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.

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