Groundwork helped organize a rally in July 2013 to raise awareness about the Line 5 oil pipelines in the Mackinac Straits.
Two years ago, practically no one in Michigan was aware of the aging, twin oil pipelines lying at the bottom of the Mackinac Straits, and the catastrophic risk they pose to the Great Lakes and our Pure Michigan economy.
Today, as a result of the Groundwork Center and partners seizing the issue and building a strong public outcry, we are closer to Line 5 becoming the first major oil pipeline in North America to be decommissioned.
On July 14, the Michigan Petroleum Pipeline Task Force, appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder to explore the risk, acknowledged that Line 5 is dangerous, that it poses a real threat to our Great Lakes, and that the state has the authority to do something about it. With the release of a Petroleum Pipeline Task Force Report, Michigan’s Attorney General Bill Schuette acknowledged that, “Certainly, the Straits Pipelines would not be built today, so how many more tomorrows Line 5 should operate is limited in duration.”
Importantly, the report acknowledged for the first time that the State of Michigan has the legal authority to decommission the Line 5 pipeline. The only thing lacking is the political will of the state’s top attorney—and he appears to be leaning toward eventual decommissioning.
The report, while short on details about the pace and process for next steps, was surprisingly strong in its recommendations. Notably, the report agreed with the position promoted by Groundwork and partner groups calling for an independent analysis of alternatives to the Line 5 crossing at the Straits that includes decommissioning the pipeline as an alternative, as well as obtaining more information from Enbridge about the products in the pipeline and spill prevention actions.
The fact that the state has investigated the threat and issued the report is a huge success—especially considering that nothing has changed with the 62-year old pipelines to trigger this reaction other than a massive public awareness and outreach campaign launched by Groundwork in 2013.
In fact, exactly two years before the report was released—July 14, 2013—Groundwork (as the Michigan Land Use Institute) led a rally at the Straits of Mackinac with a group of Traverse City climate activists known as TC 350 calling for action to eliminate the risk to the Great Lakes. The event attracted nearly 400 people, and featured speakers such as international climate activist Bill McKibben and Great Lakes author Jerry Dennis.
By winter 2013, we recognized that this issue would need continued pressure to elevate it to a top environmental issue. We set a goal to do just that, and created a Crowdrise campaign to raise funds for a major public outreach effort to build pressure for state action. Thanks to support from hundreds of supporters, we launched the Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign with a new logo and website, and a television commercial that played extensively across northern Michigan throughout the summer of 2014. Groundwork invited partner organizations to join the Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign, and today there are more than 20 groups involved in the coalition, all working together to raise awareness, explore legal options, and demand action from our state leaders.
Groundwork was the first group in the coalition to publicly call for the shutdown of the pipeline. Initially, it seemed to many like a far-fetched idea; there’s simply no precedent in the country for decommissioning an existing oil pipeline. But today all of the groups in the campaign are calling for eventual decommissioning of the pipelines, rather than replacement or more safeguards. Oil pipelines, and their inherent risks, don't belong in the Great Lakes. They didn’t in 1953, and they certainly don’t today.
This past May, Groundwork helped lead an Oil & Water Don’t Mix public awareness event at the Mackinac Straits in conjunction with the Detroit Chamber of Commerce Mackinac Policy Conference, including a rally in Mackinaw City and a press conference on Mackinac Island. As a result, there was an explosion of media coverage about the pipeline. That media reaction, and the associated public outcry to the task force for strong action, appeared to slow the report’s release, increase the scrutiny—and likely strengthen its recommendations.
The report is an important milestone in this campaign as it reflects how far this issue has risen in the public consciousness. But there’s still so much work left to do. The report calls for more analyses of alternatives to the current pipelines, but unfortunately, Line 5 can’t be ordered to hold out until the state is done with its research.
To protect the Great Lakes, we don’t need lengthy research periods. We need an immediate shutdown, and we’re prepared to keep fighting for it.
Jim Lively is the program director at Groundwork. He can be reached at email@example.com.