Sandbags for support and quagga mussels spreading on Line 5. Photo courtesy National Wildlife Federation
The past several months have seen a flurry of new reports about the dangers and deceptions related to Line 5, but somehow the most obvious problem has been lost amid the headlines – Michigan doesn’t need Line 5, and our leaders should be using their authority to swiftly revoke Enbridge’s easement and decommission the pipeline at the Straits.
Unfortunately, our governor and attorney general are prioritizing Enbridge’s interests rather than standing up for their constituents and our precious Great Lakes. Instead of taking steps to shut down the pipeline, Governor Snyder and Attorney General Schuette are working with Enbridge to help the foreign-owned company build a tunnel in the Straits of Mackinac to continue pumping western Canadian tar sands oil to eastern Canadian refineries through the Straits. Michigan is being used as a shortcut for Canadian benefit. Michigan gets all the risk, while Canada gets all the profit.
Clearly the risk of litigation from deep-pocketed Enbridge, and the potential loss of financial backing to politicians from powerful oil-industry interests may be influencing the governor’s and attorney general’s penchant for supporting Enbridge’s interest over those of the citizens. (Read Bridge Magazine's investigation that reveals Enbridge's inappropriate access and influence.) So it’s essential that voters raise this critical Great Lakes issue loudly with candidates for these top posts to ensure that we elect officials who put our Great Lakes first.
Despite a series of reports from credible sources that all reach a similar conclusion—that a massive oil spill in the Straits would be catastrophic to Michigan’s economy, environment and quality of life – Governor Snyder, and recently Attorney General Schuette, are indicating they would help Enbridge build a pipeline tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac. This proposal blatantly ignores a key fact that Enbridge has been trying to cover up – Michigan no longer benefits from or needs Line 5 oil.
Groundwork recently focused attention on Enbridge’s shortcut scheme and deception about the need for Line 5 oil in a report titled “Canadian Profits, Michigan Risk” (download at right). Enbridge describes this strategy clearly in its annual report to shareholders and on its website, naming the strategy the “Eastern Canadian Refinery Access Initiative.” The company makes it very clear who benefits from Line 5 and the expanded network of pipelines pumping western Canadian tar sands oil to the Canadian East Coast. If Line 5 were decommissioned, the impact would be felt at refineries in Montreal and Quebec – not Michigan or the Midwest.
What is especially infuriating is that just last year Canadians finally gave up on building the Energy East pipeline to transport western oil on their own side of the border because of risk to their waters. And why should they risk their own freshwater when they can get Michigan’s governor to take the risk for them?
There is, however, one important benefit that Line 5 brings to Michigan: it conveys a relatively small but critical amount of propane for residents of the Upper Peninsula (less than ½% of total pipeline volume). While propane is essential for winter heating in the U.P., just last week a new report conducted by London Economics International (LEI) for the National Wildlife Federation with funding from the C.S. Mott Foundation describes that the propane in Line 5 can be transported by trucks and rail cars without raising the price by more than a nickel a gallon. With proper planning and additional storage facilities, the U.P. can continue to have a stable propane supply that is not dependent on a risky oil pipeline in the Great Lakes.
The risks from Line 5 continue to be reiterated as researchers release new reports. Most recently a state-commissioned Independent Risk Analysis of a Potential Enbridge Line 5 Oil Spill found that a worst-case oil spill could be significantly worse than the disaster in the Kalamazoo River, costing potentially $2 billion and contaminating more than 400 miles of shoreline. The study, led by Michigan Technological University professor Guy Meadows, analyzed more than 4,300 spill simulations and found that as much as 58,000 barrels of crude oil could be released into the Great Lakes. The state report follows a study from the respected water policy organization FLOW that described even larger economic and environmental impact from a spill, predicting a worst-case contamination of 900 miles of shoreline and a cost of $6 billion.
The series of warning reports follows an alarming event: a ship’s anchor clanged off both pipelines resting on the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac in early April, leaving three dents and deepening concern across Michigan. The reality of a complete pipeline rupture became all too clear.
Groundwork is helping coordinate a new Great Lakes Business Network, which is comprised of more than 100 CEO’s and top executive leaders all of whom support a position to decommission Line 5 to protect the Great Lakes. These business leaders are very familiar with conducting a basic cost-benefit analysis when considering business decisions that affect most important assets. That analysis regarding what to do about the Line 5 pipeline at the Straits is stark and clear: the benefit from Line 5 to Michigan is minimal while the risk and cost of an oil spill would be absolutely catastrophic. Decommissioning must be the preferred alternative.
Citizens are reaching a high level of frustration over state government inaction regarding Line 5. In May, a poll by EPIC/ MRA found that 87% of Michigan residents are concerned about Line 5, and 54% believe it should be decommissioned, and nearly half of all voters say the issue will influence their vote. The Oil and Water Don’t Mix coalition of environmental groups continues to host rallies and gather thousands of signatures and supporters. People are posting “Shut Down Line 5” yard signs and hosting events around the state. Just recently, the Traverse City Record-Eagle acknowledged this frustration by calling clearly for decommissioning Line 5.
Candidates are taking notice and beginning to craft positions that include Line 5. Groundwork invited all Michigan gubernatorial candidates to share their positions on the pipeline’s future, and eight responded in writing; seven also submitted video statements. (Read the report here.) All responding candidates expressed concern and several made strong statements calling for decommissioning.
Line 5 is not a narrow issue about an oil pipeline. Line 5 is iconic because it encompasses everything Michigan is about, and how it is decided gets to the heart of what it means to be a leader of our state. Clean water. Pure environment. Small town businesses, and families whose financial stability and the right to make a living rests entirely on those natural resources. The Straits is the jewel, the centerpiece of the Pure Michigan campaign. Way before today, the native people considered the Straits the very place where the entire world was born. Still today the Straits is the spiritual center of our state and in fact is a globally rare environment. We don't need Line 5, this is clear, but we do need the Straits, and we need leaders who understand that imperative and are willing to fight for it.
The upcoming primary election on August 7 and the general election in the fall will allow voters to consider which governor or attorney general will best protect our Great Lakes water and economy. Please research the candidate positions and choose with Michigan's soul and future in mind.