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.

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