spill at the Straits of Mackinac would likely flow into the Canadian part of Lake Huron. Enbridge’s track record doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. I live and teach in Kalamazoo, where in 2010 Enbridge’s Line 6B had a catastrophic failure into the eponymous river. A pipeline rupture would be all but impossible to rectify quickly in the Straits when there is ice cover in winter. 

Just imagine how Canadians would react if the situation were reversed, and the U.S. refused to stop a pipeline that a province didn’t want. Moreover, if Canada is serious about reconciliation, it needs to stop pipelines. Many pipelines in Canada threaten the territories of numerous bands and First Nations, often without their consent and in conflict with the spirit of treaties and agreements.

There are alternatives for getting energy to the areas of Canada served by Line 5. These can be used in the short-term. But, make no mistake, the goal here is not to just shift fossil fuels to a different pipeline. The end game is an energy transition, and a just one at that.  In the long run, stopping Line 5, and other pipelines, could actually be doing Canadians a favor: weaning them off of fossil fuels and their infrastructure, and protecting the Great Lakes and the climate.  What could be more neighborly? 

Daniel Macfarlane is an Associate Professor in the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at Western Michigan University. He is also a senior fellow at the Bill Graham Center for Contemporary International History, University of Toronto, and President of the International Water History Association. His research and teaching focus on the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence basin, and he is the author or co-editor of four books, including Border Flows: A Century of the American-Canadian Water Relationship, and he is completing a book on Canada-U.S. environmental and energy relations.

A New Look at Protecting Michigan’s Submerged Great Lakes Lands

This underwater map of Lake Huron shows a ridge that was once above water where scientists have found evidence of caribou hunting blinds used by indigenous peoples thousands of years ago when lake levels were much lower.

 

Dave Dempsey, Senior Advisor

By Dave Dempsey and Alex Theophilus

Protection of the submerged lands of the Great Lakes that lie within Michigan’s jurisdiction is part of the state’s public trust duties. This represents a vast area, approximately 38,500 square miles of bottomland beneath four of the Great Lakes. By contrast, the size of the entire state of Indiana is 36,400 square miles.

While the common law public trust doctrine governs the general duties of the state with respect to its ownership and control responsibilities over Great Lakes submerged lands, the Michigan Legislature in 1982 enacted a statute authorizing the Department of Natural Resources to establish by rule bottomland preserves “whenever a submerged lands area

Alex Theophilus is FLOW’s former policy intern

includes a single watercraft of significant historical value, includes 2 or more abandoned watercraft, or contains other features of archaeological, historical, recreational, geological, or environmental significance.” In practice, the state has created bottomland preserves only for shipwreck conservation. Michigan currently has 13 such preserves spanning 7,200 square miles of Great Lakes bottomland.

Although protection of this portion of the public domain has been reserved almost exclusively for shipwreck sites, the Department of Natural Resources notes thatthe State, as the owner and trustee, has a perpetual responsibility to the public to manage these submerged lands and waters for the prevention of pollution, for the protection of the natural resources and to maintain the public’s rights of hunting, fishing, navigation, commerce, etc.” Invoking statutory protections to protect significant cultural, environmental, and scientific submerged land locations would provide conservation insurance for future access by the state to what amounts to the region’s most expansive public trust parkland. 

The opportunity for the State of Michigan to take the first step towards appropriate bottomland preservation and provisions may be following through on the requests of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians for the Straits of Mackinac to be declared Traditional Cultural Property in light of the discovery of items of potential archaeological significance. The recognition of the cultural heritage and scientific needs for environmental protection incorporated in the Straits should be made before any further development or exploitation of publicly owned property at the Straits occurs.

Additional protection considerations may be made for cultural resources of potential scientific significance, such as archeological sites in Grand Traverse Bay and on the Alpena-Amberley Land Bridge. Exclusively recognizing shipwreck sites rather than other submerged lands that would benefit from protection, research, and exploration falls short of protecting other critically important historical or other resources of important cultural and natural resources values.

In addition to potential archaeological sites, Great Lakes submerged lands contain environmentally and geologically significant features including a drowned waterfall, remnants of ancient forests, sinkholes and, potentially, fish spawning habitat.

Additional national marine sanctuaries could also provide a framework within which protection of Michigan submerged lands could be expanded. A proposition was made in 2015 to establish a National Marine Sanctuary in Lake Michigan off of the Wisconsin coast, and other proposals in Great Lakes states may advance under the Biden Administration, but these are again based primarily on shipwreck sites. The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary within Michigan’s Lake Huron waters enjoys broad public and bipartisan support, but its focus is on the approximately 100 shipwrecks within the Sanctuary. In recent years, the Sanctuary has stepped up its environmental education efforts.

Inventorying and conserving potentially significant resources on Michigan’s Great Lakes submerged lands, in addition to shipwrecks, would make the state a national example of wise stewardship.

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.

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.

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: