By Jim Olson and Nora Baty
In recognition of the critical importance of the Great Lakes and the rule of law, the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) announced June 23 that the federal agency will conduct an environmental impact statement (EIS) for Enbridge’s Line 5 oil tunnel proposed for the Straits of Mackinac–handing citizens and communities battling the existential threat of climate change an important victory.
These evaluations delve into critical questions of risks, impacts, and alternatives—particularly a “no action” alternative when it comes to the falling demand for crude oil and the blazing heat waves across North America. Because of the depth of this evaluation and based on past practice, the EIS process will likely take three-and-a-half years to complete. While this may result in no tunnel or delay a tunnel, if it is ever built, the decision points to an even more critical action: It’s time to double-down on an orderly shutdown of the perilous Line 5 Pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac.
“The Army will ensure all voices are heard in an open, transparent and public process through development of the EIS and is committed to ensuring that meaningful and robust consultation with tribal nations occurs.”
Governor Whitmer and the Department of Natural Resources, under their solemn public trust duty to exercise prudence to protect the Great Lakes from a massive oil spill that would cost more than $6 billion, had little choice but to revoke the 1953 easement and close the 70-year old hazard. With the falling demand for crude oil, and capacity in other pipelines that criss-cross the continent, adjustments in oil transport can meet Canadian demand and the relatively minor need for crude oil from Line 5 for Michigan.
Finally a Full and Comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement
Under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), an EIS is required for major projects “significantly affecting the quality of the human environment.” The law, as contemplated, established rules to ensure that the federal government considers the health and environmental effects and alternatives to actions proposed by corporations seeking permits. Under the NEPA rollbacks by the Trump Administration, agencies and citizens had little chance to trigger an EIS under NEPA, despite the magnitude of the action and environmental risks.
Now under the Biden Administration, “The Army will ensure all voices are heard in an open, transparent and public process through development of the EIS and is committed to ensuring that meaningful and robust consultation with tribal nations occurs,” according to a press release. The USACE’s decision to require an environmental impact statement and its commitment to the rule of law are important to ensure there is a robust record examining the impacts of the proposed project, using scientific data and expert opinions, and that alternatives to the project are adequately considered.
Courts and agency decisions have rejected projects with incomplete scientific data or that fail to assess alternatives to avoid environmental impacts. Earlier this year, Michigan Administrative Law Judge Daniel Pulter denied the Back-Forty permit for a massive mining project in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula because the underlying hydrogeologic information, wetland impacts, and the potential alternatives were not adequately evaluated.
FLOW’s legal team aided in this effort in December 2020 by submitting comprehensive comments to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers calling for an environmental impact statement on behalf of a dozen organizations: Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority, Clean Water Action—Michigan, FLOW, Groundwork Center, League of Women Voters of Michigan, Michigan Environmental Council, Michigan League of Conservation Voters, NMEAC, Sierra Club Michigan Chapter, Straits Area Concerned Citizens for Peace, Justice and Environment, Straits of Mackinac Alliance, and TC 350. The comments demonstrated a serious gap in Enbridge’s incomplete evaluation of the presence of loose, unconsolidated rock and sediment in the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac that the company at one point characterized as solid bedrock.
This EIS decision marks a return to NEPA’s mandate that the federal government review major projects to the “fullest extent possible.” This is particularly important for Line 5 in light of the decreasing demand for crude oil and the shift in Canada and the U.S. to renewable energy (wind, solar, conservation), and a “no action” alternative to the tunnel is more likely than ever.
Line 5 Is No Longer Necessary
The no action alternative for a proposed project, such as Enbridge’s proposed oil tunnel, looks at the effects of not approving the action under consideration. Here, Enbridge will need to prove, first, that the tunnel and Line 5 are even needed, and second, if there is a need, that there are no other routes or existing lines into Ohio, Michigan, and into Canada. According to FLOW’s experts, 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 competition without threatening our public waters, including Enbridge’s Line 78 across southern Michigan.
Unfortunately for Enbridge, and fortunately for the climate, the energy landscape is shifting and renewable energy growth is accelerating. At the same time, the beginning of Line 5 tunnel construction looks farther and farther away. One study found that such federal reviews, known as environmental impact statements, take an average of nearly 3-and-a-half years to complete, and then permits and construction would take years longer after that.
The tunnel may or may not be constructed. While Enbridge continues to operate Line 5 in the Straits, violating the law, and threatening the Great Lakes and the region’s economy, the existing dual pipelines pose an unacceptable risk of massive harm to the Great Lakes, communities, citizens, and businesses. The reality is that we can no longer wait for Line 5 to be shut down. It is time for the court process and the State and citizens of the Great Lakes Basin to bring the State’s revocation of Enbridge’s 68-year old easement and pipeline to a close.
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
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.
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.
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.
- Marathon 2020 total capacity: 140,000 bpd https://www.marathonpetroleum.com/Operations/Refining/Detroit-Refinery/
- Increase of Heavy Crude to 115,000 bpd https://www.myplainview.com/news/article/Marathon-refinery-seeks-support-for-second-8578737.php
- BP Husky capacity and crude feed: https://www.hydrocarbons-technology.com/projects/bp-husky/
- PBF Capacity: 180,000 bpd https://investors.pbfenergy.com/~/media/Files/P/PBF-Energy-IR-V3/documents/annual-reports-and-proxy/pbf-energy-2020-annual-10k-report-1.pdf
- PBF Truck terminal at Toledo: 22,500 bpd; https://www.pbflogistics.com/~/media/Files/P/PBF-Logistics-IR-V2/reports-and-presentations/20190514-pbfx-may.pdf (Appendix)
- Jet Fuel Consumed per day at DTW: https://www.metroairport.com/sites/default/files/business_documents/masterplans_2009archive/04_-_demand_capacity_facility_requirements_2-16-10.pdf
Photo (from left): Winona LaDuke, Holly Bird, and FLOW’s Liz Kirkwood on May 13 at the Straits of Mackinac. Photo by Beth Price.
By Liz Kirkwood, FLOW Executive Director
May 13 marked an inflection point in FLOW’s water and climate work to shut down Line 5. It was a day of action and a show of force to evict Enbridge as an occupier—a rogue Canadian pipeline company pumping oil through our public waters and lands of the Great Lakes. It was a day highlighting the power of community and solidarity, and the power of indigenous leadership in protecting the source of all life: water.
Just the day before, Enbridge blatantly defied and violated Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s deadline ordering the shutdown of the Line 5 pipelines. Defending our waters in her usual bold style, Governor Whitmer warned that Enbridge’s failure to obey would result in intentional trespass and disgorgement of 100 percent of Enbridge’s oil profits gained every day from illegally operating Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac. (Read Gov. Whitmer’s reasons for shutting down Line 5 in her own words).
Organized by the first peoples of North America and the Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign, this day-long event drew over 400 allies to deliver an eviction notice to Enbridge, to participate in a water walk and ceremony, and to hear from leaders about the urgent need to tackle climate change and shift to a clean energy economy. As water protectors, women tribal members led the group in traditional water ceremonies and told stories of our relationship to water. Tribal President Whitney Gravelle from the Bay Mills Indian Community conveyed that her tribe had voted to formally banished Enbridge and its pipeline from their legally recognized treaty waters. (Read coverage here of tribal protests that began the day prior at the Straits and continued into May 13).
Nationally recognized indigenous voice, author, and anti-pipeline organizer Winona LaDuke, who directs Honor the Earth in Minnesota, spoke passionately about the danger posed by Line 5 to the Straits, which have played a key role in both tribal and non-tribal heritage and culture for centuries.
“This rogue Canadian corporation is basically holding the Great Lakes hostage,” LaDuke told FLOW in an interview after her speech. “In state after state, they are scaring officials. But here in Michigan, your governor, your attorney general have stood up for the people and for the water. We don’t need a Canadian multinational holding us all hostage. And that’s right now what they’re doing.”
“The question I would ask is, ‘Who gets the honor of being the last Tar Sands pipeline? Who gets that honor?’ It’s kind of like being the last guy to die in Vietnam, isn’t it? Who wants to tell that soldier he’s the last man to die for an unjust war? Who wants to tell some Ojibwe that they’re the last people to have their water contaminated so that Enbridge can make a buck?”
Demonstrating the deep commitment and solidarity among indigenous nations, tribal members from Minnesota, where they are fighting another Enbridge pipeline—Line 3, actively participated in the May 13 event.
I joined the event on behalf of FLOW, representing our eight years of effort making the case that public trust principles and law give the State of Michigan the authority—and the duty—to expel Line 5 from the Straits in order to protect the world’s greatest freshwater system. Enbridge’s track record of pipeline mismanagement and deception—leading to the largest and most devastating oil spill in Michigan’s history in the Kalamazoo River watershed in 2010—bodes ill for the Straits, their ecology and the jobs that depend on them.
I am proud that it was FLOW that first identified the public trust doctrine as the basis for protecting these waters from the pipeline. Now Governor Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel have explicitly invoked that doctrine in seeking to shut down the pipeline.
Photos by Beth Price Photography