Denial, Disinformation, and Doublespeak: Exposing Enbridge’s Playbook on Line 5

To fully understand the fossil fuel industry’s playbook, let’s start with some basic definitions. You might call them the 3 Ds: Denial, Disinformation, and Doublespeak.

Denial is the refusal to believe or accept something as the truth.

Disinformation is false information that is intended to mislead, especially propaganda issued by a government organization to a rival power or the media.

Doublespeak is deliberately euphemistic, ambiguous, or obscure language.

On May 1, the U.S. Senate Budget Committee held a full hearing on this very topic: Denial, Disinformation, and Doublespeak: Big Oil’s Evolving Efforts to Avoid Accountability for Climate Change. This hearing was based on an extensive three-year Congressional investigation led by the House Oversight Committee that culminated with an April 2024 report by the same title.

Relying on industry documents obtained by the House Oversight Committee, the House report revealed that “fossil fuel companies routinely mislead the public and investors about their emission reduction targets, their plans to comply with the Paris Agreement, the viability of low-carbon technologies they tout, the alleged safety of natural gas, and their commitments to support various climate policies.” (p. 11). The key findings of this report included:

  1. “Documents demonstrate for the first time that fossil fuel companies internally do not dispute that they have understood since at least the 1960s that burning fossil fuels causes climate change and then worked for decades to undermine public understanding of this fact and to deny the underlying science.
  2. Big Oil’s deception campaign evolved from explicit denial of the basic science underlying climate change to deception, disinformation, and doublespeak.
  3. The fossil fuel industry relies on trade associations to spread confusing and misleading narratives and to lobby against climate action.
  4. The fossil fuel industry strategically partners with universities to lend an aura of credibility to its deception campaigns while also silencing opposition voices.
  5. All six entities—Exxon, Chevron, Shell, BP, API, and the Chamber [of Commerce]—obstructed and delayed the Committees’ investigation.” (i-ii).

Here in the Great Lakes, we see Enbridge applying these same tried and true strategies in its effort to wring every last bit of profit from its fossil fuel infrastructure and its most dangerous pipeline, Line 5, which carries refined tar sands from Canada(1).

This 645-mile pipeline runs through hundreds of waterways in Wisconsin and Michigan, including a nearly 5-mile segment in the open waters of the Straits of Mackinac, where it is vulnerable to anchor strikes that could cause a catastrophic oil spill in the heart of the Great Lakes.


Denial and deception have been key tactics for Enbridge. Before the State of Michigan’s 2019 litigation against Enbridge to revoke and terminate the Line 5 easement in the Straits, Enbridge knowingly lied to state and federal regulators for years about the dangerous failing nature of the pipeline and its faulty engineering design that resulted in the pipeline’s cathodic protection against corrosion being scraped off. In fact, Enbridge publicly argued that Line 5 was in good condition.

But, Enbridge knew that it was in a state of constant violation of the State of Michigan’s requirement that the pipeline be supported every 75 feet. Long, unsupported spans of pipeline stress the metal and risk rupture. For decades, Enbridge failed to address unsupported spans of 200, 300, and even 400 feet long (PDF, pg. 10).

Today, Enbridge knows that Line 5 is vulnerable to anchor strikes from ships passing in one of the busiest shipping lanes in the Great Lakes. Enbridge knows that if a Line 5 oil spill happened in the Straits, it would be on a magnitude and scale that would dwarf the company’s 2010 Kalamazoo oil spill disaster–which is to this date one of the largest inland oil spills in U.S. history. Enbridge knows that in the event of an oil spill in the Great Lakes, less than 30 percent of the oil could be recovered, based on the U.S. Coast Guard emergency response rates.

And while Enbridge seeks to build a massive new fossil fuels tunnel through the Straits of Mackinac, it cautions investors  that “Our business, financial condition, results of
operations, cash flows, reputation, access to and cost of capital or insurance, business plans or strategy may all be materially adversely impacted as a result of climate change  and its associated impacts.” (PDF, p. 45) [emphasis added]

It also notes, without irony, that “Climate-related physical risks, resulting from changing and more extreme weather, can damage our assets and affect the safety and reliability of our operations.” Enbridge is complaining about the problem (climate change) that its own business is causing.


Disinformation also has been a hallmark of Enbridge’s campaign to keep fossil fuels flowing through Line 5. For years, Enbridge claimed that shutting down Line 5 would result in freezing the grannies in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Clearly, this is ridiculous. Line 5 didn’t even carry natural gas liquids (NGLs) for home heating until the 1990s, and yet, somehow, the pre-grunge era grandmothers endured. A 2020 report (PDF) prepared for the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) found that the Upper Peninsula has dozens of alternative sources for propane.

But litigation changed everything, when Enbridge finally had to testify under the rule of law. The public finally learned that Line 5 is not critical infrastructure, as Enbridge had touted for years. In fact, Enbridge is using Line 5 primarily to move Canadian tar sands oil back to Canadian refineries–using Michigan and the Great Lakes as a high-risk shortcut.

Enbridge knows that the current operation of Line 5 in the open waters of the Great Lakes is dangerous. That’s why it concocted and drafted special legislation in 2018 under the Snyder Administration to use yet more public lands and waters under the Great Lakes to build a tunnel for Line 5. The disinformation surrounding the tunnel continues to run thick.

What is clear is that no new fossil fuel infrastructure can be built (including Enbridge’s proposed tunnel and the 41-mile pipeline reroute around the Bad River Band reservation in Wisconsin) if we are to achieve international net-zero emission goals by 2050, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

The proposed tunnel is a seductive alternative to the status quo of Line 5, but this is not an alternative that will promote energy and water security in the Great Lakes region. Smart alternatives using existing infrastructure are available and should be prioritized.

Moreover, the proposed tunnel will become an albatross around Michigan’s neck. Michiganders will be liable and fiscally responsible for the upkeep of the tunnel to nowhere when Line 5 becomes a stranded asset in less than 20 years. Enbridge has filed a truncated depreciation schedule with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Enbridge is racing to recoup its costs because it knows the sun is setting on the fossil fuels industry, and the tunnel will have a limited economic life.

In its 2023 annual report, Enbridge recognizes that stakeholder and organized opposition to fossil fuels threatens its operations and financial position, writing “We are also exposed to the risk of higher costs, delays, project cancellations, loss of ability to secure new growth opportunities, new restrictions or the cessation of operations of existing pipelines due to increasing pressure on governments and regulators, and legal action, such as the legal challenges to the operation of Line 5 in Michigan and Wisconsin.” (PDF, pg. 53) [emphasis added]

Where does that “increasing pressure” come from? It comes from all of us: voters, coalition organizations, courts, activists, the business community, and everyone who is speaking out about this dangerous, unnecessary pipeline and climate change.

That’s why Enbridge is ratcheting up its PR campaign in this presidential election year, by blanketing the airwaves and media outlets across Michigan. Here in northern Michigan, Enbridge is running underwriting spots on public broadcasting, ads on Spotify (even on left-leaning podcasts), and “greenwashing” digital ads on LinkedIn.

According to data available from the Meta platforms Ad Library, in January 2024 Enbridge launched an advertising blitz on Facebook and Instagram, spending approximately $128,000 to date on ads targeting Michigan, Wisconsin, and notably, Washington D.C. These ads have been viewed well over 3 million times.

(click to enlarge)


Why? Because Enbridge needs Michiganders to accept the tunnel as inevitable. Enbridge needs Wisconsinites and indigenous communities to embrace the pipeline re-route. Enbridge needs legislators and agency staff in D.C. to believe it is fighting the climate change its products cause.

Enbridge is desperate to turn down the pressure.


Lastly, we turn to Enbridge’s doublespeak. Enbridge’s playbook takes the cake here. As if causing one of the largest inland oil spills in U.S. history wasn’t bad enough, Enbridge has the gall to take credit for fulfilling your lifelong dreams! Ignoring the fact that you need clean water to kayak and not a catastrophic oil spill, Enbridge now is taking credit for it all because life takes energy. According to Enbridge’s Community Engagement Manager in Northern Michigan, Lauren Brown says: “It’s satisfying to know that in some way, Line 5 can have a role in helping people to achieve their lifelong dreams,” Check it out here. For real.

Like so many of us, Michigan’s Attorney General is also tired of this fossil fuel playbook. In May 2024, Attorney General Dana Nessel announced that her department is seeking proposals from outside lawyers and law firms willing to pursue litigation as special assistant attorneys general working on behalf of the state. In an interview with Bridge Michigan, Nessel said Michigan taxpayers face “billions of dollars of losses” as climate change fuels extreme weather, warms lakes and rivers to the point of crisis for fish species, destroys northern forests and threatens the state’s people and economy. Attorney General Nessel remarked that climate change impacts in Michigan were “caused by these companies that knew exactly what they were doing.”

Enough is enough. It’s high time that we call Enbridge’s bluff and call out this multinational corporation’s intentional and repeated actions to deny and deceive.

(1) The amount of air pollution coming from Canada’s oil sands extraction is between 20 to 64 times higher than industry-reported figures, according to a recent groundbreaking study. Canada’s oil sands are the fourth-largest oil deposit on Earth and among the most energy-intensive to access and process. (Visited May 21, 2024).

7 comments on “Denial, Disinformation, and Doublespeak: Exposing Enbridge’s Playbook on Line 5

  1. Adel Easterday on

    There is an American Indian cemetery beneath the Bridge where they plan to dig their oil tunnel. People have made films of that sacred resting place. The Native American Graves and Reparations Act (N.AG.P.R.A.) was first passed by old President Bush during his term as President. It was reinforced again by his son when he was President. It is still on the books. If they dig that tunnel, they are violating that Federal law, and I would expect that all will go to a federal prison for their action!

  2. Anne Chartier on

    Line 5 is not safe, and is not needed. Endangering the Bad River Watershed and the Great Lakes is unconscionable.
    Profit over protection is unacceptable.
    Enbridge ought to invest in renewable energy!

  3. Francis A. Malette on

    It isn’t a question of IF but WHEN Line 5 will fail under the largest freshwater resource on earth. And failure, when it takes place, will forever damage that resource. In this case there is no acceptable level of risk.

  4. Martha M. Wilson on

    Please do not allow Enbridge to build an oil pipeline underneath the Great Lakes. That water is the source of my drinking water.

  5. Ian Bund on

    This is a well prepared piece!
    Over the last 3 +years ,Enbridge has been moving its focus to gas transport and gas utility operations. Its current leadership are gas oriented people.
    Enbridge shares for 10 years have way underperformed the overall markets because there is little investor trust in the company.
    Enbridge Board has not approved any financing for the proposed Tunnel. Are they not committed to the Tunnel or do they expect to sandbag the State of Michigan into financing it?
    The Tunnel has been presented and advertised as an “energy” tunnel. In fact ,about 70% of line 5 product goes to the Sarnia petrochemical complex to make chemicals. Little is used to create energy.

  6. bud on

    Please do not allow Enbridge to rebuild an oil pipeline through bad river and underneath the Great Lakes. The water is the source of mother earth!!


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