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Bridge Michigan
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Opinion | Now is the exact time to shut down Line 5

Big oil companies are trying to use current gas prices and the temptation of jobs in an exploitive attempt to prevent the Line 5 pipeline that runs beneath the Straits of Mackinac from being shut down. The very best thing we can do to protect our homes, our way of life and our economy is to permanently take this dangerous and outdated pipeline offline as quickly as possible.

Regina Gasco-Bentley
Regina Gasco-Bentley is tribal chairperson of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians. (Courtesy photo)

Line 5 is nearly 70 years old, a full 20 years beyond its engineered lifespan. The pipeline has been struck by anchors that nearly caused a disaster in 2018. The coating on the pipeline that protects it from the elements is wearing away. The anchors designed to prevent the pipeline from swaying uncontrolled in the lake current have not been maintained. It’s clear that there’s no longer a question of if Line 5 will rupture but only a matter of time before we experience the worst man-made disaster in the history of the Great Lakes.

A Michigan Tech University report found that the damage would be catastrophic. The Great Lakes’ $7 billion commercial, recreational, and tribal fishing industry and its 75,000 jobs would be decimated by a spill. The state’s tourism industry, already struggling to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, would be similarly impacted from Traverse City to Sault Ste. Marie around to Alpena.

It is for these reasons that Michigan’s tribal leaders, along with indigenous leaders in Wisconsin and Ontario, have been demanding for years now that the pipeline be shut down. Commercial and subsistence fishing and hunting continue to provide economic survival for many tribal citizens.

Despite all of the warning signs and our pleas, the pipeline’s Canadian owner, Enbridge, has been trying to use the current high cost of gas as an excuse to allow the ticking timebomb of a disaster to remain open while they construct a tunnel to house the pipeline. Their argument has been debunked by multiple independent studies.

A 2018 report conducted by London Economics International found that Line 5’s closure would result in a $0.05 per gallon increase in consumer propane prices. Even more recently, a 2022 Environmental Defense Canada report found that the crude oil running through Line 5 could be rerouted using other sources at the negligible cost increase of $0.018 per gallon of gas. Both of these scenarios are a far better alternative than causing irreparable harm to the largest body of freshwater in North America. 

Neither of these studies should come as a surprise. When Line 5 was ordered to be shut down by court order in 2020, Michiganders saw no change in gasoline prices compared to the national average.

When Enbridge’s gas price argument doesn’t work, they turn to the idea that their tunnel will create jobs. Michiganders cannot be expected to trade 400 temporary construction jobs and a handful of pipeline tunnel operations jobs in exchange for the risk of environmental disaster – especially when any potential tunnel would not be built until at least 2028.

 It’s also important to keep in mind the role a new pipeline and tunnel would play in relation to climate change. Researchers have found that rising water temperatures are harming breeding grounds for popular sport and commercial fish like walleye. Building a brand-new pipeline that commits the U.S. to another 50 years also goes against President Joe Biden’s executive order that commits to carbon neutrality by 2050.

Consideration of all facts makes certain that the risk of keeping Line 5 open or building a new pipeline does not outweigh the very real harms that can and will result from its continued operation.

There has never been a better time to shut down the pipeline than right now.

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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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