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.

Rachel Hood is the Democratic state representative for Michigan’s 76th House District, representing the city of Grand Rapids. Prior to entering public service,  Hood served as executive director of the West Grand Neighborhood Organization, focusing on crime prevention and leading community development in Grand Rapids, and executive director of the West Michigan Environmental Action Council, leading efforts to develop watershed education programs and innovative clean energy policy.

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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Comments

Alex Sagady
Thu, 12/10/2020 - 5:41pm

The first sentence is false:
>>>>>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,

None of the spills referenced on Line 5 were, or ever could be considered, as discharges or "leaks" into the Great Lakes, and none of those events occurred on the Mackinac Strait segments which have never leaked since 1953. Nor was the 2010 spill from Line 6B a discharge into the Great Lakes.....that spill was contained to the Kalamazoo River.

As to this....
>>>>its failure to abide by the terms of the 1953 Easement.
.....matters such as the 75 foot spacing requirement have been finally remediated by Enbridge after delays cause by environmental organization raising frivolous appeals...delays as long as 3 years for the installation of pipeline anchor supports to address the spacing requirement. Even then, however, these requirements which have been incorporated in a federal consent decree at NOT enforceable by the State of Michigan because they intrude on federal preemption of pipeline safety matters. Michigan has zero authority to regulate pipeline safety in interstate hazardous liquid pipelines.

>>>>>making design changes without authorization required by the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act,

That was one of the frivolous claims that attorney Jim Olson lost in the administrative appeals case brought to prevent installation of anchor supports for the pipeline.

>>>>>refusal to acknowledge that the current state of the pipeline is, and has been, unsafe for many decades.
The agency responsible for pipeline safety, the DOT Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, has made no such determination, and they have the sole authority under federal law to do so. Claims in the report by the Groundwork organization are not produced by registered professional engineers with pipeline safety experience.

>>>>>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.
The author provides no evidence or reasons for this claim at all. Infrastructure matters such as pipeline safety are not addressed as 'faith-based' claims -- pipeline safety analysis is is NOT a religion.

>>>>in conjunction with investment in propane storage, Line 5 can be shutdown without disrupting the lives of our fellow Michiganders in the Upper Peninsula.
That the only issue is propane in the Upper Peninsula is the author's straw man. The reality is that Line 5 is responsible for 55% of Michigan's propane supply on a statewide basis, and there is no plan or means of replacing that propane supply if Line 5 is shutdown.

Brian Stover
Wed, 12/16/2020 - 3:56pm

Are you seriously trying to say Enbridge did not ignore the safety rules leading to the single largest fresh water spill??????????? Do you work for Enbridge?

So it was a river. So what? Enbridge does not care about Michigan and should be thrown out. They should be fined for each and every day they broke the rules.

Have you been listening to those radio commercials where the only true statement is the name of the company?

Even saying this will stop fuel to the UP is disingenuous. It is allowed to go to the UP. It just won't be allowed across the straight. Again, fine them if they break contracts to supply fuel in the UP. They will still ship south, they just will pay other pipeline companies to use theirs and go through Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana.

Alex Sagady
Thu, 12/10/2020 - 5:45pm

>>>>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.

That never happened......none of the anchor strikes or incidents this past summer on Line 5 caused any crude oil release to the Great Lakes.

In addition, Line 5 does not carry natural gas, so claiming that a natural gas leak occurred is a transparently false claim.

Vince Caruso
Fri, 12/11/2020 - 10:28am

This is only clean freshwater, what's that worth? MegaBillions! Just ask the 10's of Millions who are in a megadrought right now, with no end in sight, with Mega forest fires and no water to drink or farm.
This is only the largest Clean Fresh Water lake system in the known Universe. Not called the Great Lakes for nothing. It is the Saudi Araba of Clean Fresh Water.
You can take that to the Bank. And our natural systems can live another day.

The Wyandot tribe referred to the lake by the name karegnondi, "Freshwater Sea", "Lake of the Hurons". Ojibwa called it "mishi-gami "great water" or "large lake". The Wyandot called Lake Huron ontarí'io "lake of shining waters". They knew this was A Wonder Of Our World.

It is our duty to protect this for our children. children's, children's, ... , at all costs, because it is irreplaceable!

Al Warner
Mon, 12/14/2020 - 10:32am

Bingo!!

Jeff
Wed, 12/16/2020 - 5:29pm

Now for common sense. The ground isn't warm enough for a geothermal heat pump to work in the U.P, unless some significant depth is used. While that bullshit article says the U.P. has some of the sunniest days in Michigan, the reality is due to the angle of the sun, solar would be lucky to every get close to using 100% of the capacity of the panels. Not to mention in winter, even if it is sunny, solar panels will only produce about 10% of their capacity, as well as going weeks at a time without enough sun to generate electricity.

Al Warner
Mon, 12/14/2020 - 10:30am

Excellent summarization of this ?? years old debate. We need more thinking legislators like this, not "keep the status quo" idealogs.

Geoffrey Owen
Wed, 12/16/2020 - 3:40pm

I live a few hundred feet of the shore of Lake Huron and 75 miles from the Straights. The Governor is correct to shut down Line 5. People in Northern Michigan, democrats and republicans, want a clean safe environment. Yes there have been spills elsewhere and we don't want another. Enbridge is becoming a viable energy interest in Northern Michigan, from the extraction of gas to convert to propane near Escanaba, 120 miles before Line 5 to its electric plants making electricity in the upper lower peninsula. Line 5 is non-essential to Michigan. It is just taking a short cut on its way to Ontario. The safety of Line 5 is essential. A new line in a tunnel under the existing line sounds great. Hire Elon Musk. Enbridge wants to do it like a homeowner without a permit and now Inspector Whitmer is holding them accountable. Why there are those who side with a Canadian enterprise and against the Governot and people of Michigan I do not know. I do know that shutting down Line 5 is a priority to negotiating a final safe outcome.

Jeff
Wed, 12/16/2020 - 5:31pm

Waht are you going to do representative Hood when Canada overrides the closure?