The crude oil still pumps and protests are growing.
For two days since after midnight on May 12, Calgary, Canada-based Enbridge has continued to defy Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s orders to stop pumping oil through its 68-year-old Line 5 that dips through the the Great Lakes exposed on the bottomlands of the Straits of Mackinac.
Supporters, including Republican politicians, the Canadian government and other U.S. states claim the economic value supported by the transport of 540,000 barrels or 23 million gallons of oil per day is too great to lose.
State tribal groups, water rights and environmental activists, the mayor of Mackinac Island and a Michigan tourism proponent on Thursday united to explain why they feel the risk isn’t worth it and Enbridge can’t be trusted.
Winona LaDuke, the director of Honor the Earth, a Minnesota-based organization that’s been fighting Enbridge operations there and in Michigan, said the company has 275 subsidiaries that “shelter the mother corporation” from liability. She spoke from near the Mackinaw Bridge where protests are planned today.
“Lowball estimates of a catastrophic spill behind me are $1.87 billion,” LaDuke said. “And those subsidiaries can’t even handle that, but if that pipe goes, it could be $400 billion. Who’s going to pay for that?
“How do we let a Canadian multinational that doesn’t even have the money in an escrow account take over and hold hostage our Great Lakes?”
A 2019-released report estimated Line 5, which runs from Superior, Wisc., to Sarnia, Ontario by way of Michigan, has spilled at least 1.13 million gallons of oil in 29 incidents since 1968.
That doesn’t include the 2010 rupture of another Enbridge pipeline in the Kalamazoo River that resulted in one of the largest inland oil spills in U.S. history, dumping 1.2 million gallons that spread 35 miles and cost in excess of $1.2 billion to clean up.
“They testified they could detect a leak instantaneously,” said Beth Wallace of the National Wildlife Federation. “It took them 17 hours to discover that spill, and they were only told about the spill, they didn’t detect it.”
Enbridge reported damage to an exposed pipeline support that it discovered during seasonal maintenance in June of 2020 and the line temporarily shut down operations for more than a week. It’s not clear exactly when the damage, suspected to have been caused by a ship dragging its anchor, actually occurred.
Wallace called that close call the “last straw.”
“We are incredibly lucky nothing happened … ” she said. “Line 5 has known dents, known bends that exceed the limits that were put on the easement, it has protective coating peeling away at a rate they cannot manage. Any time they are looking at that pipeline they’re discovering more problems with it, including external damage which they can never control.”
Opponents claim the pipeline is about 20 years beyond its expected lifespan, citing Bruce Trudgen, an original engineer on the project, who said the infrastructure was initially expected to last 50 years during a 2015 interview.
Joint Republican members of the Michigan Legislature held their own press conference Wednesday during which they argued the truckload and train capacity needed to equal the supply lost to a Line 5 shutdown would create even more environmental risks.
“The Legislature already studied this issue and bipartisanly adopted a plan to move the pipeline into a tunnel and at that point then shut down and decommission the existing pipeline,” said Sen. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, Chair of the Natural Resources Committee. “This governor and others say we can’t wait to decommission the line and yet, why can’t we wait?”
McBroom noted the pipeline has operated safely for more than 60 years, even without additional risk mitigation efforts that have been put in place over the last decade, including rules about shutting down the line during bad weather, new monitoring sensors, ship tracking and enforcement to ensure anchors aren’t being dragged.
Opponents scoff at the idea of burying a new pipeline within a tunnel to reduce the risk of a future spill and claim there are enough other ways to transport energy needs without crossing beneath such a crucial waterway.
Wallace said the tunnel is only in the permitting phase and it would take approaching seven years, at minimum — not including likely legal challenges — to install the tunnel and new pipeline. She called it a “misleading” alternative that’s being used as a business tactic to keep the line open.
Michelle Woodhouse, water program manager for Canada’s Environmental Defence, agreed the tunnel proposal will take much longer than the two-plus years Enbridge has projected. Woodhouse…