Since June 2019, Enbridge has agreed thatstate court is the proper venue for litigating Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s lawsuit that seeks to shut down Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac under public trust and state environmental laws. That was until Wednesday, when the Canadian pipeline company filed a legal notice suddenly seeking to remove that lawsuit to federal court.
“The statutory deadline for removing this case to federal court passed over two years ago,” said Zach Welcker, Legal Director at FLOW, the Great Lakes law and policy center based in Traverse City. “Enbridge is making a frivolous argument that a federal court’s recent jurisdictional ruling in a separate case should give it another bite at the apple, but the apple is long gone as a matter of civil procedure.”
“This is Enbridge’s most egregious delay tactic to date. We hope the court rejects this maneuver and quickly puts an end to Enbridge’s gamesmanship.,” said FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood, an environmental attorney. “ Line 5 is a ticking time bomb that threatens the Great Lakes, shoreline communities, the drinking water supply, and thousands of jobs that depend on clean water and tourism.”
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.
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?
More than 40 protestors assembled on the Detroit Riverwalk Wednesday morning to call on the Canadian government to support Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer in seeking to decommission the Enbridge Line 5 oil pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac. The Detroit protest—staged near the Canadian consulate—occurred in solidarity with simultaneous demonstrations across the Detroit River in Windsor, Ontario, as well as in Chicago and Milwaukee. At each protest site, organizers sent Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau jars of fresh Great Lakes water as a symbol of what’s at risk if Line 5 continues to operate.
Speakers at the Detroit protest included Sean McBrearty from the Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign, Christy McGillivray from Sierra Club, Jamie Simmons from Michigan Climate Action Network, and Andrea Pierce from the Michigan Democratic Party’s Anishinaabek Caucus and Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians.
“Michigan and independent researchers have studied this intensively and shutting down the Line 5 pipeline without replacing it is feasible. It’s the only way to truly protect our Great Lakes and it’s the only way forward at this point in the climate crisis,” Simmons said.
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.”
Nora Baty is a Milliken Law and Policy Intern at FLOW.
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.
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.
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.
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 about10 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, andshrinking 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.
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.
FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood made the following statement during a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers public hearing on Monday, December 7, regarding the environmental impact of Enbridge’s proposed oil tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac.
The National Environmental Policy Act mandates Environmental Impact Statements (EISs) for all major projects that significantly affect the environment.
The proposed tunnel is, categorically, a major project and it will significantly affect and endanger the human environment. The scale, wetlands fill, landscape alternation, nearshore habitat, massive water withdrawal and chemical discharge of wastewater, and spoils represent both a major project and significant effects to the human environment. I want to enumerate eight reasons why a full EIS is required to evaluate this proposed project.
The location of the tunnel is in the heart of the largest and most valuable fresh surface water system in the world.
The proposed project meets all 10 of the “intensity” factors indicating “severity of impact” under 40 C.F.R. § 1508.27. Meeting just one of these intensity factors can necessitate an EIS.
The applicant indicates that the construction of the project will use 5 water treatment additives for slurry conditioning, including bentonite, soda ash, carbon dioxide, sulfuric acid, and a flocculant/coagulant for removing suspended solids. Enbridge notes that “additional polymer-based additives may be needed.” The Corps must determine the composition of these additives and the risk posed by the use of all of these chemicals
The proposed project will fill coastal wetlands – among the most biologically productive areas in the world – over 90 percent of the roughly 200 fish species that occur in the Great Lakes are dependent on coastal wetlands.
Independent experts who studied Enbridge’s proposed tunnel plan concluded that it “raises serious concerns regarding the feasibility, integrity, and planning for the construction of the tunnel.” More than 75 percent of the tunnel boring area is in “very poor” or “poor” quality rock conditions, the experts warned, also citing the potential for explosions because of the presence of methane gas.
The State Historic Preservation Office has given notice that the recently disclosed evidence of potential submerged prehistoric sites requires a full evaluation.
At this point in time, Enbridge has yet to issue a credible estimate of project cost. The original estimate of $500 million was for a tunnel with a 10 ft diameter. The proposed project would have an 18 – 21 ft diameter requiring the excavation and disposition of four times the material compared to the original proposal.
Enbridge is explicit in indicating that the proposed project would extend the life of Line 5 for 99 years. It will transport 23 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids daily, that when burned, will yield over 57 million metric tons of atmospheric carbon annually – more carbon than is emitted by the nation’s 3 largest coal plants combined. This long-term investment in fossil fuel infrastructure is directly at odds with the broad scientific consensus that immediate steps must be taken to decarbonize the economy to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change.
It is difficult to conceive of a project more worthy of a full environmental statement.
Editor’s note: This is an Oil & Water Don’t Mix (O&WDM) media release.
Twelve organizations and Michigan tribal representatives today (Dec. 7, 2020) called on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to reject the Enbridge Line 5 Straits of Mackinac oil tunnel project. If not dismissed now, the Army Corps risks a repeat of a July court ruling that threw out a permit in another major federal pipeline case.
In their submission of comments, the groups told the Army Corps that the permit for the tunnel should not be approved without a full review that evaluates the consequences of an oil tunnel for the Great Lakes, coastal wetlands, historic archeological finds, and navigation within the Straits of Mackinac.
“Enbridge’s proposed tunnel is a major federal action demanding a full environmental impact statement under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA),” said Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director of FLOW (For Love of Water), a Great Lakes law and policy center based in Traverse City. “A review of Enbridge’s incomplete application reveals a highly controversial project with extraordinary impacts to coastal wetlands, millions of gallons a day of surface wastewater discharges and water treatment additives, underwater archeological sites, incomplete geotechnical studies for tunnel construction, lack of a credible estimate of project cost, and unprecedented climate change impacts to extend the life of Line 5 for the next 99 years.”
Official comments from the organizations come as the Army Corps holds a single public hearing today on Enbridge’s proposal for a federal Clean Water Act permit to construct the oil tunnel. The Army Corps public comment period ends on Dec. 17. It comes as the Michigan Public Service Commission and the state Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy also evaluate permit applications from Enbridge and follows a decision by Gov. Whitmer to revoke Enbridge’s operating agreement for the existing Line 5, citing the company’s history of failures and ongoing, incurable violations of the agreement.
“Line 5 will transport 540,000 barrels of oil that when burned will emit over 57 million metric tons of atmospheric carbon annually – more carbon than is emitted by the nation’s three largest coal plants combined,” said Kirkwood. “Let’s not forget what’s at stake – a proposal to build a mega tunnel in the heart of the largest and most valuable fresh surface water system in the world. It’s difficult to conceive of a project more worthy of a full environmental impact statement under federal law.”
The groups and tribal representatives warn that approving Enbridge’s proposed application would violate the same federal law that prompted the U.S. District Court in July to block a final permit for the Dakota Access pipeline in the Dakotas. In the Dakota Access case, the court said the Army Corps must conduct a full review under the National Environmental Policy Act because it was a major federal project with widespread potential impacts, including threats to drinking water sources for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.
The Army Corps has yet to decide whether Enbridge’s permit application for the tunnel should be subjected to a full federal review that could include looking at other alternatives, including existing oil pipelines within Enbridge’s massive North America pipeline system.
Concerns with the tunnel proposal cited by the groups and shared with the Army Corps include:
Drinking water threat. Enbridge proposes withdrawing 4 million gallons a day of water and discharging 5 million gallons a day of water and slurry into the Straits of Mackinac. Nearby communities of Charlevoix, Mackinac Island, St. Ignace, Alpena, East Tawas, and Tawas City rely on Lake Michigan and Lake Huron for drinking water.
Geotechnical problems. Independent experts who studied Enbridge’s proposed tunnel plan concluded that it “raises serious concerns regarding the feasibility, integrity, and planning for the construction of the tunnel.” More than 75 percent of the tunnel boring area is in “very poor” or “poor” quality rock conditions, the experts warned, also citing the potential for explosions because of the presence of methane gas.
Sovereign tribal and fishing rights. The Straits of Mackinac are the spawning and fishing grounds for 60 percent of the commercial tribal whitefish catch, which could be negatively impacted by the tunnel project and continued operation of Line 5 in the Straits.
Northern Michigan economy. Emmet, Cheboygan, and Mackinac counties would be heavily impacted by the tunnel project, straining police, fire, health emergency services, and rental housing that would typically go to seasonal tourism workers who constitute an annual $153 million payroll. Dust, noise, and intense trucking and machinery activity will also stress local communities.
“Michigan deserves more than a rubber-stamp permit approval from the Army Corps,” said Sean McBrearty, Oil & Water Don’t Mix coordinator. “What we need is for the Army Corps to follow the law and prioritize protecting the Great Lakes, our drinking water, and our climate. A Canadian company’s oil profits shouldn’t be more important than Michigan’s future.”
Those submitting joint comments include For Love of Water (FLOW), League of Women Voters of Michigan, Sierra Club, Clean Water Action, Michigan Environmental Council, Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council, Straits of Mackinac Alliance, Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities, TC350, the Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority (CORA), the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, and the Straits Area Concerned Citizens for Peace, Justice, and the Environment.
Oil & Water Don’t Mix is a citizens’ movement committed to protecting the Great Lakes and decommissioning Enbridge’s dangerous Line 5 oil pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac. More information: https://www.oilandwaterdontmix.org/about.
Jim Olson is FLOW’s Founder, President, and Legal Advisor
By Jim Olson
The federal lawsuit Enbridge filed Tuesday is an attack on the State of Michigan’s sovereign title and authority to protect the public trust in the Straits and Great Lakes from Line 5. The federal government can regulate safety, but it can never control the location and use of the State of Michigan’s own public trust waters and bottomlands of the Great Lakes, except as it relates to navigation.
Michigan has never surrendered and could never surrender its public trust authority and responsibility to protect the waters of the Great Lakes from the clear and present danger presented by Enbridge’s old and failing Line 5 oil pipeline system. The public rights in navigable waters, according to Michigan’s Supreme Court, “are protected by a high, solemn, and perpetual trust, which it is the duty of the state to forever maintain.”
State of Michigan Conducted an Exhaustive Review of Enbridge’s Line 5 Easement Violations
After a comprehensive, 15-month review of Line 5’s operations and potential for catastrophic harm from a rupture or leak in the heart of the Great Lakes, the State of Michigan determined on November 13 that Enbridge’s easement to use the bottomlands of Lake Michigan must be revoked and terminated because of “longstanding, persistent, and incurable violations of the Easement’s conditions and standard of due care.” The action represents a major milestone in Michigan’s environmental history.
The state’s title and public trust interest and duty in the Great Lakes have been established by the Michigan and United States Supreme Courts for more than 125 years. Every state received title to the lands and waters that were navigable at the time of statehood—for Michigan, 1837, including all of the Great Lakes and its inland lakes, rivers, and streams. The state’s public trust title in navigable waters and lands beneath them is a matter of federal constitutional principle. Once the state has title, it is absolute, cannot be alienated or transferred away, and the state as trustee determines the extent and nature of any activity or use of the public trust waters and lands of the Great Lakes.
The public rights under the Public Trust Doctrine are protected, according to the Michigan Supreme Court, by a “high, solemn and perpetual trust which it is the duty of the state to forever maintain.” The state’s interest and its public trust responsibilities are held forever. Thus, any authorization, like the Enbridge Line 5 easement granted by the Department of Conservation in 1953 remains subject to the state’s duty to protect the state’s title as well as Michigan citizens’ paramount rights that are protected by public trust law. The United States Supreme Court explicitly acknowledged a state’s paramount rights in the landmark case, Illinois Central Railroad Co v Illinois, finding that a grant of property rights in public trust resources “is necessarily revocable, and the exercise of the trust by which the property was held by the state can be resumed at any time.”
Catastrophe Does Not Have to Occur Before the State Acts to Protect the Public Trust
When Enbridge received its easement for its dual lines in 1953, it did so subject to the state’s authority and duty to protect its sovereign public trust title and rights of citizens in the waters and bottomlands of the Straits of Mackinac. No private interest can be granted permission to use these public trust waters and bottomlands for any private or public use without the express authorization by law, and only if the state finds at the time the public’s uses and the public trust will be improved or not impaired.
Enbridge’s easement is basically a license to use these public trust lands and waters subject to revocation if there are dangers that would violate the public trust. If later it is discovered that conditions exist that were not initially understood or new information comes to light indicating public trust resources are at risk or threaten the public’s rights in fishing, navigation, boating, and drinking water, or recreation, the state has the inherent right to revoke the use. No state nor its citizens has to wait until a catastrophe occurs before the state can revoke a use to protect this perpetual trust.
Only the State of Michigan, through its Governor and Department of Natural Resources Director and the Attorney General as trustees and “sworn guardians” of this public trust, has the authority over who, where, and when another person or corporation can use the Straits of Mackinac, such as Enbridge’s use for the dual lines in 1953 and in 2020. Because the circumstances, conditions, and events—anchor strikes, cable strikes, scoured spans under the pipes, and stronger currents—violate the terms of the 1953 easement and endanger the Straits and hundreds of miles of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, the state has every right to revoke the Enbridge easement. Enbridge’s use of Lake Michigan bottomlands has always been limited by the Public Trust Doctrine and the state’s perpetual authority to revoke the use when the public trust is endangered.
State of Michigan, not a Federal Agency, Controls the Public Trust Lands and Waters of the Great Lakes
Enbridge falsely claims that the safety code requirements under the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) supersede the state’s authority and public trust duty to protect the Great Lakes. The claim confuses the federal power to regulate a pipeline’s safety once it is built with the state’s sovereign authority to decide if a corporation or Enbridge can use the public trust lands and waters of the Great Lakes in the first place.
There is nothing in PHMSA regulations or any federal law that remotely attempts to assert control over the use of a state’s public trust lands and waters, nor could the federal government do so. The authority for use of these public trust lands and waters falls entirely within the authority and duties of the State of Michigan, and there is nothing the federal government, Canadian government, or Enbridge can do to impinge on this paramount public trust title and the rights of the citizens of Michigan in the Great Lakes.
The bottom line is that the Great Lakes belong to all of us, and the State of Michigan is doing its duty as trustee to protect our public trust resources so that, now and in the future, we are assured the right to drink from, bathe, fish, and swim in, and boat upon oil-free waters. Alternatives exist for supplying oil and propane without spikes in fuel prices, but our magnificent fresh waters are irreplaceable. Please join FLOW in thanking Gov. Whitmer for standing up to Enbridge and standing up for our Great Lakes.
The State of Michigan’s decision last Friday to revoke and terminate the 67-year-old easement across the Straits of Mackinac granted to Enbridge for the Line 5 petroleum product pipelines was more than that day’s news—it was an event that will be remembered in the state’s environmental history.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer, Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Director Dan Eichinger, and Attorney General Dana Nessel announced the decision based on Enbridge’s consistent track record of deception, subterfuge, and poor stewardship, which put at risk a large area of the Great Lakes and the people, industries, aesthetics, and public uses dependent on them. Legally, it was a sound decision under the Public Trust Doctrine, but politically it was difficult. The same is true of most of the milestones in our environmental past. Dedicating Northern Michigan lands to building a public forest out of ravaged land in the early 1900s, standing up to developers who wanted to despoil the Porcupine Mountains in the 1950s and 1960s, and laying down the law on flagrant polluters in the 1960s and 1970s all took political guts, supported by law.
The Line 5 shutdown announcement brought to mind the epic fight over protection of the Pigeon River Country State Forest in the 1970s and early 1980s. This northern Lower Peninsula gem had fed the imagination of a young Ernest Hemingway and had been cobbled together by P.S. Lovejoy, considered Michigan’s equivalent of Aldo Leopold. Lovejoy dubbed the preserve “The Big Wild” and said it “should be left plenty bumpy and bushy and some so you go in on foot—or don’t go at all.”
The discovery of petroleum reserves under the Pigeon River Country State Forest in 1970 fueled an unwise decision by the DNR to offer drilling leases to petroleum companies. Determined to fight for the Big Wild, a legion of individuals, conservation and environmental groups, and editorial writers turned the battle into a test of state priorities. Specifically, weren’t there some publicly owned areas of the state that should be off limits to resource exploitation because of their beauty and significance, and the risk of a catastrophic accident? Governor William Milliken, urged on by First Lady Helen Milliken, took the side of the protectors.
The contest rose all the way to the Michigan Supreme Court, which ruled in 1979, under the Michigan Environmental Protection Act, that drilling could result in unacceptable destruction of the Forest’s herd of 255 elk. Coupled with another Supreme Court decision the same month on a separate drilling appeal in the Forest, the decision effectively barred drilling there.
It was a monumental victory for the forest protectors, but it also sowed the seeds of a partial defeat. Michigan’s economy was struggling and oil companies wooed lawmakers with visions of riches from petroleum development. Rather than lose everything, some members of the coalition of forest guardians compromised on a limited, phased development plan. And out of the controversy rose the idea of dedicating revenues from petroleum development on state lands to public land acquisition. That idea grew into the constitutionally protected Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund, which has now spent more than $1 billion to give the public access to state and local parks, Great Lakes shoreline, scenic wonders, hunting and fishing recreation, public forestland, and more.
The parallel to Line 5 is not exact except in its lesson that a persistent, well-organized, and well-informed citizen coalition is critical to protecting the best of Michigan. And it shows that public officials who look beyond the moment can take action with significance for decades to come.
Last week’s announcement was one of the finest hours in Michigan’s conservation history. The battle is far from over, but it is headed toward protection of our Great Lakes. I am proud that FLOW and its public trust law and advocacy were a big part of it.
Jim Olson is FLOW’s Founder, President, and Legal Advisor
By Jim Olson
In the end, their legal duty under public trust law, and the clear and present danger from the anchor strikes and currents of the 67-year-old dual oil pipelines, left only one choice for Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and her Department of Natural Resources Director Daniel Eichinger: Revoke and terminate the easement allowing Line 5 to occupy the Straits of Mackinac, as they did on November 13 in a strong and necessary action.
The Governor and other top state officials have a duty as trustees under the Public Trust Doctrine to prevent unacceptable harm to the Great Lakes and the public’s right to use them. This duty lasts forever. By the very nature of its easement to use public trust bottomlands and waters in the Straits, Line 5-owner Enbridge accepted the easement subject to the state’s paramount perpetual duty to prevent injury to the public trust in the Great Lakes. The dual pipelines and conditions in 2020 surrounding it are not the same as the original understanding of engineers and State officials back in 1953, when Line 5 was installed in the open waters of the Straits connecting Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. Under public trust law, the Governor and state officials’ hands are not tied by what state officials understood and did 67 years ago.
Public trust law and circumstances would condemn any state leader, elected or appointed, for gross negligence and reckless breach of their trust duty if he or she failed to take action. When Michigan joined the Union in 1837, it took title to all navigable waters, including the bottomlands and waters of the Great Lakes. It took the title subject to an irrepealable public trust duty to prevent alienation of this title for private purposes and to prevent impairment of these trust lands and waters from impairment in perpetuity—meaning for present and future generations.
Attorney General Dana Nessel and her experienced and seasoned staff have been steadfast in enforcing the binding rule of public trust law that protects the Great Lakes and the public’s trust interests as legal beneficiaries. No matter what Enbridge argues, the Canadian company took the easement to use the bottomlands and waters of the Straits of Mackinac subject to the Public Trust Doctrine, recognized by the courts of every state and the United States Supreme Court, including in the landmark 1892 Illinois Central Railroad case.
That decision revoked a grant of the bottomlands of Lake Michigan for a private industrial complex on Chicago’s waterfront because it violated the public trust law that protects the Great Lakes. Grants of easements or the right to use public trust lands and waters have always been, and always will be, subject to the inherent legal condition that it can be revoked when the risk or danger of devastating harm passes the threshold of a risk of impairment; that is, what would be an unacceptable set of conditions and danger to a reasonable, sensible person.
Line 5 passed that threshold many years ago.
To reach that conclusion, Michigan’s leaders dug into the facts, data, and studies finally disclosed by Enbridge after demands from the DNR, the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE), and the Attorney General’s office, and the order entered by the Circuit Court for Ingham County last summer. The reality is that strong currents, anchor and cable strikes, storms, continued scouring of bottomlands under the pipes, the suspension of more than 3 miles of pipeline on 228 anchor posts screwed into the bottomlands as “repairs”—when, in fact, there has been an overall, massive design change in the structure—have put the dual pipes in the Straits on the brink. This danger is compounded by the fact that these newly discovered and uncontrollable conditions, events, and grave dangers have never been evaluated or authorized under the State’s public trust laws by any governmental agency.
Enbridge has enjoyed a nearly free ride, reaping several hundred million dollars a year in revenues from Line 5 the past two decades; the dual lines, in fact all of Line 5, are well past the safe and reasonable life of a pipeline built 67 years ago. The company now has 6 months to make the transition to a permanent shutdown of Line 5, and there will be little if any negative effect on gasoline prices and energy supplies, according to extensive research, as well as recent experience, when damage to Line 5 in the Straits caused it to be fully and then partially closed for several weeks this past summer. Meanwhile, the positive effect will be that all can rest more peacefully knowing that a bright line is drawn and the time is coming for Enbridge to adjust its massive North American pipeline network to meet any needs not filled by competing pipeline companies for crude oil at regional refineries.
There will be plenty of jobs tied to the proper decommissioning of the lines, and more jobs in adjusting the existing capacity of Enbridge’s overall pipeline system in Michigan, like the extra 400,000 barrels of oil per day of design capacity in Line 78 that replaced Enbridge’s smaller Line 6B that ruptured in 2010 and devastated the Kalamazoo River. And clean energy will provide many more Michigan jobs than Enrbidge ever has, without risking the Great Lakes.
A risk and economic study commissioned by FLOW and conducted by a Michigan State University ecological economist estimated that the damages from a spill or leak from the dual pipes in the Straits would exceed $6 billion. Although the concerns about propane supplies for customers in rural areas of the Upper Peninsula are important, the U.P. Energy Task Force propane report and other independent reports show that new competition and infrastructure adjustments for propane service in the U.P. should be encouraged and can be in place by May of 2021. Moreover, the reality right now is that the need for crude oil is rapidly declining because of the United States’ and the world’s shift to renewable energy to diminish the deadly, crippling, and unaffordable and irreparable damage from climate change.
This is not 1953, when Line 5 was built and color TV was a brand new innovation in the United States. This is not 2003 either, when Line 5 reached the end of its intended lifespan and Enbridge started adding screw anchors in an attempt to “repair” a failing design because of unanticipated strong currents in the Straits of Mackinac—well documented by data and science. This is 2020, a far different world, facing a climate crisis and global freshwater scarcity. It’s a world in which our leaders are elected to make hard decisions to protect their citizens, as any trustee has a fiduciary duty to do regardless of politics or popularity. The Great Lakes, and the protected public trust rights therein to drink, fish, boat, bathe, and otherwise benefit from these public waters, are paramount.
Under public trust law, Michigan’s Governor, Attorney General, and DNR Director have put the public interest and good of all above the self-interests of a private corporation that will continue to survive only if it accepts that it is doing business in 2020, not 1953. Indeed, it’s time for all of us to accept and conform to this realization.