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Opinion | The clock is ticking on Line 5, and rightfully so

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s decision to terminate the easement that allows Line 5 to operate is a direct result of the 33 spills and 1.1 million gallons of crude oil leaked into the Great Lakes, Enbridge’s refusal to acknowledge the significant environmental risks posed by its operation, and its failure to abide by the terms of the 1953 Easement. This decision is imperative to protect our state’s most valuable natural resource: our Great Lakes. Enbridge has shown a pattern of disregard for the terms of the 1953 Easement, such as infrequent inspections, making design changes without authorization required by the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act, and refusal to acknowledge that the current state of the pipeline is, and has been, unsafe for many decades. As a lifelong Michigander, I take great offense from Enbridge’s lack of transparency and disregard for the long-term well-being of the Great Lakes. I fully support the governor’s decision to terminate the easement and am confident that a thorough review of Enbridge’s recent application to build an underwater tunnel for the pipeline will show that the proposal is unsafe and flawed.

Over the last 60 years, Line 5 has provided a “shortcut” for Enbridge to transport fossil fuels from central Canada to Sarnia, Ontario, by cutting through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, crossing the lakebed of the Straits of Mackinac, traveling south through the Lower Peninsula to southeast Michigan, before ending in Ohio and Canada. Line 5 transports a variety of crude oil and natural gas liquids, including propane. Enbridge and their supporters argue that the termination of the 1953 Easement will disrupt Michigan’s energy supply chains, resulting in increased rates and shortages that will significantly impact all our lives. They extrapolate that alternatives to fill the gap left in Michigan’s energy supply by shutting down Line 5, such as utilizing trucks and trains, carry more risk of an oil spill than leaving an exposed, under-maintained, 70-year-old pipeline along the lakebed of the one of the busiest shipping routes in our country and the world’s largest freshwater ecosystem. In reality, the pipeline has been struck by freighters dragging chains, cables, and anchors, resulting in the release of crude oil and natural gas into the Great Lakes. Four of the past five strikes are believed to have been caused by freighters operated by Enbridge’s own contractors. Enbridge’s interest in protecting billions of dollars in annual earnings warrants intense scrutiny of their proposals and healthy skepticism about their arguments.

While it is true that two-thirds of the Upper Peninsula’s propane demand is met by Line 5, quantifying the demand shows that the impact is greatly overstated by relying on simple fractions alone to understand the demand. Any argument that presumes that all 300,000 Michiganders living in the Upper Peninsula rely on propane for heating and electricity, such as Michigan Chamber of Commerce President Rich Studley’s statement on a local talk radio show on Nov. 17, is simply not true. There are approximately 12,000 homes and businesses in the Upper Peninsula that rely on propane, a population that could be served by three to four truckloads per day or one to two train cars per day of propane. Claims that 2,100 truckloads per day would be required incorrectly assume that all propane transported by Line 5 remains in our state, when in fact most of the product transported through Line 5 returns to Canada. Various studies conducted to determine the impact of Line 5’s removal on the Upper Peninsula’s energy supply have found that several readily-deployable alternatives to Line 5 exist at a comparable cost. Additionally, shutting down Line 5 may result in a temporary 5-cent increase in price, which is not outside the realm of normal market fluctuations. By utilizing trucking and rail transport, in conjunction with investment in propane storage, Line 5 can be shutdown without disrupting the lives of our fellow Michiganders in the Upper Peninsula.

A review of Enbridge’s record shows frequent oil spills of varying severity, sometimes with more than a million gallons of oil being pumped into bodies of water a stone’s throw from people’s homes. It’s clear that longer that Line 5 is active, the greater the gamble that we are taking with our Great Lakes. The interests of the people of Michigan have for too long taken a backseat to the interests of Enbridge. Governor Whitmer’s actions have opened the door to ensure the long-term protection and preservation of our Great Lakes. Time and time again, we have shown the world that Michiganders are resilient, industrious, creative, and hard-working people; it’s time to put those traits to work to protect our Great Lakes.

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Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission. If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact David Zeman. Click here for details and submission guidelines.

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