By Paul Hendricks, Manager of Environmental Responsibility, Patagonia, Inc.
All photos courtesy of Paul Hendricks.
Every fall, strong north winds bring in a steady flow of storms that rip across the Great Lakes. You’ve probably witnessed one of these storms, where waves crash over pier heads and howling winds cut through your parka, chilling you straight to the bone. Over the years, these storms have tormented sailors, bringing thousands of ships to the icy lake bottoms. These days, they beckon surfers to brave the chilling waters in search of “unsalted” swell. From any perspective, there is something powerful about this time of year on the Lakes. It is raw, unharnessed nature that is both beautiful and prideful for those who call these waters home.
Right now, there is a different kind of storm brewing on the Great Lakes. For 65 years, a decaying pipeline known as “Line 5” has been pumping 23 million gallons of oil each day through the heart of the Great Lakes. Operated by Enbridge Energy – who was responsible for a 1.1 million gallon oil spill in the Kalamazoo River in 2010 – this pipeline is 15 years past its expected life. And it’s showing: Researchers have documented cracks, dents, bends, gouges, and failed supports on the pipeline’s path through the Straits of Mackinac, putting our freshwater and over 700 miles of our coastline at risk.
Concerned citizens have been fighting for the decommissioning of this line for years, believing that the Great Lakes – our public waters – are not worth risking for the short-term economic gains of a private company. These lakes provide the basis of this region’s identity and economy – 1.5 million jobs and over $62 billion in wages every year.
Yet, Enbridge Energy has been fighting to keep the oil flowing – touting the pipeline’s “as good as new” condition and importance on the region’s economy. Photo evidence of the decrepit pipeline and documentation of only 102 Enbridge employees in Michigan prove these claims don’t hold to the wind. To add insult to injury, Enbridge struck a deal with Governor Snyder to “explore” digging a tunnel to house Line 5 through the Straits, a billion-dollar deal that doesn’t stop an oil spill from happening.
I work for Patagonia, Inc., a company that makes apparel for outdoor recreation – skiing, hiking, climbing, fishing, surfing. We are a successful business, with growth that has far eclipsed our industry’s average – success which we attribute to our obsessive dedication to minimizing our impact and maximizing our influence to protect our most treasured natural resources.
Our company’s mission statement reads, “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crises.” In that statement, we acknowledge that our business will always cause some amount of harm, but we are mandated to not cause unnecessary harm – through claiming responsibility for our impacts and reducing them wherever we can.
Line 5 is the epitome of unnecessary harm. It has been proven that the oil flowing through Line 5 can be redirected through existing infrastructure that doesn’t put the Great Lakes at risk. By asking to decommission Line 5, nobody is asking Enbridge to go out of business, but to act responsibly, and respect this region’s greatest resources.
This month, the Line 5 storm is coming to a head as our politicians are making decisions that will last for the next 100 years. As Michiganders head to the polls on Election Day, I urge you to think through the multi-generational impact your vote will have on this region. Vote for policy makers that value the lasting protection of this region’s backbone. Vote for Water.